How to Win Your City
World-changers are a rare breed. But they don't have to be. If displaced youths can revolutionize the kingdoms of the earth in God's name, you and I can transform our communities with the gospel.
Consider the year 605 B.C., as the nation of Judah is losing power and significance. Babylon rules the world, with Nebuchadnezzar as king and general.
Then the unthinkable happens. Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem, and the city falls because God hands it over to him. Thus begins the book of Daniel: clarifying who truly controls the situation, thereby revealing Daniel's secret confidence that inspires him in three key world-changing behaviors. Since he knows God rules all earthly kingdoms, he can settle down, start small, and win big.
Daniel and his three friends are abducted, transported to Babylon, and enrolled at the state university (Dan 1:3-4, 6). They take classes and study the liberal arts, but this state-sponsored education smells more like religious coercion than intellectual stimulation. They're learning the literature and language of a hostile nation. They're being groomed for civil service as cultural elites (Dan 1:4). They're training to embody new customs (Dan 1:5) and proclaim the glories of false gods—like Bel and Nebo/Nego—by bearing their names (Dan 1:7).
But they don't stage a protest or instigate a riot. They don't plot a rebellion. They don't even refuse to participate. They take it right on the chin and keep moving.
Imagine that you attend Georgetown, but al-Qaeda attacks and levels Washington, D.C. You're taken away and forced to study at the State U in Kabul, Afghanistan, where they interrupt classes five times each day for mandatory prayer, and the cafeteria closes during daylight hours for the month of Ramadan. Upon arrival, they change your name from Christopher Smith to Mohammed Allahu Akbar. Would you take that sitting down? How did Daniel and friends do it?
The Lord knew they'd need help, so he inspired the prophet Jeremiah to write them a letter (Jer 29:1). He told them to "build houses . . . plant gardens . . . take wives . . . multiply there. . . . Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jer. 29:4-7). He told them it would be 70 years until God brought them back, so they should make the most of the time (Jer. 29:10-11).
Daniel obeyed. He settled down and served the neighborhood. He became a model student and a pillar of the community.
Jesus gave us a similar set of commands. Go to all nations to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20, Luke 24:47). Do not love the world, or the things in the world (1 Jn 2:15), but love your neighbor as yourself (Jas 2:8). Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king (1 Pet 2:17). In other words, settle down and be good citizens.
Although seeking to be a good citizen, Daniel resolves not to defile himself (Dan 1:8). The problem, however, is that he doesn't have much control over his life. He appeals to the chief eunuch, but his request is denied (Dan 1:9-10). So Daniel goes down the chain of command to the steward, but this time he proposes a 10-day test (Dan 1:11-13). Note these things about the test:
- The test is small. Daniel does not protest, petition, refuse, or revolt. He simply proposes a new menu with a trial period.
- The test is tentative. The fact that Daniel proposes a time period implies that he's willing to go back to the defiling food (and try a different plan) if it doesn't work.
- The test is out of Daniel's control. Picture this New Year's resolution: "I'll eat healthy food for 10 days. If I come out fatter, prettier, and smarter than the rest of my generation, then I'll know it was a good idea, and I'll persevere." Yeah, right. He's obviously expecting God to do something supernatural.
Daniel doesn't get anxious about stuff he can't control. He focuses on what he can control (not his menu or his health, but his ability to request a slight change), and he begins there. After all, if God is really in control, it just might work! And of course, it does (Dan 1:14-16).
How do you handle big problems? The economy tanks. The election doesn't go your way. Your company is failing. Your name is mud. The world is full of evil, envy, abuse, and pain. What can you do about it?
Start small. You can pick up a piece of litter at the park. You can submit your report before the deadline. You can donate a can of soup. You can talk to one person about your hope in Christ. You can do the next thing, whatever it may be.
Daniel settles down and starts small, but his influence reverberates through the ages. Notice how much he wins.
First, he wins Nebuchadnezzar's respect (Dan 1:18-20). At the final exam, Daniel and his friends win first prize. It's as though President Obama came to your church, interviewed the teenagers, and concluded they were 10 times more useful to him than his chief of staff. Only God can give such wisdom (Dan 1:17). But that's not all.
Second, he wins Babylon's empire (Dan 1:21). Why does the chapter conclude with a throwaway detail—that Daniel's tenure continued until the first year of King Cyrus? That detail is important because Cyrus was king of Persia, not king of Babylon. Cyrus was the guy who destroyed Babylon and set up a new empire. So God's man Daniel not only outlasted Nebuchadnezzar, he also survived the Persian takeover and maintained his influence. Nebuchadnezzar thought he was building his empire by capturing Daniel, but God was really building his. That detail is also important because we know Daniel's tenure survived at least until Cyrus's third year (Dan 10:1). So why does chapter 1 end with Cyrus's first year? Because that year was 539 B.C., roughly 70 years after the initial exile. It was the year Cyrus permitted the Jews to return and rebuild (Ezra 1:1-4). And Daniel was there, advising King Cyrus to issue the proclamation.
But that's not all.
Third, Daniel wins the world's attention. More than 500 years later, his influence is still being felt when advisers from Babylon (remember that "magi" is a Persian word) trek across the world to see the one who was born King of the Jews (Matt. 2:1-2). Daniel always directed people to the true King (see Dan. 2:20-21, 4:17, 7:13-14). He told them the signs of the King's advent (see Dan. 8-12, especially chapter 11), so they watched and waited until they finally saw his star in the east and went to worship him.
Daniel rested in God's sovereignty and paved the way for the Messiah to take over the world. What phenomenal influence!
"Winning big" is not about getting what you want. It's not even primarily about changing the world or making it a better place. It's about trusting Jesus to change the world.
We can't fix all that is broken. We can't repair the ruins of our communities or give people lasting hope and peace, unless we give them Jesus. We can settle down and start small. And if God is truly in control, there's a good chance he'll use us to win big.