Responding to Stress

 

There are a lot of verses to cover today, and we will not have the time to cover all of them. Therefore, I thought it would be prudent to open today with a general overview of the story of Daniel 2. Let me give you the main theme today and let’s get after it.

Theme: Jesus is our certain hope in the midst of traumatic stress.

1. Responding to stressful situations—Daniel 2.1-30.

In the original Hebrew there is a transitional word at the beginning of Daniel 2, “And.” To the original reader this would have connected this narrative to the previous one. One example of this is we were told in Daniel 1.17 that God had given Daniel a unique gift to understand “vision and dreams,” which is seen in Daniel 2. Why is this important? Well, because many times in Hebrew literature the prologue would summarize and set the tone for the rest of the book. We cannot forget this literary feature as we venture through the book of Daniel.

When learn from Daniel 2.1 that king Nebuchadnezzar was having trouble sleeping. If any of you have taken an introduction to psychology course than you know there are connections between our dreams and our primary thoughts or stresses. In the ancient world there was similar belief. Kings like Nebuchadnezzar would see dreams as the “gods” communicating something important to me. The overlap is we believe dreams are communicating something to us. The “god” thing is simply a matter of what we believe is defining and determining the course of our lives.

The result of these traumatic repeated dreams was Nebuchadnezzar developing unrealistic irrational expectations for his staff. Listen to the way the author of Daniel put this—READ Daniel 2.3-6, 10-11. Before we condemn Nebuchadnezzar we need to see ourselves here. It is no different for us. We all have “dreams” for our lives, or ways we would deem as successful. When our relationships, marriages, jobs, politicians, or anything else are not centered on God, then we develop unrealistic and irrational expectations for those around us. If anyone who gets in the way of those dreams they recur our wrath.

This is the stressful situation we find Daniel and his friends in. They are recurring the wrath of a tyrannical ruthless dictator. They have done nothing wrong here. But I strongly believe the author wants us to notice the difference between Nebuchadnezzar’s response and the response of Daniel. We have only been in Daniel for a few weeks now, but I am loving the way this young man is responding. Daniel is able to heart probe from a distance—READ Daniel 2.12-16. Daniel finds out what is causing the deep traumatic stress, and irrational unrealistic actions of the king.

Daniel agrees with the assessment of the other wise in Daniel 2.11, but He tells us in Dan 2.28 that he is also knows the God of Israel can do what no human can. God has provided interpretation for stressful dreams to political leaders in the past (cf. Gen 20; Gen 41). The fact that God is revealing these mysteries to a Gentile, and that He has done this in past, shows us how gracious the God of Daniel is.

Daniel’s response to all this is to PRAY. Daniel takes up the cry and call of Scripture to SEEK the LORD. Is this our immediate response to stressful situations? Several friends of mine knew I was having a tough time last year and encouraged me to pray with the Psalms. All throughout the Psalms there are prayers about how we are to think through our faith in the midst of adversity. While there are many, Psalm 63 is one of those that was super helpful to revealing my own heart:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water…My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy…But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth.—Psalm 63

In the midst of true adversity are we longing for more of God? Many times I see in the midst of adversity I am longing for a change in circumstances and not more of God. It is what one scholar I read this week called the “if only” heresy. “If only” I was in this circumstance, had this kind of job, this kind of spouse, this type of kids, this amount of money, or whatever then I would be happy. The truth is only when we seek His face in the midst of adversity do we truly find understanding and the infinite desires of our hearts. Understanding will not always mean we will get what Daniel got, which was an understanding into Divine mysteries (Dan 2.19). In fact, even though Daniel gets a great deal of mysterious revelation there is still a great deal of mystery. There are things that Daniel, his friends, and many of the OT saints longed to see that we now understand (Eph 3.1-10; Heb 1.1-2; I Pet 1.10-13). The most important mystery revealed to the world is the Son of God—Jesus Christ. And there are portions of this revealed in the section of today’s story.

2. The “Stone” of hopeful certainty—Daniel 2.31-49.

It is Daniel 2.31-49 that we see Daniel reveal to Nebuchadnezzar what the dream is and what it means. The dream was of a statue that had four parts. The head was made of gold, the chest and arms were silver, the middle and thighs were bronze, and the legs and feet were iron and clay. The four metals represent four kingdoms. It is not hard to pick up on the symbolism here. To the original they would have understood that these metals were depreciating in value. To the modern reader we know these four kingdoms are the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. But the most important part is found in Daniel 2.34-35, 44-45 [READ].

What we are supposed to take away from this interpretation is there will be cycle of kingdoms that will rise and fall, but God will establish a kingdom that will last forever. All the nations of this world claim to be “strong” but the truth is they are weak (I Cor 1.25). A “Stone” cut from a mountain would not seem like it is of more value than gold, silver, bronze, or even iron. But the “Stone” cut from heaven is Christ. He is the cornerstone of Isa 28, Matt 21, Acts 4, and I Pet 2. Jesus is the greatest treasure of heaven, and therefore, should be the greatest treasure of our lives. Jesus is the treasure of heaven who will put an end to all earthly and spiritual oppression. His coming will be like a tiny seed planted that turns into a massive oak. And what does Daniel say at the end of this interpretation, “The dream is CERTAIN, and its interpretation is SURE.”

What will we do with this revelation friends? While it seems that Nebuchadnezzar’s response seems very positive in verses 46-49 we later learn his stated beliefs here do not last. Some people hear the message of God, get excited about it, but their beliefs are fleeting and momentary. Jesus describes this as seed falling on rocky ground in Matt 13. For some of us our faith is fleeting, and when hard times come we abandon our faith.

How can we know if we have this fleeting faith? How can we guard against it? I think this is where I want to lightly push you to take the risk of digging deeper into the depths of your faith. Notice Nebuchadnezzar does not do this. Nebuchadnezzar is satisfied he is safe. The temporary torment he was facing was now over. Many come to faith in Christ seeking “fire insurance.” They want to know they will not have to suffer, but at the center of their faith is themselves. Nebuchadnezzar should have asked Daniel, “teach me more about this God of yours—this God who can reveal mysteries.” Nebuchadnezzar should have started his theological journey.

Far too many people are scared to study the God of the Bible, because they are afraid it is to hard, there will be things they can’t understand, they will not like what they learn, and the list goes on and on. As someone who has experienced these emotions I would say if you have any of these fears, “good.” Theology is scary and intimating. The God of the Bible is confusing. There are many times when I have had to wrestle with Him like Jacob. Do you know who wrestle with the complexities of the world well? Children. They ask deep questions, seek sensible answers, and do not have to have it all figured out to accept something. Why is that? They enjoy the “wonder” of faith. By engaging in theology you reengage the wonder and imagination you once had as a young child exploring the ends and outs of the world. It is the Divine mystery that keeps us engaged. God is infinitely glorious and mysterious. We should be regularly asking ourselves and each other is, “What unique thing have you learned about God lately?”