Isn’t it wonderful when life is going well? Prospering financially and in many other ways can be extremely enjoyable. It can even help to dull the pain and memories of the bad times. Yet, paradoxically, we can be highly vulnerable during the good times.
Things were going well for Nebuchadnezzar when the story starts in Daniel chapter 4. He was a highly successful leader. In fact, he was the most powerful man of his day. He could have anything he wanted, when he wanted.
Perhaps some of us are doing rather well at the moment. Maybe we’re healthy, enjoying life and feeling pleased with what we’ve achieved. Perhaps we are well-off and able to treat ourselves to all kinds of nice things. In comparison to many others in our world today, of course, most of us are very wealthy, whether we recognise it or not.
Such times are great and can rightly be enjoyed. God isn’t against pleasure or wealth. However, there is a real danger that we think these things are ours by right. We can drift into taking things for granted, or worse, we can think it is purely down to us.
We can all slip into thinking that it is simply by our power, by our abilities that we have gained prosperity and that it is for the sake of our social standing or reputation. We can forget that these things are gifts. Prosperity is a gift, not a “given”.
In Deuteronomy 8 we hear a warning given to Israel not to forget God when times are better, once they have settled in the promised land. We may wonder how on earth they possibly could. They have been through so much and had a massive turnaround in fortunes, going from slavery to prosperity all thanks to what God has done for them.
Yet, God knew and forewarned them that it is too easy to forget the Giver when there are so many gifts to enjoy. It is too easy to overplay our role in getting where we are today. It is too easy to leave God behind, like a pair of old crutches we only needed when our leg was broken.
We can all forget how we came to achieve success. We can forget the role God has played. We can forget that God gives things to bring glory to Himself and to enable us to advance His kingdom, thinking instead that we have earned these things purely for our own enjoyment and to make us look good.
So, God sends warnings. He warned Nebuchadnezzar in strong terms, firstly through a dream and then again through Daniel when the dream was interpreted. Nebuchadnezzar was terrified by the dream. He wanted to know what it was about. His fear suggests that at some level he already had a suspicion or instinct that it was a difficult message for him. When his religious entourage is unable to help he sends for Daniel to interpret the dream.
Daniel interprets the dream, not surprisingly with a little fear himself as this was not good news to deliver to the most powerful man in the world! But, there is a way out, this dream doesn’t have to come true. Daniel tells him that he could yet avoid this nasty chain of events. Nebuchadnezzar could turn to God, turn from doing wrong. He could stop oppressing the poor and weak, instead of being a proud, self-interested and ruthless man.
12 months later, Nebuchadnezzar looks on his prosperous life and turns not to praise God but himself. The warning has not been heeded, the grisly story predicted in the dream begins to unfold and Nebuchadnezzar goes mad and is made to look a fool.
Yet, even then there is a possibility for change, a way out. When Nebuchadnezzar finally turns his eyes to heaven, when he finally gets a heavenly perspective and praises God, he is restored to health and prosperity.
It wasn’t a certain thing that he would find himself back in power with abundant riches. God graciously chose to make that happen. His change of heart didn’t guarantee a good, easy life for him. But, it opened him up to receive the future God had in mind and it served as a vivid example for others.
It was predicted that Israel would face trouble, destruction of some kind, if the people forgot God. It was predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would suffer being humbled under God’s hand if he forgot God and made it all about himself. Sadly, both stories follow the same pattern. There is a warning, but it isn’t heeded and terrible things result.
These stories, amongst others, serve as warnings to us. If the times are good, that is great. But, don’t forget God. You aren’t the centre of the universe and you haven’t made all this happen all by yourself.
We need to be ready to heed the warnings. We need to look to heaven, to get the heavenly perspective before God chooses to humble us. Nobody is beyond being humbled. God can choose to bring any of us down to the ground with a bump, if need be. For some reason God sometimes chooses not to or at least to delay it. But that doesn’t mean we are immune. At some point, we will reap the consequences of our thoughts and actions if we don’t change and turn to God.
Besides the warnings, there is a positive example that has been set for us. Despite having unimaginable power and untold heavenly riches at his disposal, Jesus chose to remember where it all comes from. He chose to use it all for the sake of God’s kingdom and remain incredibly humble, giving thanks and praise to the Father. With his help, so can we.
Similarly to the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the warnings God gives us do not need to lead to something terrible, they do not mean we have to remain under judgement. No, these warnings are opportunities. We can choose to take the opportunities given to us, to grow and turn to God. Our Father is waiting to help us, waiting for us to turn back to Him.
Whatever good gifts we receive, let’s enjoy them and be thankful. Remember, good gifts come from a good Giver. They point us to Him – they are not ends in themselves.
© Joe Lenton, February 2013