Surrendering Control to God

August 23, 2020

One of the greatest prayers ever penned is by Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It’s become known as the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.

One thing Niebuhr’s prayer teaches is that there are some things we can control and some things we cannot.

I cannot control whether it rains or the sun shines but I can control how I dress for the weather.

I cannot control whether my life is hit with indiscriminate, unplanned, hardship, or disaster but I can always choose how I respond to it.

Everything I do with my life from the time I get up until the time I go to bed, I try to control.

But I usually have to pray Niebuhr’s prayer, because before the day is over, something is bound to not go my way. Can anybody relate?

Almost from the beginning of their lives, life spiraled out of control for teenagers Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

In the year 604 B.C., they were carried away in the first wave of exiles into Babylon.

Every aspect of their lives was controlled: the language they spoke, the literature they studied, the names they answered to, and the food and drink they consumed.

They became a part of a group of men overseen by Ashpenaz, the chief of the court officials for the king.

They soon came to understand that they were at the mercy of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

How do you react when you cannot control your circumstances? Do you get angry? Do you fight back? Do you comply to avoid conflict or further erosion of your freedom? Do you get anxious? Do you pray?

Daniel and his friends could not change that they were carried into exile or the many demands placed upon them. However, they looked for opportunities to change what they could.

That’s what I encourage you to do this morning.

Except what you cannot change, but change what you can. Ask God to help you know the wisdom between the two.

One thing they believed they could change was their diet. This was important because eating the meat from the king’s table was against the dietary codes of their Jewish faith. This was part of the way they worshiped God.

So they appealed to the court official. They asked him to allow them to eat their food of vegetables and drink water instead of wine.

The court official was sympathetic, but he said if he helped them it could get him killed, so Daniel proposed a testing period of ten days and that proved to win over the official.

At the end of the ten days, he presented Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, to the king who “found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (1:20).

When we try to focus on what we cannot control, it’s like trying to climb a pole that’s been coated with axle grease. Take a lesson from Daniel and his friends, focus on what you can control, and with God’s help, changes can occur.

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that disturbed him greatly so he called the astrologers and told them they would be cut to pieces if they didn’t tell him what his dream was and what it meant.

They said, “Tell us the dream and we will tell you what it means.”

But the king didn’t trust them. He said, “I will know that you know the meaning of the dream when you also tell me what I dreamed.”

The astrologers were placed in an impossible, no-win situation.

Daniel and his men were included in this group. They were sentenced to death.

Daniel could not do anything about these circumstances but God gave him the courage to change what he could.

He asked the king’s officer to give him some time so that he might interpret the dream for the king in exchange for sparing his life and the life of his friends.

That night, God revealed to Daniel the king’s dream and its meaning. Before going to the king, Daniel asked that the other astrologers be set free.

When Daniel spoke of the king’s dream, the king was amazed that Daniel knew what he had dreamed. He knew that Daniel’s God was for real and he said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” (Daniel 2:47)

Daniel was made ruler over the province of Babylon and at his request, the king appointed his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, also known by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as administrators over the province of Babylon.

Life is constantly changing and it’s constantly bringing its share of troubles. When troubles come, we get anxious because we feel that things are out of our control, at least initially.

When life is out of control, what do we do? Many people try to use their power, influence, position, authority, connections, strength, persuasive charm, money, whatever they have to control others or their decision-making process.

Most of us know that circumstances can change quickly and those who have the power make the rules. This is the seedbed of politics, right?

The exiles learned that very quickly. Even the exiles that advanced up the ladder a little bit could not circumvent the rules of the king.

The king built a gold image that was ninety feet tall and nine feet wide, probably of what he had seen in his dream. Then it was announced by a herald that everyone had to bow down and worship the image whenever they heard music played or they would be thrown into a fiery furnace.

This presented a problem for the Jews. They either had to deny their God or they had to die.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not willing to compromise their faith. They had rather give up their lives than deny God by bowing down to an idol. They told the king:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18 NIV).

The king thought he could control what everyone did and what everyone believed.

What we have here is the beginning of antisemitism as it says in verse 8, “At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews.”

They denounced them because they were exercising their freedom to worship their God instead of bowing down to the image the king had made.

The king believed that he could control them by threatening them with death if they did not worship the image, but he was wrong.

We have a history in this country of people trying to control minorities and others by threatening them with all kinds of reprehensible acts, including death, if they do not conform to the will and commands of those in power.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are examples for any person to look up to who needs to say, “You can control a lot of things about me. You can even take my life. But you cannot control what I believe or who I choose to serve.”

Isn’t this how this country got started? Pilgrims came here because of religious freedom!

We are reminded of the words of Jesus who said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).”

Ultimately, the king wasn’t even able to kill Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were thrown into the furnace but the heat did not kill them. When the king looked inside, he saw a fourth figure walking in the flames with them, a figure he said looked like “a son of the gods” (3:25).

Jesus is called Emanuel. He is God with us. When we are walking through the flames of life, Jesus promises to be with us, to walk through the flames with us, so that we will not be consumed.

In our more arrogant moments, we believe that we can keep ourselves out of the flames. We believe we can control the circumstances of our lives and direct our paths and future.

Then something as a simple night’s sleep reminds us that we can’t even control what we dream. Our subconscious rouses us in our sleep to remind us that we are not really in control of as much as we thought.

Your dream world is dependent to a large degree on your awake world but you cannot control what you dream. Often, our dreams remind us of that which we can’t control in our awake world.

King Nebuchadnezzar could not control his dreams, either. Occasionally, he had a dream so disturbing, he needed to know what it meant.

Like the time he dreamed about an enormous tree in the middle of the land that touched the top of the sky. It had beautiful leaves and abundant fruit and enough food for everyone and every creature.

Wild animals used it for shelter.

Birds lived in its branches. (4:12)

In his dream, a messenger came down from heaven and called out loudly,

“Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him” (4:15-16).

The king called all of his wise men to interpret his dream but no one could. Finally, Daniel was called and he told the king that while he was great and strong, like the mighty tree, if he did not renounce his sins by doing what was right and start being kind to the oppressed, he was going to lose control of his mind and for seven-years, he would live with the animals, but eventually, he would come to his senses and everything would be restored to him.

A year passed and the king still had not acknowledged his sin and one day his mind snapped and what Daniel predicted came true.

There is a lesson here for us. Regardless of how much of our lives we think we have in control, if we do not acknowledge our sin before God, we going to lose much more than our minds.

The king of Babylon had to lose his mind before he learned that he did not have the world by the tail.

What will it take for us?

What will it take for God to get our attention?

Listen to these words from King Nebuchadnezzar:  “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever” (4:34).

“At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (36-37).

The king of the Babylonian exile became a believer. Who would have ever believed that?

However, his son did not follow in his footsteps. He was the typical king who brandished his power and arrogance and flaunted his wealth and victories over the lesser kingdoms.

He was doing this one night by drinking wine from the silver and gold goblets captured from the temple in Jerusalem with his wives and concubines when he saw a mysterious hand writing something unreadable on the wall. That’s when you know you’ve had too much to drink.

Daniel was summoned to interpret the writing on the wall. The words were “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.”

He told the king they meant that his days were numbered. He said he had been weighed on the scales and found wanting. His kingdom would be divided between the Medes and the Persians.

That night, King Belshazzar was killed and Darius, the Mede took over the kingdom.

King Belshazzar thought he was in control, but less than 24 hours later, he was dead.

Compare this to how Daniel lived.

For 75 years, Daniel lived in an exiled land. He never returned to Jerusalem. He was always serving another king, but more importantly, Daniel always served God.

He never compromised his principles.

Most importantly, Daniel was always faithful to God.

Even under Darius, the Mede, Daniel was well respected, although not everyone wanted to see him succeed.

That’s the reason some set a trap and tried get rid of him. They convinced the king to proclaim an edict that for 30 days no one could pray to any god except the king or they would be thrown in a den of lions.

They did this because they knew Daniel was a man of conviction and a man of prayer.

I have seen people in organizations and even churches set up political inside games to hurt good people but God sees and knows their motives. They are as wrong now as they were in the days of Daniel.

Daniel continued to open his window to pray toward Jerusalem just as he always did and for his commitment to prayer, he was thrown in the den of lions.

The next morning, Daniel was still alive. Daniel told the king that the Lord had sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions.

The king was overjoyed because Daniel was not hurt and he had trusted in his God.

While God is able, we cannot always say that people are not hurt for trusting in God.

Jesus trusted in God and he was nailed to a cross, but God also raised him from the dead.

Paul and Silas trusted in Jesus and they were flogged and thrown into prison, but their witness also won many to Christ.

John trusted in Jesus and he was exiled to the isle of Patmos but God’s revelation to him still stands after two millenniums.

Daniel is such an important book to read because it says to us, “God is in control.”

Despite the evil in this world, despite all that is wrong, despite the arrogance and pride of so many, ultimately, all must answer to God.

Jeremiah makes it clear in chapter 27 that Nebuchadnezzar would never have overtaken Israel had God not allowed it.

This does not mean that everything that happens in history is God’s will, or that every decision that we make as individuals fits into God’s plan.

However, Daniel, through the visions that God gave him in chapters 7-12, makes it clear that no kingdom rises or falls without God’s knowledge.

He also makes it clear that God is working to move history toward a concluding end that favors His ultimate goal and purpose.

Part of that purpose is for each of our names to be written in the book which Daniel speaks about in chapter 12. He says, “everyone whose name is written in the book—will be delivered.”

If we want our names written (in the Book of Life), we must be humble enough to place our lives in God’s control. We must surrender our lives to Him.

Ultimately, God already knows what choice we are going to make. God, in His omniscience, already knows how this world is going to play out.

That’s the reason we can say with confidence that God is in control, but that does not mean that God controls everything.

One author described it like this. He said it’s like any of us sitting down to play a game of chess with the world champion.

The outcome of the game would not be in question from the time we sat down to play.

We would still have free choice over every move that we made, but the outcome of the game would never be in doubt.

Likewise, God does not control our decisions. We have the freedom to choose Him or reject Him, to choose His way or to choose our way.

If we reject him, then the message to us is much the same as Daniel’s message to King Nebuchadnezzar.

A time is coming when we are going to be cast into a world where we do not have control over anything. The Bible refers to this place as the abode of the dead, or hell, a place of separation from God.

It seems that we are the sanest when we are like King Nebuchadnezzar and we raise our eyes toward heaven and we praise, honor, and glorify the one that lives forever.

How sane are you?

Have you said to God, “I want to give my life to you? I want you to surrender control of my life to you. I want you to use me as you will for your purpose. I want to confess my sins and have my name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”?

If you have never done that, I want you to pray with me this morning and surrender your life to the Lord.

Perhaps you have done that but you need to place yourself firmly in the life and ministry of this church as members.  What that means is that you want others to know that you want God to use you within this fellowship of believers to do ministry in his name and to continue to grow as a disciple of Jesus.

If either of these scenarios fits you this morning, please text me your name during the invitation or if you are present in the worship service, you have the option of coming down front and sharing that information with me personally.