Church kids in the 80s experienced a phenomenal 2-D invention called the flannelgraph. Oh, it was a magical board! A young, eager Tahni scooted up as close to the easel as possible as the Sunday school teacher filled the blank landscape with Bible characters of old. Elegant and theatrical in her white, high-collared ruffled blouse, the teacher extracted their felty, folded bodies and ancient architecture from file folders and placed them into the scene with the fervor of a master storyteller. At least that’s how I remember it.
The pace might have been awkward and jerky, but to me it was a feast for the eyes as super heroes of the faith faced the craziest predicaments, and those nailbiters would somehow work out–thanks to the faithfulness of a God. With His big hand coming out of the sky. Or perhaps from some feet poking out under a white robe encased in a cloud.
Oh, you can have your smart boards and your fancy video screens, kids. Flannelgraph was where it was at.
I can almost picture the scene clearly in my mind of the day we learned about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (not Abendego, okay. You know who you are because you also call Chipotle Chipolte and call in the Calvary instead of the cavalry, but I digress). They would not bow down to that big idol that looked a lot like an Oscar award. In that case, they would be thrown into the fiery furnace by the evil king! Dun dun dun.
But, they persisted anyway, and they were put in the fire by the teacher, er um, the guards, but they didn’t burn. Though, I reckon felt is quite flammable. We kids all knew the dangers of simply playing with matches because PSAs were all over that in the 80s. We knew fire was hot and dangerous, but somehow, because of God and the fourth man in the fire, the wonder trio made it! It was satisfying like the end of Scooby Doo to have mysteriously foiled the doers of evil.
I’ve had a profound revelation these days as I read these familiar Bible stories, though. Ready? These were REAL people. Not super heroes. Not cartoon characters. Not fairy tale imaginations. They were like us. Like. Us. Like us?!? I ain’t ever faced a real fiery furnace, but I have had to face the fact that I don’t know that I would have taken it quite as well as Rack, Shack and Benny. But perhaps I should.
James 5:17 makes this point, and you could put any Bible character in there: “Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years!” … I don’t know, but I want some of that chutzpah!
So, regardless of how horrible people say America is getting, I personally have not had to face fire, lions, famines, slavery, stonings, whippings, and killers who have it out for me on a daily basis because of what I believe. I’ve instead had to consistently ask myself, “Well, then, what is my life’s equivalent of a fiery furnace, God? And what are these people who were as human as I am trying to tell me through the echoes of time?” It can be just a story, or it can be real and applicable, overflowing with truth. It certainly should influence the way I pray and act in the face of opposition, whatever variety I face.
Some days, I do feel like things get hot. Like, if I could look into the spirit, I would see an evil enemy saying, “If that girl doesn’t stop serving her God, and will not be broken to do things my kingdom’s way, bind her and throw her in the fire. Either she will break from fear, or she will be eliminated, tossed to the wayside because faith began to seem futile.” So my fiery furnace might be the bills, or sickness, or heavy burdens, or some such trial staring me in the face. When faced with opposition, what, then, should I do?
Here’s a little something that a more mature reading of this story in Daniel 3 has been teaching me:
1. You don’t need to answer to the enemy or try to prove anything. King Nebuchadnezzar snickers to the boys, “Who is the God that will deliver you out of my hands?” They just said, “We have no need to answer you in this matter” (v. 16). Slam! Nothing exudes more confidence in the one you serve than not being rattled by the opponent.
2. Take a stance every time that God will, but if not… I’m not sure there could be a better way to go about an attitude of faith because it doesn’t allow for pre-excuses for God or us before we even give Him a chance to act. So, this trio boldly says, “God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace–and He will deliver us! But, if not, we will not serve your gods or worship this idol.” (v. 17-18).
This has reinforced to me to pray toward God’s standard, not to the logical odds for me or against me. This is not even the kind of “que sera sera” if-it-by-thy-will sort of attitude. It is confidence based on God’s character and covenant with us for a full life, and yet it holds loosely to this earthly life because it is not our home. In doing so, even if it doesn’t work out as far as I can tell on this human side of things, I still will have done the right thing, believing that God’s plans are always righteous and holy, and He is always for me and not against me.
3. Keep believing even when in the hallway to doom. Okay, so, it’s one thing to have faith that God will rescue you when you’re in a holding tank, but it’s quite another when you are literally lined up for the big old hot finale of your trial and your deliverer has not shown up. Unlike the flannelgraph showed, the boys were not nicely escorted into the fire. They are basically wrapped up like human torches with a ton of clothing, hands and feet hog-tied, and they are tossed into the ultra, super, hot, hot, hot fire. Somewhere in the hallway to being BBQ, I might have had second thoughts about my stance that God was going to come through for me. Like if Regis would have asked, “Is that your final answer?” I might have paused.
4. It’s not over until it’s over, even if it looks bad. I am having a hard time picturing the boys going from preparing themselves to be ravaged with pain to being loosed and walking around in the fire. That had to have been hilarious as they looked at each other like, “Hey, what??? It doesn’t hurt! We are walking around in this fire and we don’t even smell like smoke!… Hey, who is that guy?” And then an angel (or some believe it to be the manifest presence of Jesus) delivers them because they trusted in Him” (v. 25, 28). There had to be some high-fives. To me, this gives new meaning to being “all in” when we are praying and believing for God to deliver us out of our desperate situations. They trusted to “until,” and never just to “unless.”
5. We have the power to change the decree made against us. This point is the most exciting of all, in my opinion. Verse 28 says some strange words that require further study: “God…delivered His servants who trusted in Him and have changed the king’s word and yielded their bodies…” How in the world can anyone change the king’s word? Because the law according to the pagan Medes and Persians, states in Daniel 6:8 that when a king establishes an edict in writing, it cannot be changed.
How did three displaced Jewish boys change the king’s word? The exact same way we are to change the forces set against us today. We can actually change the atmosphere, change the world, with the way we live out loud. According to one author, to change the king’s word meant to “nullify the law that was evil and directly opposed to the law of God.” That is exactly what Jesus Christ did to deliver us, and continue delivering us even to this day, as we stand on that higher authority in a humble position. As 1 Peter 5:6 says, “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.“
6. Make it through a fire and you’ll get promoted. I don’t know how this all shakes down in the physical world these days. Somehow, the king actually promoted the guys with a big old change of heart after seeing what the Lord had done. Regardless, being found faithful clear through to the end of a trial usually spiritually gets you and me a promotion too. You kind of get delivered, with interest.
Now, I’m reminded of this story and am writing tonight as an encouragement to me, more than anything. I feel like too many of us–people of faith, people of God who believe Him to the end–have been facing our share of furnaces lately. And we’re believing and standing to be healed and delivered, but it is so hard to keep up the fight with conviction when the days turn to weeks turn to months turn to years. My heart’s been heavy because I really want there to be more testimonies of beating the fire!
Just this week, there couldn’t have been more people standing in major faith and pressing in for a miracle after a Facebook friend of mine–a minister, a prayer warrior, a mother of 7–had a major bleeding stroke that caused brain death, and finally she died. Why? I mean, because of Jesus, we just are never defeated because He defeated death. But, why didn’t this turn out differently? I struggle with that.
So many of us are getting up every day and facing impossible circumstances and doctor’s reports and saying, “This circumstance will bend to the name of Jesus!” And then it gets worse. For others, it gets better. Why? I wish I knew these answers. Why were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego delivered from a fiery furnace when truly so many Christ-followers were lit up like human torches and martyred for the faith that they would not renounce? I don’t know.
But, I do know there are models posed to us in the Bible, and Jesus was the highest standard–and His is the one worth always shooting for. He was the walking will of the Father, healing and delivering every one who simply came. And there were also average people–heroes of the faith, yes–but, people like us who just prayed and laid it out there with the full confidence that God would deliver them, but even if He didn’t they would still do the right thing. And, on a flannelgraph, or in my spirit, that is what I hope will stick.