My kids’ youth group has been talking about this, and when the youth pastor and I were chatting, he was sharing about how profoundly important he felt like the discussion is.
I completely agree.
Knowing who you are… and who you are not willing to become… it’s like a runner putting in the miles of practice (a crazy number of miles, I might add) for one solid race. Without those strides; failure. I’m not talking about not winning, kind of failure. I’m talking not finishing. Or worse. Injury. Physical illness—sometimes creating an emergency situation.
But having a solid grip on your identity… Wow. I mean, power, baby. The strength to stand, the power to change the world around you with that strength.
I can’t help but think of the book of Daniel—and we just have to start in chapter one. On first read, that chapter just seems like backstory—here’s some stuff to help you set the scene. Setting, yes, but oh, so not the whole importance of it.
Take the part when Daniel and his buddies (you know, the ones who came out of the fiery furnace completely unaffected by the flames?) humbly ask the man in charge to let them eat veggies and drink water. If you don’t remember that part, go back and check it out; Daniel 1:5-14.
Let me take this moment to BEG you not to let this whole scene be reduced to a diet plan. PLEASE DON’T. If you do, you will have missed the real point. The strength and necessity of this backstory intro (you know writers don’t give backstory unless it is essential to the rest of the story, right?)
Daniel wasn’t worried about Eating Real. He wasn’t protecting his health. If that were the case, this whole intro makes NO sense whatsoever to the unfolding of the rest of Daniel’s incredible story. Because you see, there’s no real, lasting power in that.
Get the full picture with me. Daniel and his boys are Jewish young men. THEY ARE JEWISH. That means something to them. It means they are set apart. Yahweh’s men. Called beloved, for a purpose, with a Divine plan that extended beyond their digestive system. A plan that was intended to touch the whole world.
And they’ve been taken captive.
Understand for a moment here that the strength and genius of Babylon’s grip on the people they took captive wasn’t simply oppression. No, the king was so much smarter than that. The strength of his rise to power was more subtle. We call it assimilation. He took those captives violently, but when he had them, he essentially said “Here. Become one of us.” He stripped them of their former identity, until all those captives knew or wanted fell within his design.
(Does this sound even a little bit familiar?)
A tempting offer. Look what the king was willing to give. The best life. A place in the palace. The best education. The promise of a job. And food. Choice food. Health, wealth, and security. The only cost? Your identity.
Life as a Babylonian. Comfort. Privilege. Who would want to be anything else?
This is where this story begins. Not in a diet plan, but in a humble and yet powerful declaration of identity.
Daniel was respectfully claiming who he was.
I am a Jew. Set apart by Yahweh himself. No matter what you offer, how spoiled you make us, you, oh king, will not change that about me. You will not strip me of WHO I AM.
Food was simply the vehicle of that statement, not the essence of it. And suddenly the rest of his life makes so much more sense.
He knew who he was… and who he wasn’t willing to become. And because of that solid sense of identity, Daniel, and the three men who joined him in his respectful defiance, changed the heart of several kings, and sometimes, the practice of an entire nation. They had the strength to stand when most of us would fail.
Identity is that important. Do you know yours?