a.k.a. the Prayer of Shadrach, Meshach, and AbednegoEmbed from Getty Images
Warning: Reading this blog may upset your applecart. It may rock the foundations of your faith. It may raise more questions than it answers. It may change your very concept of God. It may cause you to shake your fists at him. It may cause you to fall on your face in worship and ultimate surrender to him.
I know, because it’s all happened to me on my faith journey.
Who were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego anyway? Why is their prayer so important? Other prayers in the Bible get more attention…but you don’t hear much about their prayer, probably because we’d like to pretend it doesn’t exist. It acknowledges that sometimes there are unhappy endings in our lives, even when we pray for happy ones.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (SMA) were young Hebrews who were captured and taken to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the kingdom of Judah. The king conscripted elite captives to serve at his court, and SMA were among these men. Their original Hebrew names were Hananiah (Yahweh is gracious), Mishael (who is what God is?), and Azariah (Yahweh has helped). Nebuchadnezzar gave them new Babylonian names; however, we will see that they never forgot their namesake.
CRISIS OF FAITH
King Nebuchadnezzar had an ego the size of his conquered territory. He set up a golden statue that was 90 feet tall and ordered everyone to worship the statue. However, SMA refused to worship anyone but the one true God and someone tattled to gain the kings’ favor. As a result, they were threatened with being thrown into a blazing furnace.
Although addressed to King Nebuchadnezzar, SMA’s response reflects the prayer of their hearts in this fiery trial:
“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 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. 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)
This infuriated the king and they were cast into a blazing furnace so hot that it killed the soldiers who cast them in. Long story short, the pre-incarnate Christ appeared with them in the furnace, they escaped unharmed, and King Nebuchadnezzar gave glory to the Most High God.
What are some lessons learned from SMA’s “Even if…” prayer?
1. They prayed expectantly for deliverance.
They prayed knowing that God was more than able to rescue them. We are to pray with faith in the might and power of the Lord God Almighty to do the impossible in our lives. He will deliver us and sustain us, although deliverance may not always look like we expect.
2. They prayed surrendered to God’s will.
They were willing to accept an unhappy ending while acknowledging His ability to give them a happy one. Jesus prayed a similar prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, crying out to God to “let this cup pass” while surrendering himself to “Thy will be done.” (see Matthew 26:36-44).
3. Their high view of God wasn’t dependent on the outcome.
When God doesn’t come to our rescue, we may think it’s because his character has changed, that he is no longer good, that he no longer loves us or cares about us. These are lies from the enemy of our souls. God never changes. He is still God, the only Sovereign King worthy of our worship. SMA’s high view of God didn’t change because of their circumstances. Even if he didn’t rescue them, they would continue worshiping him with their dying breath.
4. They didn’t try to defend themselves or God.
When we or someone we know is going through a hard time, we want answers. We want to explain why God allows suffering. We quote verses like Romans 8:28 and that’s where we get stuck – trying to reconcile grief and pain with a good and loving God. We forget that God hates our pain and suffering as much as we do. He hates it when his children are mistreated and abused. He hates watching his creation suffer the effects of sin. Instead, we question why he doesn’t act, mistaking his patience for acquiescence (see 2 Peter 3:9). We forget the greatest act of his love for us: the cross (1 John 3:16). The cross is the greatest rescue plan in the history of humanity, because it gives us the hope of His presence in this life and the next.
5. They were thrown into the fire in spite of their great faith.
God doesn’t spare us from trials based on the strength of our faith. This is a misunderstanding perpetuated by the prosperity movement and the cultural thinking of the Western world. We think if we only pray hard enough and have enough faith, God will give us what we ask for. When He doesn’t, our faith is shaken to its very core. Our faith must be in His person and His presence, not in what we want him to do for us.
6. They weren’t alone in their trial.
Jesus was with them in the midst of it. How do we experience the presence, peace, and comfort of Jesus in our own fiery trials? By acknowledging that as our Creator, God has an absolute claim on our lives and he can do with us what he wants. As clay in the potter’s hands, we are subject to his purposes and shaping. Everything he does is for his ultimate glory and our ultimate good if we are willing to surrender to his will, as painful as it may be. We are to offer our lives to him as living sacrifices to be used for his glory (Romans 12:1).
7. Their trial caused unbelievers to give glory to the Most High God.
Resist the temptation to think that trials are all about you. Yes, God uses trials to refine us and mature us in our faith and every single one of them is very personal. Yet, at the same time, we must remember that people are watching our responses to the difficult situations and the difficult people in our lives. They are watching to see whether we blame God or trust him, whether we turn towards him or away from him, whether we curse God or give him glory, whether we forgive as God has forgiven us or allow bitterness to take root.
8. Their perseverance was rewarded with blessing.
Ultimately the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to positions of greater responsibility. However, we must remember that “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New1.” God doesn’t promise promotions and prosperity to believers who persevere today – although that may happen. What he does promise is the blessing of a mature faith (James 1:3-4), a mature hope (Romans 5:3-4), and Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
Can you say this unequivocally with just a small mustard seed of faith?
“Even if he doesn’t __________________,
I will still serve and worship Him.”
It’s not easy. When we are devastated by the effects of illness, death, divorce, betrayal, job loss, financial ruin, and other trials, our human nature wants to blame God for not rescuing us from the difficulty. But, if we say like SMA that even if he doesn’t he is still God and I will still serve and worship him, he will meet us in that trial, comfort us with his presence, and use it for our good and his glory.
1Francis Bacon, as quoted by Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 476.
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