Daniel 3: 8-30
Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.
If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.
When I was growing up, I used to spend the last few weeks of summer at a Bible camp. My best friends and I would pack up a car and make our way a few hours south to one of the most beautiful places in the world. A quiet lake with a few cabins surrounding a lodge. Tucked into the corner of nowhere. We learned to switch off. No signal for hours, no Wifi to distract. We would turn up with our Bibles in hand, eager to spend time with friends in the sunshine as we learned about God and His plans for us.
By our third year there, we had figured out which cabin had the best bunks, and carried an unspoken agreement with some of our other friends as to where everyone stayed. We were always Cabin 5. The same group of girls, growing up over a handful of summer weeks. Every night we would talk for hours and hours until someone announced they were sleepy and our nighttime prayers began. Each of us would pray out loud for each other in turns, for the camp, for our friends, for our families, until we fell asleep.
The only heating came from a stove in the middle of the cabin. One night, as we talked on and on, someone kept throwing bits of birch bark and chunks of wood into the top of the stove to keep us warm while we put the world to rights. Suddenly, a loud bang brought us all to silence. We looked at the source, only to see the black cast iron stove was suddenly turning orange. Flames danced out of every possible opening. The fire roared inside of its container. No longer was it lovely and warm inside the cabin. It was uncomfortably hot.
With the infinite wisdom of teenagers, we decided to try and sleep instead of disturbing one of our camp counsellors. Nighttime prayers were dedicated to the stove not blowing up and killing us all, before burning down the camp we loved so dearly. Isaiah 43:2 was brought up: “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Nervous laughter drowned out the sound of the fire raging. I fell asleep muttering “Not my will, but Yours.” When we woke up the next morning, it was absolutely freezing, and we were giddy with relief.
Oftentimes, when we use fire imagery in the context of our faith, we imagine something holy. Something to burn out every other thing that takes precedence over God’s place in our lives. We describe the Spirit as an “all-consuming flame”. We pray for heavenly fire to fall down on us. We sing about placing our lives as an offering on altars before our Lord. This image empowers our souls in righteousness and strength.
In a literal sense, however, fire takes on a different meaning. One of caution, of control. A force of nature that must be bowed to and respected. After all, what happens when something is thrown into fire? It burns into ash. It is past saving. Gone forever. All it takes is a few seconds.
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it… But even if He doesn’t, we will not serve your gods.”
As we come round to the anniversary of this most bizarre, most heartbreaking, most exhausting year, I am sure we can each think of at least one moment where the world around us has felt like that blazing furnace. Where we were bound, consumed, overwhelmed, surrounded by an inferno. Maybe that is what life feels like to you right now. Even with the promise of an end to this pandemic, the flames are too high, the fire too hot.
The greatest struggle of faith comes with learning to trust God. Trusting His will for your life over your own desire. It would have been easy for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to bow down as everyone else around them did. To cower and bend to the will of a foreign god and king. They perhaps held onto that same verse in Isaiah while they walked together, bound and facing their fate. But despite everything, they were convinced in their trust.
“Even if He doesn’t” still shows trust. How many times have we prayed for this year to be over? For a cure to be found? We so often desire the faith of these Biblical heroes, the same faith Jesus carried as he walked to the cross, but when we have a chance to grow in our trust we struggle. If this is you today, tomorrow, remember the trust and the hope that can still be found within the flames.
There may be a Nebuchadnezzar in your life. Demanding loyalty at all costs. Disregarding who God has made you to be. But a journey through the fire for you might be exactly what this other needs to witness from a distance. For when Nebuchadnezzar looked into the roaring flames, flames so hot they had killed his strongest men as they carried out his orders to throw the tied-up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace, he expected to see his wish carried out.
Instead, he saw the faithfulness of the Almighty God to His beloved ones. He saw that trust in action. He saw another in the fire. Walking next to the three men who were now unbound and unharmed. The image of three men walking out of a raging inferno untouched will never not be miraculous and awe-inspiring. It is no wonder the king these men would not bow to instead bows to their God, proclaiming that “no other god can save in this way.”
No other god can save in this way.
A God who rescues not by extinguishing the flames before they overwhelmed, but by meeting those who trusted Him within the fire.
Jesus, standing in the fire with those three men who trusted Him to rescue them. The same Jesus who came to earth, who died for our sins, who left His Spirit to stand with us in our own struggles.
The same Jesus stands with you right now.
I was listening to worship music when I went to read the verse in Daniel. While I turned to the page, this song came on. It felt too perfect to not include. I pray it reminds you of His presence as you go through your day.
Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.’
Methodist Covenant Prayer
If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.
Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.
Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.
“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.