There are a lot of really great Old Testament stories in the Bible that I just love. Like the story of Joseph, whose brothers threw him down a hole in the hopes they’d be rid of him and his dreams, but who later wound up becoming Pharoah’s right hand man and saved his family from starvation. Or the story of Esther, an orphan girl whose true beauty swept away a king and brought her up to queenly status, and whose godly wisdom and discernment helped to save her people from certain death. And then, my personal favorite, the story of Job, the upright man who lost everything, yet gained a personal audience with his Creator.
I’ve heard these stories over and over during sermons, bible studies and in Sunday school, and I feel I know them well enough to rattle them off when necessary. Maybe a little too well. The stories can become rote and sometimes, I fear I’ve missed the real lesson. Take the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (or Rack, Shack and Benny, for those of us who are closet Veggie Tales fans ). In the Book of Daniel, these are the three young men who get thrown into the fiery furnace after refusing to bow down to worship the golden idol built by King Nebuchadnezzar. The king gets so irritated with them by their steadfast refusal of worship that at one point, he orders the furnace to be turned up seven times hotter than it already is. The soldiers who throw the trio into the flames wind up burned and dead themselves, but Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are observed by the king in the fire, walking around with someone else! And after the king has them taken out, none of them are burned and they don’t even smell like smoke! I’m enthralled by this story every time I hear or read it, and I always come away meditating on the lesson that God is with us even in the worst of circumstances. And while that is true, it’s really not the whole story. There is much more to it. Today, I was confronted...and convicted...by the other, more difficult lesson that I seem to miss every time (perhaps by choice?).
On my drive in to work, I was listening to a song by a guy named Dave Pettigrew. It was co-written by the pastor of Dave’s church who found himself completely bowled over by his father’s diagnosis of lymphoma some years ago. The song is called, “Even If Not,” and even though I’ve listened to it several times before, the lyrics of the chorus hit me today in quite a different way, causing me to ask myself some hard questions that drove home the deeper lesson.
I know my God will rescue me,
I know my God will come and save the day;
But even if not,
Even if not,
Even if not, I will worship You.
These words echo what the three young men tell the king: “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).
Wow. It can be easy to tell God that I love Him and I worship Him when everything in my life is just peachy keen and moving along swimmingly. But what about when it isn’t? What about when the bloodwork comes back positive for cancer? Or when the prayed for marriage relationship continues to fall apart? What happens when the ‘perfect’ child turns into the prodigal child? Can I join Daniel’s peers and Dave Pettigrew’s pastor in worshiping God when He DOESN’T step in and save the day? Can I, in all honesty, sincerely sing along with this song and mean it? I thought about an ugly situation I had found myself in recently with someone where my reaction was NOTHING like Shadrach’s, Meshach’s or Abednego’s, and I’m ashamed to say that my answer has to be, for now, a dismaying ‘no.’
But I’m thankful that my Father God is loving and compassionate, forgiving and merciful, patient and persistent. I’ve no doubt that He will provide me with many opportunities to learn (and re-learn) and understand this lesson of worshiping Him even when His answers to my anguished prayers aren’t the ones I’m looking for. Even when I'm faced with an 'even if not' moment.
Thanking God and worshiping Him in the midst of the trials and difficulties that He allows shows our deep trust in Him, knowing these are the very things that strengthen us. While God delights in giving us, His children, good and wonderful things, just as we delight in doing the same for our own children, He also knows that it’s during those ‘fiery furnace’ times that our true colors of faith will come blazing forth.
What about you today? When you lose your job or your home.....have your heart shattered by someone you love (AGAIN!)....find a lump in your body that shouldn’t be there....receive the late night phone call from the police about your son or daughter.....when there seems to be no end to the pain in your life....will you continue to believe that God still cares? Will you still choose to worship Him when confronted by an 'even if not' moment? Will you join me in persevering to learn and live out this lesson?
Even if we’re thrown into the fire
Even if the flames burn even brighter
We will stand, covered in the ashes of despair
We will stand singing praises, even when it feels like You’re not there
And when our hearts grow faint Lord,
We’ll find the strength to say,
We know our God will rescue us
We know our God will come and save the day
But even if not, even if not, even if not,
We will worship You tonight, tonight ~ Even If Not, Dave Pettigrew