Daniel: A Story of Peer Pressure

[Daniel 1:8-16 and Daniel 6:6-11, 16
Sermon Text: 08.26.2018

          In the 1950’s there was a psychologist by the name of Solomon Asch who conducted a series of tests to see just how much people would give in to peer pressure. The test was simple enough. The test subjects were told that they would be given a standard eye test. They were shown a piece of paper with a line on it, and a second paper with three lines of different lengths. All the test subject had to do was raise their hand to identify which line was the same length as the line on the first paper. But only one person in the room was actually a test subject. Everyone else was part of the test – instructed to raise their hand for the wrong answer. Without a group around them, the error ratio was less than 1% – everybody got it right. But, in a group setting, the first they did it, over 75% gave the wrong answer to at least one of the questions – if everyone around them gave the same answer. Peer pressure is real.

          Today is week four of our five part sermon series – Old Testament Stories of Love. So far we have spend some time with Moses, Esther and last week we heard the whole story of Samson. But today we will examine two stories about the same man. Both stories of Daniel are all about handling and responding to peer pressure. Let’s take a look.

          So to set the stage a bit, we need to understand one crucial part of the background – Daniel lived in a time of exile. The history of Israel is messy and chaotic. As we’ve seen – it starts with slavery in Egypt, then there’s a long period of wandering where they had judges as leaders. Then they have the monarchy for a while, and then the kingdom splits in half, and then the final step is exile. You see, apparently it was a common practice back in the day, when a new empire took over an area – they would go in and take all the people and force them to move away and send them somewhere new. This would kind of take the fighting spirit away from a group – making them easier to control. So when the Babylonians took over – they deported most of the people and sent them to live far away. Now here’s the thing about exile – it’s a time of intense vulnerability for the people. They have nothing. No home, no land, no identity, no life really. They were basically a shade higher than slaves. This is the situation where we open on Daniel and his friends.

          Daniel and his friends are Israelites, Jewish men, who have been pulled into service in the king’s palace. Now, it’s scary, but it’s also somewhat exciting. If they do well here, their lives may not be so terrible. So it begins with the palace master giving them all new names, it says [read v.7]. Because we all know the most common nickname for Daniel is Belteshazzar. Of course this was all a part of the undermining process. The new rulers of the region are trying to strip them of anything they used to be attached to – even their names. It’s all about conformity, it’s all about control. But it continues, [read v.8]. Basically, he doesn’t want to eat the same food as everyone else. But the palace master is worried. He’s nervous about whether or not Daniel will be weaker because he is eating different food. So Daniel says, “put us to the test.” Let us eat what we want for ten days, and see who is healthier. At the end of ten days – they were stronger than all the other young men. But here’s what’s interesting about this story – there are no purity requirements about this food for Israelites. Daniel would not have been breaking any rules by eating that food – he chooses to stand out anyways. We’ll come back to that.

          Fast forward a little bit to our second scripture story and Daniel is doing pretty well for himself. He’s #winning at this whole serving the king thing. Unfortunately, there are some in the court who do not like Daniel or his success and so they plot to have him killed. Now they know that Daniel has a habit of praying to God three times a day, every single day. So they have King Darius sign an order that says you cannot pray to anyone except the King for a full month. If you violate the rule – you get thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel likes to pray, but if he prays he’ll end up in the lion’s den – pretty straight forward. Chapter 6 verse 10, [read it]. Now here’s what I want to point out – there is no religious requirement for Daniel to pray three times a day like he does. He could have easily just kept his head down without breaking any rules and just made it through that month. It’s like – take a break, wait a month, and then start praying again. But on top of that – Daniel goes to a room, on the second story with a wide open window. I mean, you’d think if he was knowingly breaking some rules, he would at least close the window. You know, hide it a little bit. But he doesn’t. You see, Daniel’s connection with God, Daniel’s religion goes above and beyond. He will not hide it. If you actually care about something – if it’s real – you won’t hide it.

          You probably have heard the rest of the story – Daniel gets caught, and the King is forced to throw him down into the lion’s pit. Daniel spends all night down in that pit, but the lion’s mouths are closed by an angel of God and Daniel is unharmed. Now, there’s a popular misunderstanding that comes from this story. Daniel stands up for what he believes, and God saves him from the lion’s mouth – but God did not save Daniel from being tossed in the pit. If you stand up against peer pressure – there will be challenges. God watches over us, and protects us – but God does not fix every little thing in our lives. Our actions in this life will still have consequences. Standing up for your beliefs is not always easy. It’s not always without trouble. Sometimes when you stand up for something, you might still find yourself spending the night in a pit.

 

Today’s story of Daniel teaches us something about God that might surprise you. God benefits us. When we stand up for what is right – God will prosper you. Because God benefits us. The Old Testament in particular goes on and on about how much having God in your life will benefit you. But, now, wait a minute – didn’t I just say that standing up for something can have consequences? Didn’t I just say that if you stand up for something, you might find yourself spending the night in a pit? So which is it? Will God benefit you, or will you end up in a pit? Well, the answer depends entirely on which definition of success you are using. One of the strongest pressures our world gives us is the world’s definition of success – lots of money, lots of stuff. But God has a very different definition of success. The world’s definition is understandable, they are working with an incomplete picture, like we said a few weeks ago – working with a dusty mirror. God benefits us and sometimes we see that in this life, but sometimes we have to be patient. So ask yourself – whose definition of success are you using? The one tv, radio, and movies sell you? The one your parent’s had? It’s not all bad, usually it’s a really nice picture of success – but it’s still incomplete. There is more to this life. We have to always be asking: is there a still more excellent way? If you live your life on the principles of love, mercy, forgiveness – making the world a better place – you can succeed even if you spend all night in a pit. Don’t look at your life from the standards of the people around you – look at your life through heaven’s eyes.

          Daniel’s example is not just about standing up for what you believe. Daniel goes above and beyond. Nothing in the Jewish faith forced Daniel to do what he did. There was no rules that said you have to eat different food than the rest of them. There are dietary rules for Jews, but the bible doesn’t tell us that the palace people were eating bad food. Daniel could have easily slipped under the radar – but he chose not to. He chose to make it an issue. And the whole praying thing? There is no requirement in Jewish tradition that would force him to pray three times a day. Definitely nothing that says he had to have an open window and pray towards Jerusalem. Daniel chose to do those things in that way because God matters to Daniel. The order that went out did not say he HAD to pray to the king, or even break any rules. It just said he had to keep quiet for a month. But Daniel’s dedication to God goes above and beyond the rules of “religion.” Daniel understood that this was about his connection to God.

          Let’s see if I can explain it this way. Imagine a father comes to his daughter one day and sits her down with a notepad and he asks her, “alright, what is the bare minimum that I have to do to be a good dad? Here’s my offer: I’ll give you one hug a day, I’ll attend all school plays, tuck you in three times a week and smile when I see you at least half the time. Deal?” [chuckle] There are no bare minimums in a real relationship. There are no bare minimums in a real connection. A connection focusing on bare minimums is not a relationship – it’s an obligation. You see, your priorities ARE your religion. Think for a second, where do you go above and beyond in your life? That’s your religion. God is not meant to be a sideline character in your life – God is meant to be front and center.

          There’s a music group called Switchfoot and they have a song that came out a couple years ago called “The World You Want” and these are the lyrics: “What you say is your religion. How you say it is your religion. Who you love is your religion. How you love is your religion. All your science, your religion. All you hatred, your religion. All you wars are your religion. Every breath is your religion.” Daniel takes his connection with God and he makes it about more than just a list of rules. He puts it right up on top of his priorities. God is not interested in the bare minimum of your life. God is interested in you. All of you. Now, there’s a very simple test to see what your priorities are – maybe you’ve heard of this. All you do is look at your time and look at your money. How are you spending your time? How are you spending your money? And it’s not always about amounts. Putting something first in your life doesn’t mean you always spend the most time or money on that thing – but it does mean that it is the first thing to go on your schedule and the last thing to come off your schedule. It’s the first thing to go into your budget and it’s the last thing to come out of your budget. SO ask yourself – when the schedule gets tight – what are you cutting first? What’s the lowest priority in your life? When the money gets tight – what are you cutting first? What’s the lowest priority? Daniel made God a priority, even with the whole world against him. All that peer pressure and Daniel still chose to put God first.

 

          Here’s the thing about peer pressure. We talk about it a lot for kids. Our youth struggle with peer pressure. A few weeks ago we talked about the story of Esther and one of the issues that comes from that story was bullying – and we realized that adults can be bullies too. Getting older does not take away those problems. The same thing is true of peer pressure. New and improved – peer pressure is an adult problem too. The truth is we live in a world with a million influences. A billion voices all screaming for your attention all at once. And these voices have influence over us. Whether we like it or not, our environment, the things we are surrounded by shapes us. It molds us. Who you are is a culmination of the influences tugging you in one direction or another.

          So to close this morning I want to talk about two sources of peer pressure and three ways to handle it. The first source is our friends. There is no greater influence in our life than the people we love and respect. We have the most power over those who are closest to us. And it goes both ways. The lifestyle, thoughts and actions of those around you affect your choices – they are the loudest voices in your world. So the message here is fairly simple – be careful who you surround yourself with. Recognize that you are shaped by the things around you. The second source of peer pressure it’s probably obvious – it’s the media. Whatever noises you are filling your world with has an effect on you. Internet, TV, radio, newspaper, music, the news – they may not be the loudest voices in your life, but they are the most abundant. They’re everywhere! You can’t turn on the tv, or get in your car without being bombarded by messages, voices, influences. The point is – you cannot escape it. Your world, and whatever is in it, will shape you. It will change you.

          So what do we do about that? There are three things we can do as Christians to fight peer pressure. First, there’s this word we use in church called “discernment.” Discernment is basically a filter. Discernment is when we look at something in the world and figure what is good and what is wrong with that something. Discernment is the moment when we recognize that there are voices all around us and we choose which voices to listen to. Now that doesn’t always come easy. It can hard to figure out which voices to listen to – that’s part of why we are here in church, to work together to figure out the world. To listen to a song on the radio or a commercial on tv and actually use our brains to decide whether or not to support that song or whatever.

          Now, some people think you should just avoid all things that are bad. But that doesn’t really work. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, [read v.9-10]. Do you see what he’s saying? He said Don’t associate with people who say they are Christians, but are sexually immoral, he’s talking about hypocrites, but then in verse 10 he says, I’m not saying you should avoid all immoral people – because to do that you would need to go out of the world. Truth is we can’t avoid all the evil of the world. You can’t run away from it all – it’s too much. You have to stand and face it. You have to be able to look at something and discern, use your filter – this is right and this is wrong. And if you need help – bring it to church! That’s part of why we are here. We are a community coming together to figure out this book and figure out how to live for God out there in the real world.

          So the first thing we need to battle peer pressure is discernment. The second thing is persistence. Once we have a sense of what we believe about an issue – we need to hang on to that understanding. Once we have fully connected with God – we need to cling to that connection. Just because we know which voice to listen to in life – doesn’t mean the rest of the voices stop. It takes effort and focus to make sure we are listening to the right voices. Figure out what is good for you – and then pursue it. It’s not enough to know what is good or bad – you have to act on it. For example: we all know that eating right and exercising is necessary for living a healthy life. But just knowing that isn’t enough – you have to act on it. If you know what it takes to be healthy, but you only eat doughnuts and never exercise – you won’t be healthy. The same goes for your soul. If you know what is good for you, but you still fill your world with garbage – your soul won’t be healthy.

          Step 1: Figure out what is good for you. Filter. Discernment. Step 2: Act on that – cling to what is good. Persistence. Step 3 comes with a realization – you have a voice. SO far today we’ve been talking about the voices and influences that surround us, but we have to remember – you are one of those voices. You are one of those influences. You are not powerless. Use the voice you have. There are good and bad influences out there – but life is not a spectator sport. You are not sitting on the sidelines of this world. You are one of those influences – for better or worse. So which is it going to be? Are you going to be an influence for good? Are you going to be the hands and feet of God in the world? Are you going to make a difference with this one wild and precious life you have been given?

 

          So that’s the story of Daniel. The reality of this world is that peer pressure is real. Life is a multitude of voices, influences, pulling us this way and that. With prayer, studying the bible, talking with other Christians – we can figure out what is right. We can act on it, and then we can push back – be an influence for good. Solomon Asch, back in the 1950’s, ran some experiments that showed 75% of the time people choose the wrong answer when pressured by the people around them. But that means that there are still those out there who stuck to the right answer, no matter what. Which are you going to be? Amen.


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