Today I read Daniel 1 as part of the YouVersion reading plan for a Daniel Fast. I thought about skimming the passage. After all, I pretty much know the story and had glanced at it yesterday morning. Instead, I read it directly from YouVersion and chose the New Living Translation, just so it wouldn't seem too familiar.
To summarize, Daniel comes from an extraordinary background. When Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem and commands his chief of staff to bring bring back the most educated men, who are also strong and good-looking, Daniel gets chosen. Nebuchadnezzar plans to train and indoctrinate these men to serve him. What's a sure-fire way to take over a country? Get the inhabitants of that country to speak your language and adopt your culture, your gods, your way of thinking.
And Daniel says, Not so fast. I'll serve you, but I'll keep my own God.
And as part of that commitment, he asks the chief of staff for permission to observe a special diet, consisting of vegetables instead of the food from the king's kitchen. And I don't know how many captives from Jerusalem were there, but three other men join him in this request. I also don't know why Daniel didn't want the king's food. Some commentators have speculated that the meat must have been sacrificed to idols, but the Bible doesn't say.
The chief of staff hesitates. If Daniel and his friends don't look as healthy as the other guys, he knows his job (and maybe his life) will be on the line.
So Daniel says, "Just for ten days. If we don't look as good as the other guys, we agree to eat your food."
But God blesses Daniel for his commitment. And at the end of the ten days, "Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king" (verse 15). After that, they ate nothing but vegetables for three years, the entire course of their training.
And God honored Daniel's commitment. He gave them "an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of dreams" (verse 17). These men demonstrated greater wisdom, greater understanding, and greater intelligence than any of the other men.
I might be wrong, but I think this wasn't as much about the food as it was about Daniel's commitment to seek God during a time of distraction. Eating the special diet reminded him that he was different, that he served the one true God and not the god of the Babylonians.
And certainly, when we fast, we're thinking about food, what we can eat, what we can't eat, and hopefully we're thinking about why and responding with prayer.
So simply fasting does not guarantee God's blessing. Commitment to seeking God doesn't guarantee extraordinary blessing. However, it does position us to receive from God and to be used by God.
God's story included this extraordinary blessing.
A few days ago, I wrote about my response to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. Essentially, I like guarantees. Hard work plus talent/intelligence equals success, respect, acclaim, honor, opportunity. It's the American way. Equal opportunity for all.
But the truth is, we all have different talents. We all have different interests. We are born in unique times with unique opportunities. And certain people get more opportunities than others. My parents didn't send me to Europe to perfect my French, which I had a unique talent for, but they sacrificed their own desires to provide me with piano lessons and violin lessons, and they encouraged me to read and embrace learning. I could have been born in Cameroon, where most children only get a primary school education. I got to go to college. Twice.
And we position ourselves for blessings and opportunities as we seek God and serve him wholeheartedly. The thing is, those opportunities might not be the ones we would choose. Right now I'm thinking of Jim Eliot, a missionary who felt God call him to Ecuador, murdered by the Indians he came to share God's love with. Definitely not the opportunity he would have chosen. And come to think of it, I don't think Daniel and his friends chose to go to Babylon.
Some years ago I read The Sacred Romance, by Brent Curtis and and John Eldredge, and they highlighted a very important point, which is that we like to think we are the lead characters in our stories, but the truth is that we all play a supporting role in God's story. He writes our characters and gives them the opportunities that further his story, his plot, his plan to reconcile the world to him.
I've rambled a bit, and I need to finish this up so I can go on with the rest of my day. Fasting is not a magic bullet. Completing the fast doesn't guarantee any specific outcome. It doesn't guarantee answers to my prayers. It doesn't guarantee extraordinary opportunities or understanding.
Fasting positions us to hear to from God and equips me to serve him through the opportunities he provides. But it's not just about the food (or lack of it); it's humility and learning to live dependent on God's power and not my own.