Sunday, February 1, 2015

How to Train An Alien

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. Daniel 1:3-4

Daniel is one of my favorite biblical characters. Taken prisoner by a pagan nation as a teenager, he nonetheless stayed true to God throughout his whole life. And God used him powerfully in the Babylonian nation. The first story of his impact for God occurred when he was about 15 and the final story of his godly life happened in his 80s. He was truly an example of someone who fought the good fight and finished the race.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, though, is what happened before the first chapter of Daniel. The story picks up when he is about 15. But we see in Daniel 1 that he is already a godly, courageous young man. What happened to make him so?

We don’t know if he was raised by his parents, or if they were dead and he was raised by other family. We don’t know how much of his instruction he got from his mom and dad, and how much he got from a tutor or temple priests. Since his family was of the nobility, they probably had enough money to provide the best of teachers for him. Regardless of who brought him up, what we know for sure is what he learned from his upbringing. And since he is one of the few biblical characters about whom nothing bad was written, it’s safe to take him for a model of what to aim for in your child’s education.

Like Daniel, your children will be “aliens” in the world, facing a pagan and hostile environment when they graduate. The anti-God voices in our culture are daily becoming louder and more vehement against Christianity. If we want our children to stand strong for the Lord like Daniel did, it would help us to take some lessons from Daniel’s education.

1. He Had Biblical Theology. We find Daniel’s theological point of view in the very first paragraph of the book. Daniel didn’t say that Nebuchadnezzer conquered Israelite King Jehoiakim. Instead he said that God delivered Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzer’s hand. This might seem like a trifling change of wording, but it has huge implications. Daniel didn’t believe that he and his nation were taken into captivity merely by chance, or the fortunes of war. He believed that God planned and ordained their captivity for His own purposes.

When I came to grips with the fact that God is not only able to control all things, but actually does control all things for His glory and our good, it changed my life. This is the first and most important thing a parent can teach His child. This is what separates a thoroughly Christian education from a pagan education. God exists and ordains all things for His glory. If we take away this belief, we are left with a worldview that is based on chance and chaos.

Not only did Daniel believe God ordained Israel’s captivity, he doubtless knew exactly why God had brought it about: Israel’s sin. Daniel’s intimate acquaintance with the law and prophets (which is seen in the rest of the book of Daniel) assured that he knew God had promised exactly these consequences time and time again when warning the nation to turn from sin. Unless we believe there is a God who judges sin, we will never fully learn personal responsibility. Unless we believe that God loves us enough to discipline us into righteousness, we will never fully feel the need to submit to God and be saved from our sins.

If your child learns nothing else in his education, he must learn these theological truths. They have eternal consequences that cannot be avoided.

2. He Showed Aptitude for Learning. Aptitude is based partly on ability and partly on attitude. Ability is something that is different for every child. Some children have more ability to learn math, others have more ability in the area of music and art, and so on. But every child can be trained to have a good attitude about learning. The Bible tells us that children are born foolish and it’s the parents’ job to train this foolishness out of them. One aspect of foolishness is an unwillingness to learn.

Those who brought up Daniel trained him to have a cheerful desire for knowledge. Not only did he demonstrate a willingness to learn both his own and his captors’ cultural wisdom, he showed throughout his life a willingness to learn from God. Learning requires humility because you must first admit you do not know before you can strive to know.

A desire to learn is the foundation of all educational success. Regardless of how thorough your child’s education is (or is not) and whether he has “gaps” in subjects that were poorly taught, he can succeed in life if he has been taught to love learning. He will be able to repair those “gaps” himself through further self-education.

Teach your children to love wisdom and knowledge, and give them the tools to pursue these things. Require them to develop the discipline necessary for thoroughly investigating a subject.

3. He Respected Those in Command. Daniel had every reason to disrespect, distrust and even hate those in authority over him. They had ripped him out of his family and homeland, taken him to a foreign country, and put him in a brainwashing program to make him into a Babylonian. The culture around him was pagan and he could have felt every right to resist anything the Babylonians commanded him to do.

But instead, Daniel showed respect and tact towards those in authority. He wasn’t a rebel or a crusader. He worked within the chain of command to make his requests and he tactfully offered solutions that would allow his commanders to save face while giving him what he asked for. This is an incredibly valuable skill, and it’s especially amazing in a young man of 15. God had obviously given Daniel an extra share of wisdom to deal with his situation, but much credit should also go to those who brought him up to show such tact and thoughtfulness.

This is another aspect of training the foolishness out of children which parents would do well to heed. Even a brilliant person will not get very far if he can’t submit to authority, work with the system, and be tactful and thoughtful to those around him or her. Work with your children to teach them to submit – not with clenched teeth, unwillingly, but with sincere respect and understanding towards those in authority. As “aliens” in this world, we will always face opposition to godliness. But nowhere in Scripture do we see that as a justification for disrespect, rudeness or obstructionism towards those in authority.

4. He Had Courage. It’s not enough to have convictions. You must be willing to act on them, even when it’s hard. The Bible tells us that faith without deeds is useless. Daniel certainly had the hardest of situations. His literally put his life on the line by disobeying the orders of the king.

Not only that, but we can guess that he may have been under pressure from his fellow Israelite captives. “Don’t rock the boat, Daniel, you want to get all of us in trouble?” I can imagine that his less courageous comrades may have tried to squelch his convictions out of fear for their own safety. Opposition from friends can be an even harder trial to bear than opposition from an enemy.  But Daniel stood firm and God blessed him for it.

One way parents can teach this type of courage is by example. Often we avoid making courageous stands because of the fear of “what if?” But if your children see you making principled stands by faith, and then see how God upholds you, they will be emboldened themselves to stand for Christ. The “what if?” question will be answered by their personal observation of God’s protection and blessing on you.

How many of us have been encouraged by the example of others? Hebrews 11 lists a “great cloud of witnesses” to encourage us. Be another in this cloud of witnesses for your child by standing for God’s truth.

5. He Chose Godly Friends. Though Daniel would certainly have had associations with his fellow Israelite captives, as well as Babylonian young men in the king’s court, his closest friends were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known in history as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego of fiery furnace fame). And I think it is no coincidence that the friends he chose were the ones who stood with him against the paganism of Babylon.

Daniel knew he was facing a ruthless conqueror who had no compunction in trying to force him to give up his religion, his morals and his ideals. He knew he was facing an intensive brainwashing course designed to saturate him with a pagan culture. He therefore showed great wisdom in surrounding himself with friends who would stand with him and encourage him to do right.

It is extremely hard to go it alone. The Bible tells us that two are better than one, and three are even better than that. It’s never too early to teach your children to value godly friendships. Starting with their own family and then adding friends from church and other activities, help them learn to discern what kind of people will encourage them in godliness. Help them analyze whether a friend is building them up in righteousness or pulling them in the wrong direction.

In conclusion, I’d like to point out one of the most encouraging lessons we can learn from Daniel’s story. Consider that Daniel was in his mid-teens when he was taken to Babylon. Even by the standards of the day, he was only barely an adult. I don’t know what his parents and family felt when he was taken away, but I imagine there was much anxiety for his safety and his future spiritual condition. They may have felt that their educational work was unfinished or imperfect. They may have worried about whether they had adequately prepared him for the coming battle against paganism.

But God took the educational foundation Daniel had been given and used it mightily in Daniel’s life. One of the most godly men in the Bible, Daniel also became one of the most powerful aliens on earth as a high minister in the Babylonian king’s court.

When parents do their best and ask for God’s wisdom to train their children, God will honor those efforts through His blessing. No matter how imperfect your child’s educational experience is, God can work through your faith to bring great things into your child’s life. The story of Daniel, to me, is one of the greatest challenges to parents – and one of the greatest encouragements. 

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