By Dr. Bryan Smith
I do a lot of traveling, so meeting new people is something I do almost every day. Since I work mostly with teachers, a common first question concerns whether I have children and, if so, how many. My answer surprises them all: I have six—five boys and one girl. “Wow! You must be busy!” Indeed, I am. And, of course, my wife is busier.
But busy doing what? Running back and forth to school and going to soccer games? Well, that does describe some of the details. But that’s not what parenting is all about—or it shouldn’t be. It should be all about influence. Through all of the busyness, I want to influence my children. I don’t want them to be influenced by worldly thinking or godless values. I want to take the lead and see to it that their lives are shaped by the right kind of influence.
What does the right kind of influence look like? Maybe the best way to discern that is to locate a young person who is living for God, even in the midst of great opposition. Then we can work our way backward and figure out what kind of influence shaped that person. I think we find such a young person in the book of Daniel. And from the first chapter, we can infer the right kind of influence.
Daniel: A Young Person Living for God
Daniel’s story begins with some of the worst news imaginable: Jerusalem has fallen to the Babylonians (1:1-2). The king is deposed, and some of the children of the nobility are taken to Babylon. The young Daniel is among them. Can you hear the cries of heartbroken parents as they watched their children being carted off to Babylon? “Oh, that we could have saved Jerusalem for our children!” But they could not. The time for God’s judgment had come. But their lives had not been wasted. Daniel and his friends are taken away from Jerusalem. But in the will of God, they are going somewhere—to a place where they will be used for God’s purposes.
Daniel distinguishes himself as a young man of great promise. He is among those who are known to be “skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning” (v. 4).
So promising is Daniel that Nebuchadnezzar himself appoints him to a three-year course in Babylonian culture and language. At the end of this time, Daniel will serve the king in his court.
Daniel, however, proves to be much more than a really smart guy. He’s a young man with iron in his bones. When he discovers that his education will require him to eat food that Scripture has forbidden, he takes a stand: “Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank” (v. 8).
But how he takes his stand ends up being just as instructive as the stand itself. He doesn’t make demands of the Babylonians. He asks that the chief of the eunuchs give him a special diet. When the man objects that such an action could endanger his position before the king, Daniel proposes a test. He asks to be given a special diet for ten days. At the end of the ten days, the chief of the eunuchs will decide what Daniel’s diet should be.
You know the rest of the story. God gives Daniel favor before the Babylonians and before Nebuchadnezzar himself. Before long, Daniel is one of the most powerful men in the world—a power God allows him to retain well into old age.
The first lesson to learn from this familiar story is that someone—or a group of someones—had prepared Daniel for the prominence he later achieved. Children aren’t born “skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning.” If a young person possesses such things, it’s because someone has taken the time and effort to teach him.
And this teaching was evidently much more than just instruction in bare facts. Daniel knew how to think too. He didn’t just refuse to eat the king’s food. Daniel proposed a test that protected his immediate authority from undue risk while enabling him to be faithful to God. To use the language of current educators, Daniel knew how to analyze, evaluate, and create.
Best of all, Daniel knew how to think and reason from Scripture. He analyzes, evaluates, and creates not so he can get away with something or engage in some sinful pleasure. He applies his mental skills so he can live biblically. This too had come from somewhere. Most likely someone had modeled for Daniel how to think about life from the perspective of Scripture and what it means to live for God.
Influence and Christian Education
Since this is the kind of young person I want to come from my home, this is the kind of influence I want to have on my children. I want them to have a broad knowledge about the world: its history, its literature, its wisdom, its learning. But I don’t want them just to memorize facts about these things. I want them to be able to think with them: to analyze that history, evaluate the literature, and to create new things based on that wisdom and that learning. And more than anything, I want them to think about these things biblically so they can live biblically. I want them to see all of life not from a worldly perspective but rather from the perspective of Scripture.
The kind of influence I have just described is not the kind of influence that can happen on a Sunday morning or a Wednesday night. It is an all-day, everyday kind of influence. It is not the kind of influence that concerns church and ministry things only. It is the kind of influence that concerns all of life. It is, in other words, the kind of influence that only a school can exert. That’s the reason I’m committed to Christian education for my children. To my way of thinking, it’s the best way to get a Daniel in this day of twisted thinking and corrupt living.
If ever there was a day that needs the influence of young Daniels, today is that day. Who knows what our children may be called by God to do? Restore our nation? Perhaps. But what if Jerusalem cannot be saved? Are our efforts in vain? No. A child who is prepared to live for God in Babylon can still change the world.
Dr. Bryan Smith has worked in Christian education for over twenty years. He has been a classroom teacher as well as a textbook author. Currently, he serves at BJU Press as the Bible Integration Senior Manager. In this position, he assists authors and teachers in the work of integrating faith and learning in the classroom. Bryan holds a Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation. He and his wife, Becky, have six children.
Volume 8 Issue 1 - The Renewanation Review