The Wilberforce School will hold our very first high school graduation ceremony this year. As I think about our students leaving Wilberforce, I am reminded of Daniel of the Old Testament. The more I learn and think about Daniel, the more I see him as a great role model for our students. Here are some reasons why.
First, Daniel was young. Commentators note that Daniel was between the ages of 14 and 20 when he was taken from Jerusalem to Babylon to serve under King Nebuchadnezzar. In Daniel, therefore, our students have a role model who was most likely just a teenager, not much older than our middle school students, when he was taken from his home to a foreign land to serve a foreign king. He was also most likely just a teenager when he risked his life by refusing the king's food and wine so that he would not disobey God. Daniel reminds us that teenagers are not too young to stand firm in their faith.
Second, Daniel was not a typical prophet in that he spent most of his time working as a government official under a non-Israelite king. In other words, he served and lived most of his life in a "non-Christian" environment that was, at times, quite hostile to his faith. Many of our students will not become full-time missionaries or pastors. Rather, many of them will enter fields where they, as Christians, will be in the minority; at times, the environments they are in might be hostile to their faith. But Daniel reminds us that in all fields of work and in any environment we can faithfully serve God.
Third, Daniel engaged the culture of Babylon without compromising his faith. The young Israelite men who were taken to Babylon faced two opposing temptations. One temptation was to assimilate into the Babylonian culture. When Daniel arrived in Babylon, he was given a new name, new clothes and the king's food and wine to dine on. In essence, he was given a new identity, one that was associated with the Babylonian gods. These are the names that were given to Daniel and his friends:
Daniel: "God is Judge"
Belteshazzar: "Bel provides"
Hananiah: "The Lord is Gracious"
Shadrach: "Exalt Aku" (a Babylonian chief)
Mishael: "Who is what the Lord is?" or There is none like the Lord
Meshach: "Who is what Aku is?"
Azariah: "The Lord is my Helper"
Abendigo: "The servant of Nebo"
These names were associated with their God and ultimately their identity. The temptation to assimilate into the Babylonian culture and accept the foreign gods was undoubtedly great. Nevertheless, Daniel was able to remain faithful because his identity as a follower of God had been firmly established in his heart.
The other temptation that the young Israelite men faced was to separate themselves from the Babylonian culture. But in Jeremiah 29:4-7, we see that God did not want the Israelites to separate themselves from the Babylonian culture; rather, he called them to engage it, seeking "the peace and prosperity of the city." Daniel obeyed God's call and faithfully served in the king's court. However, when the culture and laws of Babylon conflicted with his faith, Daniel chose to serve the Lord even if doing so put his life in danger. Like Daniel, our students are faced with the temptation to assimilate into the "world's" culture.
Here at Wilberforce, we have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility. Students spend at least 32 hours a week, 128 hours a month or 1280 hours a year in school. During this time we have the privilege of taking part in shaping the lives of our students. We are given the opportunity and responsibility to not only teach them academically but to point them to what their identity should be found in, Christ. Daniel reminds us that if our identity as a follower of God is firmly established in our hearts, we can engage the "world's culture" without compromising our faith.
Lastly, Daniel was excellent in his work both as a prophet and as a government official. Under King Darius the Mede, Daniel was promoted to the position of president, one of three who were given the task of governing the entire land. Furthermore, we see in Daniel 6:3 that he was "distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him." In Daniel 6:25-26, we see that Daniel's impact on King Darius was so great that ultimately the king sent out a decree commanding all the people of his royal dominion to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. Daniel reminds us that the trickle-down effect of doing excellent work for the glory of God can be tremendous – it can be Kingdom changing.
As I look at our students, I am excited to see what God has in store for them. A student at the Wilberforce School is not just a student. Each is a potential "Daniel" who can do Kingdom changing work. Some, like Daniel, may become government officials; others may become doctors, teachers, scientists, lawyers, artists, engineers, missionaries or pastors. My prayer is that whatever fields they go into, they will, like Daniel, do their work with excellence, engaging the "world's" culture without compromising their faith, and change the world for the glory of God.