We’re starting this series Welcome to the Jungle as we look how to Survive and Thrive wherever you find yourself. About this time of the year, people are making New Years Resolutions or plans to regain control of their lives, or make plans for a better year.
“How Do I Struggle With This?
Really sad, Jan 1 I open up Youtube, and the first ad says “Get control of your body fat with this workout for Senior’s” the ad was by Ripped Granpa. That’s not motivating—they know my age, and my body fat. But it’s that time of year when people start hanging up successories calendars to Motivate us with more Determination, or Persistence, or Fortitude. You know those Motivational Calendars full of positive motivational sayings intended to inspire you to hope for the best?
Well this year, I found a New Calendar, called Demotivators 2023 [Pic 1 Cover despair.com/]. It’s made by the Despair Company. The CEO explains that “unlike traditional motivational products, which attempt to induce success through platitudes, Demotivators actually CAN make people more successful, simply by lowering expectations. And you get these kinds of inspiring thoughts, (feb) “Aspiration[Pic]: I hear the call to do nothing and am doing my best to answer it.” (may) Limitations [Pic], Until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea how far you can walk.” (aug) “Mistakes [Pic] (Titanic going down), it could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.” (dec) “Never Give Up [Pic]: “Never stop trying to exceed your limits. We need the entertainment.” Turns out the Despair company is located on East 6th Street in Austin Texas—started by a PhD., probably another high tech casualty. The website says, “We’re currently based in Austin, where we employ a small group of very bitter, depressed Texans.” It says “We’re not hiring, but regularly firing.”
They’ve been in business for decades! Probably because we all know secretly that a lot of life is out of our control. That no matter how hard we Try, no matter how Determined, how Persistent—sometimes life feels out of our control. This company’s making money by making fun of our insistence that if we just try harder everything will go our way, but what about when life feels like survival in a jungle—out of control? What do we do then? How do we learn to control the things we truly should control, and let God control those we can’t?
“How do we all struggle with this?”
Let’s be honest, sometimes it feels like we’re thrown into situations that are—more like survival—a lot is out of our control. Maybe you had plans to be married, or have kids—but that aspect of life has evaded your control. Maybe your relationship or marriage is fraying on the ends—you’re feeling like a thread is being pulled and if something doesn’t stop the tug, the whole thing may unravel before your eyes. You’re feeling a loss of control. Or maybe you feel out of control at work…you feel like you’ve done your best, you’ve tried your hardest, you’ve given your all—but things out of your control have caused a less than banner year. Maybe you’re in a job where you feel like your integrity is at risk because the way of survival in your workplace is cut ethical corners—and if you don’t, you’re not sure you’ll survive. Or maybe you’re in a school or work situation where you feel alone—you’re the only one trying to follow God’s ways, and you take a lot of heat for that. Or maybe you’re feeling it with parenting—The world’s Crazy—out of control—so how do we teach our kids to survive and thrive yet not get sucked into the ways that are so against God’s ways? How do we live in world that feels out of our control—and sometimes appears even out of God’s control—how do we live with confidence and not just survive, but thrive wherever we find ourselves in (especially when we’d rather not be here)?
“What does God say about this issue?”
That’s what we’re gonna talk about in this new series Welcome to the Jungle, as we take a look at some lessons from the Book of Daniel in the Bible. Daniel starts in a bad situation: During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah,[a] King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia[b] and placed them in the treasure-house of his god. Daniel 1:1-2 Daniel is the perfect book to study to see God’s principles of not only surviving, but thriving in Babylon (in the Jungle of Life), when it feels like You’ve been forced into a world or place you’d rather not be in. When it’s confusing why God doesn’t just change the circumstances. And as we do this, I want you to think about this question, “Where does God have me right now?” Think about your work, family, school, relational world—Where Does God have you? What feels out of your control in that situation?” Think about that as we look at lessons from Daniel.
Let me explain a little of the background of Daniel’s situation, so we can see how it applies to our situations today. The Jewish people had devolved into very evil practices—not only tons of immorality, but dishonesty, injustice and corruption everywhere, and they even started practicing child sacrifice following the ways of countries around them, following gods that were not the true God. They had totally turned away from Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Moses. And for 100s of years, from about 900 BC to 600 BC God kept warning them through prophets: “Don’t keep doing these evil things, turn back and follow my loving ways.” And he would warn them, “If rejecting me to follow evil is what you truly want—I’m gonna let you have the consequences of your choices—but I beg you, don’t keep going that way.” In about 700 BC the Prophet Isaiah warns King Hezekiah, “Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord: 17 The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon…your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.” 2 Kings 20: 16-18. God gave warning not as finality, but in hopes they’d turn back to God and this would not happen. But they ignored God’s warnings, and kept on. And the Kings from 600 to 580s and the people kept on: But Zedekiah did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as Jehoiakim had done…until [God] finally banished them from his presence and sent them into exile. 2 Kings 24:19-20
This is an important note when you read the Old Testament. Sometimes it feels like God is this angry, punishing God because prophet after prophet is warning of all this horrible destruction. But here’s what you need to understand—all these prophets are writing in this same 300 year period (900 to 600 BC). God is ridiculously patient, for 100s of years, like the parent of self-destructive Meth Addict who won’t stop—the parent keeps bailing him out of jail, buying new cars when he wrecks them, paying for recovery, letting him live at home, yet he robs the parents to buy more drugs, wrecks more cars and people. Finally the parent realizes, if I don’t allow him to feel the consequences, to hit rock bottom, he will never get sober. That’s the most loving thing I can do to save my son.
So God warns and warns and even slowly allows consequences, again hoping they’d hit rock bottom and turn back, but finally in 586 Babylon conquers Israel and Judah and Jerusalem falls—the king and nobles and many are exiled to Babylonian captivity. They’ve been taken captive to enemy lands. They are living in a foreign Kingdom under the control of an evil King, King Nebuchadnezzar. And at first, false prophets started proclaiming Success. Hananiah, a false prophet, confronts Jeremiah (God’s true prophet) saying, This circumstance will change in 2years. He’s like the Successories Prophet—stay Positive, it’s going to change. It was what everyone wanted to hear. The Lord says, “I will remove the yoke of the king of Babylon from your necks. 3 Within two years I will bring back all the Temple treasures that King Nebuchadnezzar carried off to Babylon. 4 And I will bring back…all the other captives that were taken to Babylon!’” Jeremiah 28:2-4. And Jeremiah, God’s true prophet says “I hope you’re right Hananiah—but that’s not what God’s been telling me.” Jeremiah reminds them, we know the test of a true prophet—what he predicts must come to pass—so we’ll see in 2 years. But God tells Jeremiah, “No—write a letter to the exiles in Bablyon and tell them the truth. This is the context of one the most quoted favorite verses, Jeremiah 29:11: 11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
God really does have plans for each of us, and they are good. God does want you to prosper—he’s not out to harm you—he wants to give you a good future and hope for that future. This is a promise we can hold onto. But it’s also important to understand, that does not always mean circumstances change or things always go as we expected. Sometimes we find ourselves in foreign places, feeling displaced or in the midst of an evil empire—and God doesn’t just fix it. Sometimes we get swept into bad circumstances because of what other people around us have done, whether we deserved it or not. People make bad choices, and sometimes we pay the consequences right along with them. But when we find ourselves in those circumstances, here’s what you need to remember. God’s in control, even of those who appear in control. They were swept into captivity—the good and the bad—under Evil King Nebuchadnezzar’s control. And yet, God still had a plan and a purpose—both for individuals as we will see (like Daniel and his friends, who learn to thrive in Babylon by following God even in counter-cultural ways to Babylon’s culture), and God was doing something bigger as well. As we will see, in the end, the exile of the Jewish people had a huge impact on the Babylonians—and even Evil King Nebuchadnezzar ends up coming to faith in the one true God Yahweh.
So the thing to remember is when circumstances look horrible—seek God, who still has a plan—it’s a good plan for you, and for all those around you—it’s a plan to prosper not harm you, a plan to give you hope and a future. But it may mean learning to live in a situation you’d rather not be in—but if it doesn’t change, how do you thrive in Babylon? So where does God have you right now? What feels out of your control? If the circumstance does not change, can you trust that God’s in control, even over those who seem to have control? Will you trust him and seek him in Babylon?
So here’s what God says through Jeremiah to the captives in Babylon—it’s not going to be 2 years, it’s going to be 70 years that you’ll be in Babylon: This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters…Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:4-7
“What should you do about this?”
So think about this, God has you where you are for a reason. It may be that you should leave that situation, but don’t just immediately conclude that it’s God’s will for you to leave or get out, just because the circumstances look evil to you. God may have you there for a bigger purpose and plan. So here’s what you can do if it seems like you control the situation or place you’re in.
First, Pray to the Lord for that situation to prosper. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Maybe it’s a marriage situation that’s out of your control, not feeling good at all. Don’t just assume that getting out is God’s will—start by praying for the prosperity of your marriage. Ask God to show you how to thrive, how to live these principles in Babylon that we’re going to be talking about in this series. Or maybe it’s work—you HATE your work, your Boss is pure evil—perfect, you’re in Babylon. Maybe you should seek another job, but first, Pray—Lord, how can I help this place prosper? How can I help the people around me prosper—how might you use me to help them see You—just like the Babylonians saw you through Daniel and other Jewish exiles who stayed faithful?
Second, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you. What can you do to help the place you’re in become a more peaceful, prosperous place? Have you thought about that? Maybe God has you in this place at school or work, where these people just feel evil, so that you can show them the ways of God—to be a peacemaker and to actually help and serve them to be their best. As we will see, Daniel and his friends did get made fun of, felt outcast (literally—like into a fire), yet as they followed God trying to serve the King and city, without compromising their faith, God used it to change many lives for the better. Maybe that’s what he’s doing through you in your Babylon. Or even if you hate your work—how might you do your best to help your company prosper—Doing it not to serve your evil boss, but to serve God (knowing God might use it in your Evil boss’s life)?
Karen hated her boss. Her boss was a young, high-tech executive who knew that Karen was a Christ-follower and did everything she could to taunt Karen and flaunt her wild-child party lifestyle—just to bother Karen. And Karen told me the truth is she had a very judgmental attitude toward Sandra, her boss. Sandra would tell her all kinds of graphic, lude details of her weekly sexual encounters and how drunk she had gotten, what she had done. Karen would roll her eyes and make sure her boss knew how disgusted she was and how much she did not approve. The animosity just grew. Working under this evil boss, in this demanding job was making Karen think of quitting. Then we did a series here at Gateway that Karen said changed everything. Karen started praying for her boss—not to change her boss—but asking God to show her what He sees of value in Sandra. Show me how to love and serve Sandra, she prayed. And as a result, Karen’s attitude started to change, and she started looking for ways to help and serve her boss. She found out her boss had cats, and when she was going on vaction, Karen offered to come feed the cats. Her boss was taken back, confused, but grateful. Karen found out when her boss’s birthday was, and threw a surprise party in the office for her. Karen found ways to go above and beyond with the projects her boss asked her to do, and would talk her boss up in front of the higher ups. When her car broke down, Karen offered her rides to and from work. After about a year of this, layoffs happened, and Karen’s boss got layed off. Devastated, she reached out to Karen to talk, and she asked “Why have you been so kind to me, when I was so mean to you?” Karen told her, I realized I was not treating you the way God loves and treats all of us. And Karen had a chance to share how God loves her boss, sees her as his Masterpiece, and wants good for her—she shared what Jesus did to pay for all our wrongs so we could be forgiven and learn and grow with God. Sandra started coming to Gateway with Karen, and I’ll never forget several years later when Sandra got baptized—hearing them talk about being best friends—it blew me away.
Maybe God has you where you are for a person. For another reason that you’re not yet seeing—but pray, seek the peace and prosperity of the place he has you, of the people you’re around. And remember, even when things feel out of your control. God’s still in control.
Think about it …God created everything. What kind of Being is the Creator? Just how Powerful is He? A name used for God in the Old Testament is El Shaddai, which means The Almighty. There is no one, there is nothing, more powerful, more able, more in control of every aspect of the Universe.
Our scientists in the past 20 years have described another phenomenon they can’t explain. The constants of nature are all finely tuned so that humanity, life as we know it, can exist on our little planet. They call it the Anthropic Principle, because it appears that someone or something has strung together the constants of nature so humans (Anthropos) could live, from the gravitational force to the speed of light this world is like a finely tuned guitar. Scientists tell us if one of many constants of nature were not finely tuned within a few %, human life would not exist. How Great, How Almighty, How in Control is the Being that is able to fine tune the Universe we live in so we could exist? He made you with a plan and a purpose—seek him in all circumstances—trust him.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:10-13
“How can we all live this out together?”
As we head into this New Year, instead of starting by trying to change all the circumstances—let’s start by seeking God’s plans and purpose for where he has us, right where we are. As we seek the peace and prosperity of the situation we’re currently in, that will lead to knowing better whether it’s time to leave or stay, and when it’s time to go back to Jerusalem, we’ll be ready.