Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
-T. S. Eliot


Bible: Daniel

I remember feeling guilty for being good at things when I was younger. That sounds pretty dramatic, and it wasn't really as bad as all that, but I think this part of my life demonstrates an interesting phenomena in the Christian world. When people would tell me I was particularly talented in some way, it would make me uncomfortable. I remember thinking things like, "Well, you're only congratulating me because you're not a Christian." And it's not like they were admiring me for a vice or something; it would be some harmless talent, like athletics or public speaking. But even as an elementary-schooler, it became clear that the non-Christian adults I knew were more impressed by the things I could do than the adults I met at church. 

For some reason Christians get weird when other Christians are well-liked by the secular community. We want Christian recording artists to be successful, but not too successful. We want Christian actors to be admired for their skill, but don't want them to be offered too much money for a film contract. We want our fellow church members to be blessed with healthy families and thriving businesses, but we don't want things to go too well for them-- in case, you know, it starts making them sin or something. And while the concern about the secular world's charms is a valid one, I think Christians are just plain afraid to do well by any standards but their own. 

Why must we feel guilty for being awesome? While reading Daniel this week, I was struck by how God was able to use Daniel and the other noble youths simply because they were the best at everything. The Israelites that Nebuchadnezzar selected were chosen for being "both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans." (1:3-4) 

Obviously, there were only a few among the Israelites who fit this description. But of those who did, Daniel established himself as even a cut above them. Daniel was the awesomest of the awesomest. And for that he was not brought low or prone to falling into pride. Rather, God used him to protect the Israelites while they were under a foreign king, and allowed him to rise in power among the Babylonians. He was only able to achieve these things in a foreign land because his pedigree and qualifications were undebatable even to Babylonian standards. 

In fact, being so darn impressive allowed him to be even more bold in his faith than he may have been able to otherwise. He makes a deal with the eunuch in chapter 1 so that the Israelites don't have to eat the king's meat; he convinces the guard ordered to kill him to give him some time to talk with the king. He even interprets three different dreams of destruction for three different kings, and is only rewarded for his work. Rather than being quickly disposed of, Daniel is the constant while three kings come and go. He is only persecuted once, and it's because other leaders are jealous of his power, not merely because Daniel is an Israelite. 

Daniel's example demonstrates that rather than being hesitant to excel in the secular world, Christians should be striving for excellence. Using our abilities brings glory to God in many more ways than we can imagine, and perhaps we are not demonstrating true faith when we hold ourselves back simply because no other Christians are excelling in our chosen field. If Christians can hold top positions in corporations and sell millions of albums and be the most-sought psychologists, we will be able to impact the world in far greater ways than if we only compare ourselves to other Christians. 

With Daniel as my guide, I will not hide my awesomeness from the world! In whatever ways I am gifted, I will work my hardest to be the best so that my skills and effort are a testament to God's greatness. And if the world can learn to love me for my skills, I will have a better chance of showing the world how to love my God. 

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