It’s not what I think that shapes my life from the bottom up; it’s what I desire, what I love, that animates my passion…Hence, it should be no surprise that the way to our hearts is our stomach; or, if not specifically our stomachs, the way to our hearts is through our bodies.
Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom. 51 & 58.
I’m a basketball fan and with the NBA championship series being played out right now between the Cavaliers and the Warriors it’s one of my favorite times of the year. You might have heard last night’s game didn’t go the Cavaliers’ way – they lost by 21 points. Now the series is tied 2 games each with 2 games left to play in the Warriors home town and 1 left in Cleveland. But after a game like the Cavaliers played one typical response is to question the team’s desire to win. You might hear commentator saying, “The other team wanted it more” or “They were hungrier than us.”
That last phrase is a bit odd though isn’t it? We use hunger as a metaphor for desire. If we hunger for something, then it is assumed we really, really want it. In sports this typically means the players are supposed to play harder, push through the challenges, and give their all to win (that which they hunger for).
It’s not surprising then, when we read the opening chapter of Daniel and see that one of the ways King Nebuchadnezzar will make the young Israelite men he’s just captured into serviceable Babylonians is by controlling their appetite or that which they desire. What the king is doing by shaping and molding the desires of the young Israelites such that they will want what all Babylonians want. It’s not enough that the captured Israelites obey their new king; it’s that the king wants them to be Babylonian and to stop being Israelites. To put it another way, the king wants them to stop being the people of God.
One of the pressures that we face as our culture changes is the pressure to become something we aren’t. But the truth is that just saying “no” isn’t enough because as people who are shaped by what we love we often have a really difficult time saying no. No, rarely satisfies our stomachs and I mean that in two ways. No, doesn’t curb those hunger pains for that second piece of dessert and neither does it curb the hunger pains for the ideal life you think about.
I saw a friend of mine recently questioning if all the work and overtime are worth it when it costs you family time and relationships. The obvious answer is no. But in practice that’s much more difficult isn’t it? To say no means less money and less money means a different lifestyle and that different lifestyle will effect the family you’re trying to spend more time with. Then you have to deal with the moans and groans of why you can’t go out to eat that night or why the kids can’t have the new Xbox one. Then you sit back and question if you should pick up a few more hours at work so the family can be happy again. The obvious answer is still the right answer here. No lifestyle is worth sacrificing relationships but to say no to any particular lifestyle requires not just toughness but the shaping and molding of a new lifestyle through new practices.
That’s the whole point of what’s happening in Daniel 1. The new king in town is here to reorient everyone’s desires through teaching them to practice being Babylonian. So they will eat like them, they will learn like them, and they will even change their names to be like them.
The question we face as the people of God today is the same that these young Israelites faced so long ago. Whose kingdom do we live in? It sounds simple but in practice it is anything but.