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Service begins Sundays at 10:00AM.

ordinary gifts and extraordinary blessings

In Jehoiakim’s third year as king of Judah (605BC), Nebuchadnezzar led his armies from Babylon and besieged the city of Jerusalem. By the time the siege was lifted he had taken many of the people with him back to Babylon. Many of these exiles were from the royal family and the nobility—the wealthy and cultural elite (Daniel 1:1–4). While in Babylon they were fed well and educated for three years and then they were presented to the king (1:5–7).

Four of those taken in this wave of exiles were young men named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, though these latter three are better known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In verse 17 Daniel tells us this:

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

Daniel 1:17 ESV

Early in the exile Jeremiah the prophet had encouraged the people of Judah—God’s people—to seek to be a blessing in the land that was not truly their home. They were exiles in a foreign land, but were to seek the blessing of that foreign land anyway:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Jeremiah 29:4–7 ESV

The people of Judah were to live as if they belonged, while recognizing they were in exile. They were to live ordinary lives by working and planting crops and getting married and having families. The idea is that they were going to be there for a while. They were going to be there for a reason, however. They were to seek the welfare of the city, and by extension the entire nation, where they find themselves in exile. They were to pray for that nation, seeking God’s blessing on it.

God sent four young men to this city in order for them to be a blessing to the king—the very king who had violently ripped them from their homes and essentially enslaved them to do his bidding. They were treated well, like royalty, yet they were not free. They were still exiles in a foreign land no matter how well they were treated. Daniel tells us that God gave all four of them “learning and skill in all literature and wisdom.” Each of them was blessed by God with intelligence and education, that they might seek the welfare of the city they were living in. He had so gifted them that Daniel could say this:

And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

Daniel 1:20 ESV

That’s an incredible statement! God blessed these four youth, and therefore Nebuchadnezzar and all of Babylon, so that they were ten times better than the best Babylon had to offer. But look again at verse 17.

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

Daniel 1:17 ESV

All four of them were given great learning and skill in literature and wisdom. They were highly intelligent and well educated. Oh, and Daniel also had understanding in all visions and dreams. This means the other three did not.

The reality of spiritual gifts God gives is that we are each given different gifts, but we are given those gifts in different measure as well. Some are very highly gifted while most are more moderately gifted. Consider this: God gifted four young men with exceptional intelligence and understanding, and just one with the ability to understand dreams and visions. What of all the others who were taken to Babylon? They had more ordinary gifts; they were to serve the nation by planting crops and building houses and getting married and having children and doing rather ordinary things. Abraham Lincoln once said,

The Lord prefers common-looking people. That is the reason he makes so many of them.

Abraham Lincoln

The same can be said of spiritual gifts. The Lord makes many ordinarily gifted people. Whether you are gifted to speak to kings or you are gifted to plant crops, we all have gifts to be used to bless our community as God’s ambassadors. Most of us—me included—are gifted in a rather ordinary way that we might live rather ordinary lives as we serve in a rather ordinary city by representing a truly extraordinary Savior. We’re not Daniels, and we’re not Shadrachs and Meshachs and Abednegos. We are the nameless people of Judah dwelling in a foreign land as exiles, whose names are known by the God of the universe.

As we spend time in prayer today, let’s pray for one another that we might seek ways to serve our church and our world. Let’s pray for opportunities to be a blessing in very ordinary ways. Let’s pray for our city and nation in a time of unrest and hostility and turmoil. Let’s be the peace our city needs, and let’s use our gifts to point people to the Prince of Peace.