How the Book of Daniel Helps Us Lead Our Children to Live Counterculturally

The book of Daniel contains some of the most incredible stories found in Scripture. While the events in the first chapter may not rival later accounts in terms of grandeur, they do establish crucial context as Daniel and his friends interact with their new cultural surroundings. In Daniel, parents can find helpful guidance as we seek to shepherd our children to faithfully navigate and engage our own culture today.

Like Daniel, we too are exiles.

Daniel and his friends entered Babylon with a keen awareness that they were exiles in a foreign land. Nebuchadnezzar’s chief eunuch worked quickly to integrate these boys into their new surroundings, but these four remain sober-minded despite the circumstances. The Hebrew boys know they are anchored in the larger narrative of God’s people, and the shape of that narrative colors their perception of their exile. The result is a steadfastness shaped by an unyielding surrender to God and his will.

We as parents must strive to cultivate this same keen awareness in the minds and hearts of our children. Whereas Daniel and his friends were forcibly removed from their own culture and pressed into a foreign one, we have the task of helping our kids see that they too are exiles, even in the culture that feels most like home to them. Without a lucid awareness of their true identities as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) in this world, our children will be far too easily swept up in the current of their own cultural tide. We must seek to immerse our children in the Big Story of God so that it becomes the controlling narrative shaping their perception of their identity and place in the world.

The culture will seek to redefine our identity and place us into its own story.

By assigning the boys new names, the chief eunuch took an initial step in orienting them to their new identities. He knew that in order to lead them effectively, their old identities needed to die. Old names would elicit memories of home, of relationships, family ties, and heritage. New names offered a fresh start, aligning them strategically with the new identities they would be embracing. 

However, I love how the narrative towards the end of chapter 1 presents the boys using their Hebrew names: “And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” (v. 19). 

Our enemy strategically focuses his attacks on the foundation of our identity as well, especially with our children. So we teach our children that whatever authority they look to to understand who they are will hold enormous sway over determining what they do. As parents, we must intentionally remind our children of their true identity in light of God’s creative design and purposes. 

When influences and influencers begin to chip away at that foundation, we want the unmatched beauty of God’s good purposes for them to ring most loudly in their hearts. We want to expose any alternatives as threats to experiencing God’s goodness!

Authentic faithfulness flows out of settled convictions.

Notice the first three words of v. 8: “But Daniel resolved…” There is so much packed into those three words. In the preceding verses we are told of the king’s plans for Daniel and his friends. What is striking is just how enticing those plans would be to a group of young guys. Designed exclusively for the cream of the crop, the king’s program included the opportunity to study at one of the best educational institutions in the world, to lodge in the confines of royalty, to feast on the king’s food and wine, and to enjoy the opportunity for superior advancement.

I try to imagine my 16-year-old self saying “no” while looking upon that feast laid out before me! What young guy could resist the temptation of this lifestyle? But here is the key for Daniel: he faced this situation with his head and his heart already set on obeying the Lord. His abstinence was not based on a well-developed self-will, but on foundational theological conviction. Because he was submitted to the authority of God, and because he treasured his relationship with God, he was resolved “that he would not defile himself” (v. 8). 

As parents we aim to see our children’s deepest convictions and affections shaped by the reality of God’s good and sovereign reign as King over all.

The most crucial element of faith is always its object.

We should take note of Daniel’s humble posture. He didn’t speak with contempt or display an emotional obstinance. He simply laid out on what he knew to be true. His belief was revealed through his actions. “Test your servants” (v. 12), he challenged the chief eunuch, although his confidence was clearly not in himself or his friends, but rather in the God he intended to obey. Daniel truly believed that if he honored the Lord, the Lord himself would provide the results that others considered only possible with the desired diet.

Daniel’s faith was extraordinary because the object of his faith was an extraordinary God. This is a crucial element in how we as parents define faith for our children. Faith is not just a passive belief that things will work out; rather, faith is an active walking that is aligned with what God has revealed to be true and good. It is yielding one’s life to God’s Word as the firm foundation for each step we take, especially when one cannot perceive the next foothold. Even in the midst of confusion and temptation, Daniel’s view of God was magnified, corresponding to the reality of who God truly is. 

Parents, let’s continuously hold up the greatness of God for our children to behold so that their hearts might be permanently captivated by the eternal reality of his glory.

Faith increases through evidence of God’s faithfulness.

God not only met the expected results the diet was to yield, he exceeded them! Despite abstaining from the king’s diet, Daniel and his friends  “were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food” (v. 15). We are then told, “among all of them none was found like” these four. Even as Daniel and his friends entrusted themselves fully to the Lord, this new experience of God’s faithfulness only further established their trust in him.

While we as parents need to be intentional about teaching our children about God, we also must teach them to walk by faith. We must learn to entrust our children to God and to fervently seek him for wisdom in guiding them to take those steps. Recognize also that God does not simply intervene in the lives of his people in individual circumstances, but that he is working all things for the good of his people according to his great redemptive plan. God would use these four Hebrew boys in astonishing ways, all for his glory, in carrying his redemptive purposes forward.

Our culture can be a scary and intimidating place, especially when we consider our children living in it. But this first chapter of Daniel offers comfort, reminding us of just how great and good our God is. He is sovereign in his purposes and faithful to his Word. We can trust him. Our children can trust him. 

May God use us to help our children be “resolved” in facing contemporary culture, as they grow in knowing and treasuring him day by day. 

If you want to learn more about gospel-centered parenting, we hope you’ll consider joining us for our 2024 conference in Dallas, TX, where we’ll take a walk through the book of Daniel. 

What does it look like to live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christianity? Teenagers today feel the enormous pressure of a “you-do-you” culture. Discipling them to walk with Jesus in this modern “Babylon” feels somewhere between daunting and impossible. The Old Testament book of Daniel provides the encouragement we long for and the direction we need in a cultural moment that leaves us crying, “How long, O Lord?” Daniel offers the ultimate hope that one day God will bring all nations under his rule, and we will dwell with him forever! Our prayer is that in studying this book together you will be filled with hope, seeing more clearly the God who loves his people, who is in sovereign control over all things in his world.

Jason and his wife Erin live in Roxboro, NC, and have three children. Jason has served in student ministry for 20 years, and as Pastor of Students & Discipleship at Westwood Baptist Church since 2006. A graduate of North Greenville University (B.A.), Liberty University (M.A.), and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Jason earned his Doctorate of Education from Southeastern in 2021 with a focus in student ministry and discipleship. Jason serves as a Research Fellow for the Center for Parent Youth Understanding (CPYU) and teaches in the area of student ministry at Southeastern Seminary. He is passionate about leading students to know and supremely treasure Jesus, and about encouraging student ministry leaders to take seriously the sacred calling of shepherding students and parents toward spiritual maturity.

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