If you enjoy watching sports like I do, and following your favorite team or athlete, it is exciting to see them win. If you are a true fan, you will stick with your team through the losing seasons, but it is so much better when they are winning. It is even better when they win a lot over time. I grew up in a wrestling family. My dad is a long-time wrestling coach. I’m sure just by looking at me you will be surprised to find out I was not really that great of a wrestler. Long, lean, and not so strong in the upper body are not a great combination when it comes to being successful on the mat. Even though I stopped wrestling in high school, I greatly appreciate and admire the sport.
During the time I was wrestling, there was a world-famous super heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestler from the Soviet Union and then later Russia. His name is Aleksandr Karelin. His nicknames may give you a taste of what kind of a man he was. They called him the “Russian Bear”, “Russian King Kong” and “Alexander the Great”. He was a 6’3, 287-pound muscle-bound beast. He had not lost a match in 13 years. He had 887 wins and just 1 loss. 12 consecutive European championships, nine consecutive world championships, and three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Going into the gold medal match in Atlanta, he had a chest injury that limited him to basically being able to use one arm and he still won. He was so dominating that no one had even scored a point on in him in seven years. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a dairy farmer from Wyoming named Rulon Gardner, who grew up literally wrestling cows, and had wrestled in college at the University of Nebraska met him in the finals. Gardner’s best finish in college was just fourth at nationals and had never really done a whole lot internationally, but he shocked the world by beating Karelin 1-0 in overtime for the gold medal.
It took a warrior to train and then wrestle at such a high level to beat a warrior like Karelin. Both wrestlers had fully dedicated themselves to the discipline and sacrifice it takes to be a champion. Today we are going to talk about being a warrior. Not so much an athletic warrior but a warrior for Christ.
In 600 BC, an empire like that no one had ever seen before rose up. The Assyrians and Egyptians had conquered many lands but neither one could defeat the other. Out of the Assyrian empire rose a new empire, the Babylonians, who first defeated the Assyrians and then the Egyptians to become a worldwide empire. As predicted by prophets of God, Babylon also defeated Jerusalem and carried off the best and brightest people from Israel and brought them back to Babylon. One of those young men was Daniel.
God’s hand was on Daniel and Daniel also worked hard and studied. He grew in his wisdom and was promoted to one of the leaders of Babylon. He was a foreigner now leading the most powerful nation at that time. Of course, people became jealous. They tried to find a way to dethrone him but because Daniel lived such an excellent life, those wicked men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”They succeeded in their scheme. They convinced the king to pass a law banning any prayer except to Babylonian idols and the sentence for breaking this law was death by being thrown in the lion’s den.
Daniel knew that the new law would make it illegal to pray to the one true God as he was in the habit of doing. In fact, he would pray three times a day. In spite of the law, he got down on his knees and prayed. His opponents pounced and his sentence of death was pronounced reluctantly by the king.
Daniel’s name in Hebrew means “the Lord is my judge”. He knew that God would be the one who judges his life, not Nebuchadnezzar, or King Darius or anyone else in Babylon. Daniel showed that His life was centered on God and not on his surroundings or the situation he found himself. God was His judge so his life was lived consistently no matter if he was in Jerusalem or Ninevah. Whether his life was easy or hard.
Our lives are very comfortable. We don’t face laws that make it illegal to pray, but even with all this freedom and opportunity, we skip devotions and prayer because we are too tired. We zone out when the pastor talks. We don’t pay attention during Bible class. Why? Because we don’t really believe that God is our judge. Or if He is our judge, He understands that we didn’t feel like being fully obedient to Him today or truly loving to hear God’s Word again. Serving the Lord is not a part-time, one class period a day, one day a week commitment. When God calls you to be His disciple, He wants all of you. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength. All-day, every day for the rest of your life. You and I have such an amazing privilege. It is not illegal to gather here. No one is going to get eaten by lions for praying out loud. Yet with all this freedom and opportunity to hear God’s word, we all too often could take it or leave it.
This is warrior week. So what is a warrior supposed to be doing? Either they are fighting a war or preparing to fight a war. They don’t go on extended holiday until its time to fight again. If you do that, that’s a good way to get beaten. The Russian wrestler, Aleksandr Karelin was well known for intense workouts. Running, lifting, training for hours and hours every day. Even though he was the strongest, smartest and best wrestler, he held himself to a completely different standard than other wrestlers. This is the mindset we must have as warriors. Every day we are to train and to fight to make us better and better at being a warrior for Christ. Thankfully we do not have to do it by wearing a wrestling singlet. How you do your schoolwork, how you obey your teachers, how you treat your classmates, are all part of your training and you are either getting stronger or weaker.
There were two important things about Daniel that I would like to highlight. First, Daniel saw the Lord as His judge for his prayer life. He prayed daring prayers, not safe prayers. His devotion to prayer is why he was sentenced to death by lions. If it was me, I would be tempted to just not pray. What is the big deal with skipping some prayer times if it meant keeping me safe? Daniel’s focus was on God, not on himself. There was no way he was not going to talk to God, especially when things in his life were getting difficult and dangerous. The second thing that Daniel saw God as his judge was with his friendships. We are familiar with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendigo. The three that refused to worship an idol and were thrown in the fiery furnace, only to be joined by an angel of the Lord and completely protected. Those three were Daniel’s friends. Pretty good group of guys to hang out with. I Corinthians 15:33 says “bad company corrupts good character.” Charles Spurgeon, the famous preacher of the 1800s, said, “bad company does a man real harm, for, if you lie down with dogs you will get up with fleas.” The opposite is true. Good company can challenge and grow you to be more and more like Christ. Who you hang around with will influence you. Choose wisely.
The next song we are going to sing is “Dare To Be a Daniel”. The chorus talks about joining Daniel’s band. The word “band” doesn’t mean one with musical instruments, but his army. His group of warriors. Not just anyone can be in this band of warriors. You must be willing to follow Daniel’s example. As great as Aleksandr Karelin was as a wrestler, he did everything for an earthly prize that fades away. We are training for a much greater reward, a heavenly one. You must be daring, brave, courageous, hard-working, devoted to prayer. You must choose your friends wisely. You must want to hear God’s Word so you can grow and learn to love God more.