Imagine this scene: You're a teenager, and your home country has been invaded and conquered by a foreign enemy. As part of the strategy to integrate your country into the empire of your conqueror, the best and brightest of the youth in your nation are carried off to the capital of the enemy to become a part of the royal service.
This actually happened to Daniel. Here's the setting as told in Daniel 1:1-7:
"1 During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia and placed them in the treasure-house of his god."
"3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. 4 'Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,' he said. 'Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.' 5 The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service."
"6 Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. 7 The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names:
Daniel was called Belteshazzar. Hananiah was called Shadrach. Mishael was called Meshach. Azariah was called Abednego."
While it would be a tragic thing to experience the fall of your homeland, some of these young men of Israel were about to have greater worldly opportunity than they could have ever dreamed of.
Instead of growing into leading citizens of their own country, they were now being offered an opportunity to rise to prominence in the greatest empire in the world at that time, complete with a whole new identity. They were given new names and would be provided a thorough education and indoctrination in the culture of the empire. In addition to all that, they were offered the indulgence of pleasures from the king's own kitchen.
Therein was the problem. To indulge at the king's table would mean to disobey the law of God. The choice was really between obeying an earthly king, or obeying God. We read about the choice made by Daniel and his friends as recorded in Daniel 1:8a, "But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king ..."
When it came to behavior that indulged the pleasures and harmed their relationship with God, Daniel and his three friends had a simple response: "No!"
Those four teenagers had more discipline than many adults throughout the ages. It has not been common for even the strongest among us to say "no" to pleasures in life. When it comes to making life easier, more fun, more comfortable, and softer, we often say "yes" to what is offered us. The result is to indulge ourselves at the expense of our relationship with God, and often with others as well.
Saying "no" to the king endangered the lives of Daniel and the others, but God brought them through the situation safely. Saying "no" may not always be easy, but it often is best for us. When we want to indulge at our own tables, we usually do, at the expense of our fitness and health. When we need to exercise, we indulge our laziness. When we need to care about our relationships, we indulge our selfishness. And when we need to worship God, we indulge our own egos. All too often, it's when we get the bad news from the doctor, the goodbyes from relationships that weren't supposed to end, or brokenness that comes from sin, that we wish we would have said "no" to ourselves on multiple occasions.
Saying "no" could keep us from many --- if not most --- of the problems we wrestle with in life. The problem is, it's mostly saying "no" to ourselves! No to our selfish desires, no to our indulgences, no to pleasures that lead us away from God.
Fortunately, God helps those who are serious about following Christ to develop their capacity to say "no," especially to themselves. In fact, learning to deny ourselves is central to what is necessary to be a follower of Christ, as we see in Luke 9:23, "Then he said to the crowd, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me'."
When we give our lives to Christ, God gives us a greater capacity to say "no" to all those things that brought sin into our lives previously. Look closely at 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."
What are you currently saying "yes" to that hinders your relationship with God and others? Are there things in your life you should be saying "no" to?