I’m going to let you in on a little secret: there is no such thing as magic. I know it’s hard to believe, but that lady being sawed in half? Two ladies. The card you picked? Part of a fake deck. And do I actually have your nose? No, it’s just my thumb between my fingers.

It’s no surprise to us that magic doesn’t exist. Even magicians don’t even claim to use magic anymore because now they’re called “illusionists.” Yet sometimes we think there is a magic formula for success or for change. We look at successful people and think, “Man, they are so lucky,”  like it’s magic, but the truth is, it has nothing to do with magic and everything to do with preparation.  There are the people we look up to as historical or spiritual figures, people like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandella who were renegades of their times. Their work changed the world for the better and it must be because they were extraordinary people. But again, there’s no such thing as magic and whatever they poured into themselves was what they poured out.

In the book of Daniel there is a pretty famous story that illustrates this principle and it involves three Jewish men named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. In the story, Israel has been conquered and occupied by the kingdom of Babylon and these men are picked to work for the king, Nebuchadnezzar. Even if you’ve never read the Bible, you might have heard the rest of this story before. The king decrees that everyone must bow down and worship a statue made in his likeness and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to worship anyone but the God of Israel. The king is furious and throws them into a fiery furnace, only to find that the fire doesn’t burn them. Nebuchadnezzar calls them out of the furnace and is so astonished that he immediately begins to worship the God of Israel.

The story is pretty sensational and it’s easy to think that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were extraordinary people who must have been born with some greatness ingrained into them. Though surviving the fire without being burned was a miraculous act of God, nothing about these men was extraordinary in themselves. If we go back to the beginning of the story, we can see how these men prepared themselves for this moment by drawing close to God and seeking intimacy with him.

When these men were first brought to the King’s palace, the Babylonian government tried to indoctrinate them and replace their Jewish customs with Babylonian ones, making them eat the king’s food and wine. These men asked not to “defile” themselves with the King’s food and instead ate only vegetables and drank only water. In Daniel 1:15, it says these men “looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food,” and that “To these young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.” Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew that to eat the King’s food and act like Babylonians would not only soften them physically, but spiritually. They knew to prepare themselves for living in Babylon, they would have to live like renegades, turn their ears toward God and not get comfortable in Babylonian society.

These men were renegades because they pursued intimacy with God and it lead to influencing a whole nation. As Christ followers it is easy to be complacent and think that we can’t make any significant difference in our community, but we have the same opportunity to be renegades if we seek to know God in our own lives. When you have real intimacy with God, you wouldn’t dream of being selfish with it and it automatically translates into a compassion for people. Those feelings don’t come by magic, they come with purposeful diligence.

Pastor Eric Partinis the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Destin and can be reached at ericpartin@shorelinechurch.net.