Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
This is one of the earliest Bible stories I remember really hitting home for me, at the tiny church I attended alone as a boy of less than ten. The pastor had a silly mnemonic for the names ("Shake the bed, Make the bed, and In they go"), and the breathtaking part of the story is that very same thing I look for, long for, and pray for today—God shows up (Daniel 3:24-25). That's still who I need Him to be.
Now that I'm older, there's another aspect of this account that I also find deeply meaningful: "'But if not...'" Another translation renders this "'Even if He does not...'", and it has since become a hallmark of how I want to walk in faith. The men are counting on God for deliverance, and the other side of that—the hard side—is that they also recognize that God is God and does as He pleases. Their faithfulness to Him isn't based on His performing according to their will.
That's an important part of true faith, something that presses it beyond a self-centered transaction into a broken world where dreams do die and expectations aren't met on our timetables. Their faith in God the Deliverer does not waver, but neither do they commit Him to a specific course of action He has not promised. They obey because it is right for them to do so, because God has every authority in their lives, and as such, even being immolated in a fiery pit is preferable to walking away from His command.
God does show up, and that doesn't take my breath away any less today than it did back then. But the God who shows up is the God who is worthy of obedience even if He does not. There's no ridiculous, self-important notion of "the God I believe in would..." imposed on His behavior. He is God. He is true to His great and lasting promises, and He refuses to be manipulated and micromanaged beyond that. That's the God in whom Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego trust their deliverance, however He chooses to do so. And that's the God who is present and walking with them in the fire. They refuse to bow to Nebuchadnezzar's image precisely because they refuse to accept a god who is anything less.
May it be increasingly so with me.