The story in the book of Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being burned alive for refusing to renounce worship of the one true God, yet miraculously protected from their fate by an angel, is about defiance in the face of persecution. Even if it is considered on face value to be an unlikely tale, it has served to inspire the faithful in times of trial. Even in the face of certain death God will not forsake them. A hymn of praise and worship is attributed to the men at the heart of the fiery furnace.
'You are blest Lord God of our fathers, to you glory and praise for evermore' (Dan 3:52)
Even if physical life is lost, confidence is expressed that their souls will be protected and saved by the One whom they worship. Stories of twenty-first century Christian martyrs in North Africa tell of them facing execution singing defiant Hallelujahs. Although there is no rescue, the resistant spirit defies death to put an end to their life in God. In the portrayal of heaven in the Book of Revelation, martyrs have great prominence.
'These are the people who have come safely through the terrible persecution. They have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb. That is why they stand before God's throne and serve him day and night in his temple.' (Revelation 7:14-15)
Speaking about true discipleship, Jesus warns of the risk and possible cost of following him:
'Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?' (Mark 8:35-36)
Such courageous freedom of spirit doesn't come natural to fallen human beings with the self preservation instinct coded into our constitution, but it isn't the only driving force that gives shape and vitality to our lives. The hunger for meaning and purpose empowers us to look up and beyond ourselves and survival. Jesus says
"If you make my word your home, you will indeed by my disciples and the truth will make you free ... if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:31-33)
From the free offering of our lives to God's service comes a heart that desires above all else to worship and praise God. Being less than perfect, less than whole, our offering of self is more of an aspiration than a reality, as the opening of Charles Wesley's hymn states
'O for a heart to praise my God, a heart from sin set free!'
It is out of habitual longing to perfect self-offering in ordinary everyday existence that the purging and refining of the self takes place, little by little.
'I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.' (Psalm 40:1,3)