Daniel's use of the concept of time is subtle and instructive. Nebuchadnezzar knew that timing is important, and that his advisors' stalling for time could mean a bad time for him. Time can work for, or against us. Most of us have experienced having had something turn our way in just the nick of time, and most of us can recall when we missed an important meeting or flight because we weren't on time.
If we are paying attention, Daniel reads like a commentary on modern American politics, with all the dirty tricks and crooked backroom deals that characterize much of what goes on in Washington and Albany. In Daniel 3 we run into Daniel's trademark phrase: "At that time." He goes on to say, "certain Chaldeans," ie. native-born men whose position was threatened by the upstart "involuntary immigrants," managed to manipulate the king and sneak an unsavory and discriminatory law onto the books. The king had erected a giant statue on the plain of Dura, and what had begun as a dedicatory service turned into an orchestrated trap for Daniel's friends.
In 3:15, they are told, "If you are ready at the time you hear [the signal]," and bow down to the representation of ultimate political power, all will be well. If not...a fiery furnace awaits. Here's the key to this story: Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (their original Hebrew names) had already decided their answer to the challenge: "We will not bow." They didn't wait till the signal was given to make up their minds; the decision was made before the challenge was issued.
One of the problems many of us face is waiting until the challenge to make up our minds. Making the right, moral, and ethical decision doesn't happen when the storm breaks. Doing the right thing happens before we are presented with the challenge. The right time to resist temptation is not in the middle of it. The right time to stand is before the stand is required. Daniel's friends knew this, and Daniel recorded the incident for our benefit. Not everyone gets delivered from the fiery furnace, but everyone is presented with the decision to stand. I'm thankful tonight for this reminder that faithfulness isn't what happens in the storm, but in the time of preparation.