Then I will go to the king,
though it is against the law,
and if I perish,
Esther 4:16 NIV
Okay, I get it. Esther 4:16 isn’t a usual answer to the request that a Christ-follower name a go-to passage of Scripture.
But then the series we’re wrapping up this week hasn’t exactly been usual either. His Own Heart began back at the end of – oh my goodness – August a topic it planned to cover in three weeks. Well, Parts 1 and 2 went according to schedule, at least.
And this week – two hurricanes, a five-day power outage and a four-week prayer session later – we at last reach Part 3, the conclusion of The Difference Maker.
So as I weighed and re-weighed the option of revealing to you one of my go-to verses of Scripture, it occurred to me that, right here amid the rest of the unusual twists the series has taken, might just be the place to do it.
Plus its point provides a logical follow-up to those made in the initial two installments of The Difference Maker. I’ll list the statements chronologically here; if you need a refresher to pull all of the concepts together, though, use the hyperlinks in the first two points below to guide you toward anything you’ve missed. A basic refresher isn’t a bad idea at any rate.
In Part 1, we established that the only difference worth making is the difference we make as we follow the example of the Difference Maker.
In Part 2, we further established that, in order to make that difference, we take time to discern and understand whatever difference the Maker is calling us to make.
And in this third post, I would like to suggest to you that the mindset a Christ-follower takes toward making the difference God calls us to make directly affects the level to which the Difference Maker uses him or her to make it.
As we begin to add flesh and muscles to the bare bones of this theory, I’d love for you to peer with me into one specific life from the Old Testament. Not surprisingly, the life is that of Esther, the woman who uttered the infamous words in this week’s passage of focus.
What was the tone of voice with which this unlikely queen delivered her statement that if [she perished, she perished]? Resolve? Calmness? Frustration? Fear? Maybe a measure of each? We can only guess. But the real point – when we look into Esther’s life – isn’t so much how she felt about doing what she did; the amazing factors are a) that she did it at all and b) what you and I stand to learn from her actions.
In case you’re not familiar with the account, here’s the gist.
Esther’s family was in the group of Jews exiled to the foreign land and culture of Persia, known at the time as the world’s largest super-power. Orphaned at a young age, the little girl was raised by her cousin Mordecai. Through a series of divine circumstances literally beyond her control, Esther the Jewess became wife to Xerxes the king and therefore held the title of Queen of Persia.
Haman was prime minister of Persia and proverbial right-hand man to Xerxes. Haman hated the Jews with the vilest of hatred due to a generations-old gripe, so he crafted an intricate web of lies to convince the king that the Jews must be exterminated. Xerxes, who appears to have been the stereotypical fly-by-the-seat-of-his pants kind of guy, agreed with little more than a shrug to Haman’s advice.
Among the plethora of details that Xerxes neglected to check out before Haman put the king’s seal of approval on the edict, or law, was the fact that the queen herself was a Jew.
Anyway, Cousin Mordecai got word on the street that the king had issued this edict to kill all the Jews. He secretly got word to Esther who, after some straight talk from him, reluctantly agreed to intervene in the matter.
But here’s the catch. Remember when I said it was amazing that Esther even did what she did? In those days and that culture, there was – let’s say – a gamble involved in conversing with the king. Approaching the king meant that a person would take pains to dress and look his or her best. Such a person entered the throne room humbly and quietly for the purpose of seeking permission to speak. In a nutshell and according to his mood, the king either granted the person the permission sought or instructed one of the royal guards standing by the throne to kill the person. (For clarification’s sake here, I’d like to point out that the latter action meant permission denied; so when the queen says, “if I perish, I perish,” she’s not being melodramatic or hormonal. This woman knows whereof she speaks.)
The relatively brief story of Esther reads like a movie plot with intrigue, espionage, drama, comedy and feasts – lots of feasts – so I’ll leave the narrative here and encourage you to read the book.
What I’d like to focus on for our purposes is the fact that Esther’s actions throughout the account give us a four-step guide that nurtures a healthy mindset for the man or woman who desires to be used at the highest level for making a difference on behalf of the Difference Maker.
Step 1:Esther had a clear understanding of the issue at hand(Esther 4:1-8).
Through Mordecai, Esther gained access to and surveyed a copy of the king’s edict. This enabled her to clearly understand the severity of the issue. She also acted on his weighty advice that, for all she knew, God had placed her – and her alone – in a unique situation to have the ability to do something to save her people.
Esther teaches us the importance of taking the time to consider and understand – as much as possible – the nature of a situation and where we, as followers of Christ, can best be of service before we engage ourselves within said situation.
Step 2: Esther calculated the potential cost of her actions before proceeding in her efforts(Esther 4:11).
As previously mentioned, Esther realized that coming before the king without invitation might come at the cost of her head – literally – unless Xerxes gave her the signal to come forward. She even took into account the fact that he hadn’t lately requested the honor of her presence.
Though not typically in a physical sense, God does from time to time call us into situations that can mean the life or death of a relationship, career path, or so forth. Never underestimate or dismiss the value of considering possible results of a move before you make it.
Consider each possible option, asking God to reveal His desired outcome to you through Scripture and prayer.
Step 3: Esther sought God’s wisdom(Esther 4:15-16).
Esther instructed Mordecai to have the Jews fast for three days, adding that she and her attendants would do likewise. From time to time, a handful of theologians have debated her purpose in giving these instructions; they cite the point that readers are not specifically told that Esther asked for prayer. I disagree with their reasoning. In fact, the context of the book leaves me thinking that Esther sought God’s wisdom in her dire situation as desperately as you and I seek Him in ours. Prayer was as much a part of fasting in Jewish culture as sitting at a table is a part of eating in Western culture today. In other words, prayer was such a staple of fasting that the author didn’t feel the need to differentiate between the two.
The big concept in the passage is that Esther didn’t only seek wisdom herself. To the contrary, this queen was pulling out all the proverbial stops. She engaged her Gentile servants plus Mordecai and all the Jews in the land to fast – and by definition, pray – with her. It’s an engagement that we as Christ-followers cannot afford to ignore, mainly because as humans we have a tendency to run ahead of God in situations that desperately call for His direction and not ours.
Notice that, under what may easily have been the most emotional pressure Esther had ever experienced, she kept her wits. Scripture doesn’t explicitly reveal how it unfolded, but at some point during the course of those three days of fasting – and prayer – Esther came up with a divinely-inspired plan of action for going before the king with her petition.
Esther prepared herself in the tradition of one planning to approach the king. Once the ritual skin and facial treatments were finished, she donned the most elegant of her royal robes, maybe made one last nervous inspection of makeup and perfume, then left her chamber to go to the throne room. The king asked what she wanted and, over the next 36 hours, she told him.
I find it so pivotal at so many junctures in my own life to revisit what Esther could have done as opposed to what she did. She could have acted on what most likely were her emotions, taking the situation into her delicate human hands, and running in a frenzied panic to Xerxes at Mordecai’s sobering point in chapter four:
“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).
But she didn’t run. Thank God, she kept her wits. In His divine timing and through His divine intervention, this queen – intentionally or not – allowed Him to work through her to make a difference.
Listen for a moment: in order to make a difference that matters – the difference that the Difference Maker calls us to make – and to make it at the most useful level possible, you and I must come to grips with a mindset that can be difficult to grasp.
For the follower who genuinely desires to be fully used for Christ’s purposes, there is without argument a time for prayer and a time for action.
One executed without regard for the other – or both executed with inappropriate balance – will throw a person or situation out of sync with the Father’s will faster than anything.
So I ask myself as well as you, what will it be? We each have the freedom to back away from the call to make a high level of difference as the Difference Maker desires. But for every calling we turn down, another follower is willing to step up, to play the role we wouldn’t play in God’s will. Because ultimately, His will prevails. The only thing that may fluctuate in the equation is the difference I’m willing to make as His will unfolds.
To that note, Oswald Chambers speaks directly:
The Lord does not give me rules, but He makes His standard very clear.
If my relationship to Him is that of love, I will do what He says without hesitation.
If I hesitate, it is because I love someone I have placed in competition with Him, namely, myself.
– Copyright 2018 Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.