To live the life of faith well, there is something we absolutely must know. Paul reminded the believers in Rome what that was: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). It is a familiar statement for Bible readers. But I wonder how many of us really know the comfort of this statement? Paul said that there was something that faith would “know” -- in all things, God works for our good. Do you know this? This past Sunday we began a new series in the book of Esther. We hope that our engagement with this Biblical story over the next month will prove to be both deeply grounding and personally encouraging. The story of Esther shows us how providence works, how the life of faith is deeply rooted in the purposes of God. While Esther’s conditions are admittedly spectacular, and the resolution to her story awe-inspiring, we hope that seeing these big ideas in action will make a difference for each of us. Without exaggeration, our smaller stories are not out of sync with Esther: God works in the details of our lives too, and for our ultimate good.
Our text this past Sunday was Esther 1:1 -- 2:18, which sets up the context of the story, the winding path of how Esther was taken into Xerxes court and became Queen of Persia. While that may sound like a very good thing to happen, we noted that there are a lot of complicating factors to consider here, a lot of things that are not good, not good at all. Esther was “taken” (2:8), against her will to be sure. But this is the life Esther finds herself in, the life she has to live.
This first movement in the Esther story sets us in context. It is a strange world to us -- a despotic king, Persian laws and court politics, the king’s harem -- but we quickly learn to adjust to what we find here. These are the conditions in which life has to be lived. This is the world as we find it: not all that we want it to be, or think it should be, but the way it actually is. Life is most often less than ideal, and sometimes quite troubling. The question for Esther and Mordecai, and for us by extension, is how can we live well from the place we find ourselves in?
While the circumstances Esther finds herself in are not of her choosing, she is about to wake up to the inherent meaning of her story. Esther is about to find out the incredible good she can accomplish because of the place she finds herself in. It is vital that we all wake up to meaning.
As we begin our series in Esther, I am wondering if you would be able to take time to discern your context, the place where you are. I am not excluding the physical spaces of your life, but I mean to push it further than that: where are you in the journey of faith, in the discovery of your life’s purpose? Where are you in the realization that grace is far deeper, more profound, more basic than you have realized? Where are you right now? Are you waking up to the meanings in your life? These are questions worth contemplating. See if you can find an image to describe where you are.
We said on Sunday that Esther is one of the great Bible stories. We also said it was an unusual story because it does not actually name God. It is a Bible story without obvious God-talk. For me, this is the beauty of the Esther story, that God is working in deeper ways than we can name. He continues to lead us on, even past our awareness that he is doing so.
We continue this Sunday with a plunge into the central crisis of the Esther story. Things are about to get a whole lot more challenging, and quickly. Things are going to get downright dangerous. But this will be the same place where God presents himself, although silently, and without being named.
We are inviting you to read the story in your Bibles. If you intend to engage this story in a more focused way through our Do-It-Yourself Small Groups, then you will want to take note of the questions at the end of this devotional.
See you Sunday for Esther part 2.
Questions for reflection:
- Is there a place in your life you think of as safe and/or joyful? Is there a place you see as sad and/or fearful? What have you learned about the meaning of place in your life?
- In reading the beginning of Esther’s story (1:1 -- 2:18), how would you counsel Esther about the place she finds herself in? Put yourself in Mordecai’s role. What would he say to her?
- On Sunday we talked about providence, that God is deeply embedded in the details of our story even when we do not see or hear him. Have you been able to reflect on the providence of God in your life? What do you understand about this idea?
- How would you characterize the place you live in now? What evidence of God's working do you see from where you are right now?