The following was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is keenly relevant to this time.1
Let us rest our souls on the thought, that all around us is ordered and overruled by God’s almighty wisdom. The course of this world may often be contrary to our wishes. The position of the Church may often be very unlike what we desire. The wickedness of worldly men, and the inconsistencies of believers, may often afflict our souls. But there is a hand above us, moving the vast machine of this universe, and making all things work together for His glory. The Scriptures are being yearly fulfilled. Not one jot or tittle in them shall ever fail to be accomplished. The kings of the earth may take counsel together, and the rulers of the nations may set themselves against Christ (Psalm. 2:2), but the resurrection morning shall prove that, even at the darkest time, all things were being done according to the will of God. — J. C. Ryle
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “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?” Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” — Esther 4:12-16 ESV
Set your troubled hearts at rest and banish your fears . . . I shall not talk much longer with you, for the Prince of this world approaches. He has no rights over me, but the world must be shown that I love the Father and do exactly as he commands. — John 14:27, 30-31, NEB
As I’ve read through the book of Esther through the years, I’ve learned the following lessons:
- Each generation of God’s people are in a cultural moment with its own set of circumstances.
- They must choose to face the challenges of their context honestly, corporately and prayerfully.
- As they face the challenges of their context honestly, corporately and prayerfully, they then set a plan of how to be God’s people in this context.
- God sovereignly works “in the background” weaving together His work from the past and in the present to accomplish his purposes for His people and for society at large.
- As God’s people continue to trust and obey, they come to see God’s faithfulness to them, His commitment to His divine purposes and therein His glory.
It is easy to become either mesmerized2 or terrified by the cultural moment in which we find ourselves. We are mesmerized if the moment seems very important and there is potential, but not immediate, personal threat. We are terrified if the cultural moment seems very important, and we are immediately threatened in it. It is this dynamic that fuels the success of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. As Christians we tend to be swept along with the anxiety of those around us and of the news or social media to which we attach.
We are generally unaware of the core fear that drives our thoughts and actions in challenging cultural moments—whether these moments are about the failure of our elected leaders, the societal validation of ungodly beliefs and practices or the impending impact of a hurricane making landfall nearby us. Our fear is that somehow we might die—either in actuality or in part. We fear actual death, but we also fear the death of how we’ve been, of our way of life. We easily say that surely this kind of fear is “normal.” And “normal” it may be, but for Christians the fear must be challenged and informed by a biblical understanding of our life’s purpose.
When Esther sees that it is her responsibility to be the advocate for her people to the king, though this will likely lead to her death, it is reasonable to assume that she fears death. She says in 4:7 that this will likely lead to her death, and in 4:16 she calls for God’s people to pray on her behalf and she says, “If I perish, I perish.” And yet what made her choose against her “normal” fear and step forward as God’s woman? The book puts her forward as a woman oriented toward prayerful, thoughtful and faithful action. But what fueled her to take that action that would likely lead to a violent death?
I’d say what fueled her was that she understood her ultimate purpose in her cultural moment. Her ultimate purpose wasn’t to sustain the life of her people or her own life, though these she surely wanted. I believe that her ultimate purpose was to be a faithful witness to the goodness and glory of the God to which she prayed and in whom she believed, no matter the sacrifice that this required. She couldn’t ensure the salvation of her people, but she could honor God in her brave advocacy for them, even if in doing so she perished.
And in this courageous choice to honor God by obedient action, Esther prefigures our Savior, Christ the Lord. On the night in which he courageously steps forward as the Savior of His people, He tells his followers why He is doing this. He tells them that He is stepping forward to suffer death and the wrath of His Father for the sins of His people for the following reason: “The world must be shown that I love the Father and do exactly as He commands.” What a simple and clarifying explanation. And what a great guide for our daily lives in the cultural moment in which we live.
Christian leadership is about expressing God-honoring influence in all of the spheres to which God calls us. God-honoring influence is about showing the world that we love the Father and do exactly as He commands. And all of this must be done by His grace and for His glory. Christian leadership involves additional skills and perspectives and commitments, but for it to honor God, it must be built around our love for Him and obedience to that which He commands.
As we think about the challenges and opportunities of the cultural moment in which we live, it is essential that we remember that God is slowly and faithfully working His purposes, even in the darkest moments. And in each of these moments, like Esther, we must realize that God has placed us here for “such a time as this.” At the core of how we live and lead in this moment, our heart’s cry must be, “The world must be shown that I love the Father and do exactly as He commands.” In this cultural moment, the world must be shown.
Take it to the Lord
- Read through this meditation again, asking God to open your eyes, mind, heart and soul to His message for you today.
- As He speaks to you, listen. Ask Him to guide you as to what you should do with what He says and for the grace to do so.
- End your time with some form of worship—prayer, praise, thanksgiving or surrender.
- From Longings Toward a God-Centered Life: Meditations on Great Thoughts and Passages by John Hawkins. The purpose of publishing these meditations is to share perspectives for leaders and followers on biblical understanding for daily living. The meditations are derived from John’s reflections on quotes from Christian leaders and from God’s Word.
- Mesmerize: hold the attention of (someone) to the exclusion of all else or so as to transfix them. (Oxford Dictionary)