The wait …
My first point comes from the back end of the passage Sophie handled last week, which tells us that Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions (that is, to fast and pray for three days). And Chapter 5 starts with “on the third day”.
So between the end of Esther 4 and the beginning of Esther 5 we have a break of three days.
I’ve talked about instant before. We live in an instant, modern society where we can pretty much do or get anything we want. If we’re honest, most of us would admit that one of our least favourite words is patience.
- Have you ever sent a text to someone and got irritated if they didn’t respond straight away? If you said no to that, then you are extremely unusual, and probably older!
- Have you ever got frustrated because you’re in a queue of heavy traffic and the person in front of you is so slow off the ball that someone cuts in front of them?
If either of those two things irritate you, then you probably need more patience!
In our ‘me first’ western culture, generally speaking we get what we want, when we want it, and if we don’t, we think we should. We see it as “a right”. Waiting seems to be unfashionable nowadays, we have a society where instant everything it seems is available to us.
Instant everything fills our lives. I did an Amazon search for “instant” last night. So, quite apart from next day delivery (which is itself a symptom of impatience), they have a rake of stuff which promises we can do things without waiting. Here are some of my favourites …
- Instant Facelift and Eye Tuck Serum,
- Instant Coffee,
- Instant Eyebrow Tint,
- Instant Cold Ice Pack,
- Instant camera,
- Instant grab adhesive,
- Instant Snow Powder,
- Instant diarrhoea relief,
- Instant Gasket,
- Instant tan cream, and,
- Instant love handle remover!
But it’s not just Amazon, people won’t even wait to be served in a busy supermarket, so we have queue busters. We don’t even have to wait 24hrs for photo developing, smartphones mean instant picture review.
In a recent poll, 47% of web surfers indicated that they would navigate away from a desktop site that didn’t load in 2 seconds or less. Computers and phones have to be faster and faster at processing. And everyone all falls for it, 15 years ago, we were pleased with internet speeds of 56kb/s, now our broadband at home delivers over 70mb/s (last night’s test gave 74.3).
In many ways, the increase in speed we see around us can be a good thing. No longer does it take months to get somewhere on the other side of the world, I can be there in a matter of hours. Though modern e-mail and messaging, I can communicate with people wherever they are and pretty much get an instant response. When appropriated by Christians, this can be really positive. Air travel has made short-term missions possible in even very remote places. The communication advances mean that long gone are the days when contact with someone on mission takes months. We can get hundreds, perhaps thousands praying for something within a matter of minutes.
But we need to learn the benefits of waiting, quicker is not necessarily better. Instant is not generally the way of God.
I know that there are some verses and passages which suggest there is an instant effect. Certainly, there can be a “suddenly” in the kingdom of God, so as the hymn writer says, “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives” (To God be the Glory by Fanny J Crosby). Or we read in Matthew 9 when the woman with bleeding touched Jesus cloak, she is described as “healed instantly” (it is important to note though that she had been suffering for 12 years, so that’s not overly instant is it?!).
Far more frequently, the Bible describes a season of waiting and preparation before anything happens. Jesus in the wilderness before his ministry starts, David spending years a shepherd, Joseph in prison in pharaoh’s palace, Moses was 80 when he went in front of Pharaoh. We also have passages like Isaiah 40 and Psalm 40 which tells us:
“they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 ESV).
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).
Just from these two verses, we can see that waiting on God does several things for us:
- We gain new strength,
- We get a better perspective (the eagle’s perspective),
- We are energised physically (Perhaps the solution to my current sense of feeling tired and weary is not more rest, but a period of waiting on God?),
- God hears us.
Secondly, Jesus makes several statements about persevering in prayer, so for example we have the parable of the persistent widow in Matthew 18. Being persistent at its core means we are waiting for something. We seem to think that waiting is often in vain, and that nothing will change.
Impatience both flows from and feeds into a hate of inaction and a belief that things will only change if we act. This is particularly visible in modern society, Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain, Black Lives Matter, Stonewall, and other “pressure groups” are following that exact ideology. To change society, they say, we have to DO something.
Christians should note that there is a difference between the actions of these groups and the actions we should take.
- Our action is rooted in the will of God, their actions are rooted in fear about the future.
- Our action is taken on a bedrock of waiting on God, often with prayer and fasting, their action is driven by impatience and frustration.
If we have to take any form of action, especially if it is a drastic thing, we must be sure our actions are Godly and not worldly. The best thing we can do is spend some time waiting on God and fasting and praying before we act.
- Waiting reminds us of the importance of the task. Noticeably, when we have to wait for something, we value it more than if it comes to us instantly. I remember my Dad saying “nothing with any value in it was ever gained in one short minute” which speaks to this point. Very often the longer you wait for something to happen, the longer you wait for God to move, the greater value you will give to that thing.
- Waiting prepares US for the future. We have time to consider and prepare ourselves for what might come. We may train in some way, either physically or spiritually. Too often, people rush into doing something, and they are not ready. Waiting frequently includes preparation.
- It re-focuses us on God and reminds us of His importance in our lives. The most precious commodity many of us has, is our time. We have a set number of days on this world, and every minute that passes for us is gone. We can never get it back, we can never replace or redeem it. Every moment is precious. So, what we people give their time to is one of the most telling ways of seeing what is important to them.
The thing to take away from this is that we mustn’t be too hasty. Bernard Cribbins once had a hit with a song titled “Right said Fred”, one of the lines was “You see the trouble with Fred is, he’s too hasty — You’ll never get nowhere if you’re too hasty”. We must learn and start to exercise the discipline of waiting on God before we do things.
The power of one.
We live in a world which is driven by the concept of democracy. Democracy does have one major weakness — it emasculates the individual. Everything is seen through the group. The majority overwhelm the minority, and power and influence is vested in those with the greatest numerical support.
but as Rick Warren said
“A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right, and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by a majority.”
Democracy and the way of appealing to majority consensus we have around us can cause us to feel like we are not enough to make a difference on our own, that if we are to make a difference we have to “mobilise the masses” and gain support from many people. This is the stuff of mass demonstrations (and haven’t we seen loads of those over the last couple of years?), petitions and appeals to “everybody thinks this way”.
Esther is ONE person, she is not a crowd, or an army, she doesn’t have the backing of the majority, and she demonstrates to us that one person can have the influence without appeal to numbers.
She goes alone into the king’s presence and holds in her hands the future of the Jewish people. If she fails, not only does she die, but the entire Jewish people in the land die as well. If Esther succeeds, not only does she live, but she saves her people as well. This brings to mind the prayers of Abraham for Sodom in Genesis 18. One man pleads with God on behalf of a city.
In history as well, we can see the effect just one person has had on history, but in the UK and elsewhere in the world:
- 1521, ONE man stood before the Diet of Worms and refused to retract his belief that salvation was by faith rather than through the church. This changed the face of Christendom forever. (Martin Luther, of course, sparking the reformation)
- 1645, ONE man’s vote gave power to Oliver Cromwell. Then in 1649, ONE man’s vote was the difference between the acquittal and execution of Charles 1. This changed the character and the structure of the UK.
- 1759, a boy was born. This ONE man is credited with the abolition of slavery in the western world (Wilberforce)
- 1776, ONE vote determined that English and not German would be the language of the new world (America)
- 1875, ONE vote changed France from a monarchy to a republic.
- 1923, ONE vote gave Adolf Hitler power in Germany.
- 1963, ONE man changed American history by shooting Kennedy
In the Bible, we have record after record, history after history of individual people who believed God, followed his direction and changed history …
And these are just a few, the Bible is replete with these people, from all walks of life, all age groups, both genders and multiple nationalities who all make a difference.
Don’t forget the saying, “if you think you are too small to make a difference, you’ve clearly never spent the night in a tent with a mosquito!”
I feel a bit like a cracked record here because I often end up in 1 Corinthians 1:26–28, which says: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are”
Don’t believe the lie that your effort is unimportant. We have the witness of the bible that again and again God uses one person to affect history.
Who knows, you may be the one who brings revival to our nation – or at the very least, it might be YOU who makes the difference between this church flourishing and just surviving (or even failing)!
Have you seen the the film “We Bought a Zoo”? In it, Benjamin Mee is talking to his son who is frightened to do something and tells him that all he needs is “twenty seconds of insane courage”. Courage and it’s opposite, fear, appear with noticeable frequency throughout Scripture, for example:
Gideon is probably the most well known fearful person in the Bible. We note in the account of Gideon he loses 22,000 men, 2/3 of his army, when he says they don’t have to fight if they’re frightened.
Jesus was afraid. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say this, but my feeling is that, given that He knew what was coming, given that He was fully human (just as we are), his prayer in Gethsemane shows fear in some small part.
Esther is or must be very frightened. She knows that she is staring death in the eye. She knows that if she enters the presence of the king uninvited, she faces the death penalty.
How does fear affect us?
How do we overcome it?
I want to take a digression into Numbers 13:26–33 to attempt to give an answer to this question …
“They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
What is it in Caleb, what is it about him which made him full of faith and not full of fear like the other spies?
It wasn’t his circumstances, because he faced exactly the same circumstances as everyone else, he had walked with the people of God through the wilderness, he had been fed with manna and quail, he had witnessed everything exactly the same as everyone else had.
yet … He had a different report about the land.
Suggest it was fear which drove the bad report and faith which drove the good one.
Some things which happen when we start to give in to fear:
We exaggerate our problems, which then obscure our view of God! We look at them so much that we lose sight of God.
Gideon, hiding from the Midianites, is called to free the people, and his response is, “I am the smallest man in the smallest family in the smallest tribe, what on earth can I do?” (Judges 6:15)
Abraham looked at his age (as did Sarah) and initially they both questioned God s promise of children.
The returning spies looked at the size of the people in the land and doubted that they could win.
If we feel fearful, we need to regain our perspective. This can be achieved by focusing on God, worship can be especially helpful in this regard.
Underestimation of our abilities
In addition to exaggerating the problem, fear also drives us to underestimate our own abilities and think we can’t do it.
the spies didn’t just say “they are bigger and stronger than we are”, they looked at themselves and said “we’re too small” (grasshoppers).
In fact I’d go so far as to say this a biggie. I have met so many people not doing what they think God is calling them to do. Not because they think the task is too big per-se, but because they don’t think they are up to it.
Moses, standing before God Himself, questions his ability to do what God has said. He looks at Himself and says, “who am I?”, “I’m not not a good speaker”, “I won’t know what to say”, “they won’t listen to me anyway”. Finally he says, “send someone else”.
Jeremiah looked at himself and said “I’m too young & I wouldn’t know what to say” Jeremiah 1:6.
The truth is, our ability to do God’s will doesn’t depend on our abilities, it depends on God. But sometimes our willingness (or unwillingness) to obey Him is directly related to our view of ourselves.
There is a fine line between allowing our self assessement stop us from ministering and getting so over confident in our own abilities that we think we did it!
We get discouraged.
Job 4:5. “But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed”.
Joshua 1:9 “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go”.
Deuteronomy 1:21 “See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”.
We miss all the good things … I remember many years ago speaking to someone who was working practically in France when he knew God had called him to do something in French North Africa. The problem was that he had bottled out at the last minute and God had sent someone else.
Ray Comfort from Living Waters wrote a book titled “here I am – send someone else”, which speaks to this.
I do wonder how many have missed out on the blessings God has had for them because of fear.
What happens when we see with eyes of faith
Faith shrinks the problems
to Abraham … Genesis 18:14 “Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son”.
Luke 18:27 “What is impossible with man is possible with God” // Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.
Job 42:2 “I know you can do all things”
Jeremiah 32:17 “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you”
Faith opens the door for God to move and act on my behalf.
Psalm 91:14 “Because he loves me, says the LORD, I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”.
1 Samuel 2:30 “Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever. But now the LORD declares: Far be it from me! Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained”.
Faith unlocks the promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:20).
2 Corinthians 1:20 “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God”.
Faith enables us to hang on in tough times. (2 Corinthians 4:8,9)
2 Corinthians 4:8–9 “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed”.
Romans 8:38–39 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
The courage of Esther which is rooted in her faith and appropriated through prayer and fasting has an eternal impact on the history of the people of God. It teaches us that we too can, thorough our faith, have a significant impact on our own lives at least, but maybe, just maybe, the exercise of our faith here and now will have an impact way beyond anything we can imagine.