Thursday, November 19, 2015

When Actions Really Do Speak Louder

Recently, a friend and I were talking about our mutual frustration with certain people who seemed to lack integrity. We both have been dealing with various situations where people in positions of power have manipulated other individuals for selfish personal gain. It stirred a deep level of anger in us both, as we felt the need to protect those who were being manipulated but we were essentially helpless. All the way home, I was talking to God about the situations; voicing my frustration and my desire to treat people with dignity and love and that I might strive towards integrity. God reminded me of one of my favorite books in His word: Esther. So, tonight, while I was watching my night school students take their final exam, I reread the entire book, with the focus of how it applies to my situation.

The 10 chapter book of Esther unpacks such an interesting story, that if you have not read it, you should! Trivia side note: It is the only book in the Bible that does not ever mention God directly or any of the names that are used for God throughout the scriptures. And yet, it is included in our Bible. That should raise some interest right there. I believe it is included in the God-breathed Word to show that sometimes the actions of His followers are way more impactful than any words and those actions point to God without ever mentioning His name; that we can make a difference by doing what we are called to do and what is right even when people do not realize who has called us to integrity. 

So here is a synopsis of Esther, (but I really do think you should read it yourself). There was this King Ahasuerus (most likely the King Xerxes that you might have heard about in history) who reigned over the Persian Empire. One night after a six month party, the king became angry at the girl who was his queen because she would not prance around in front of him and all his drunken men naked (wearing only her crown) so he subsequently banished her from the kingdom. Since he didn't have a queen now, he decided to hold a special beauty pageant to find one. So all these girls from his kingdom were gathered and given all kinds of beauty treatments, etc. (remember- this is just my summary and thoughts)

Each girl had a special year to be pampered and then they were presented to the king and hopefully he would really like one of them.
Now you have to understand there are some Jews in this Persian Empire that were taken when their cities were conquered, but they were not slaves, they had basically chosen to just stay in that land instead of returning to their homeland. One of these Jews was a man named Mordecai and he had a niece that he had adopted as his daughter because her parents had been killed. She was very beautiful so he entered her into the Search for a Queen Pageant; enter Esther.

Now apparently her uncle had told Esther to keep her ethnicity and religion a secret, so Esther was very careful not to let on that she was actually Jewish and not from one of the provinces of Persia. When it came Esther's turn before the king, she found favor in his sight and he decided to make her his queen. I am leaving out a lot of interesting stuff, but he thought she was beautiful. She had also won the favor of trusted advisors to the king for being a woman of integrity and honor; she was not only the beauty Queen, she was Miss congeniality too.

Then we have part of the story where Mordecai overhears some of the King's men plotting to kill the King himself. Mordecai tells Esther and she tells the King and all is restored to order. At this point, we also see a new, less than integrous character, Haman. This man is a guy who is high up in the ranks of the King's men and he is power hungry. Haman is a lot like the power-hungry people we deal with in life who do not mind manipulating the innocent or stepping over someone they deem "beneath" them to get ahead in the world. What is interesting is that Haman held this position of power for quite a while, probably years, earning higher and higher ranks in the kingdom despite his lack of integrity. At one point he became so self-absorbed and focused on power that he wanted everyone else in the kingdom to bow down to him.

Now if you caught onto much, you should have noticed that Mordecai was not an outspoken Jew or one that most would recognize as Jewish; he was able to hide his heritage well. However, when Haman came by, Mordecai refused to bow to him and that refusal infuriated Haman. Haman was the one in power; Mordecai was the one doing what was right. There could and would be dire consequences for such a refusal.

By this time, Haman was like the Prime Minister of Persia and he demanded respect. Mordecai explained his religious views and why he would not bow down to Haman, but that did not appease him in the least. So Haman went to the King and requested that he be allowed to create a national "holiday" of sorts on which every Jew - man, woman and child- would be slaughtered in every province of Persia and the king agreed. Not only that, but Haman built a gigantic gallow in front of his house so he could specifically hang Mordecai there on public display.

So often we are faced with dealing with people who are so self-absorbed that if we do not "bow" to their wishes, they will build a "gallow" on which to hang us! Do we stand steadfast and do what we know is right? Especially when we are a nobody in the "kingdom" or so it seems and this person is like the Prime Minister? I think if we are honest, we find ourselves in this kind of position quite often. Sometimes it is in work, sometimes with friend groups where one is the leader and sometimes even within our families. We are in a fallen world dealing with fallen people. Unfortunately, sometimes we may even be the one guilty of being Haman.  

And then what? Do we crater to the pressure of that person who is intimidating and in a position of authority over us even though we know God has called us to respond differently? Do we even consider how God has called us to respond in the first place? Do we allow fear or faith to dictate our reactions? 
Do we justify our "bowing" with the thoughts of: "I need this job to survive." or " They have been my best friend for so long; what if they get angry and walk away?" and " But they are an authority figure that I must follow." or " I can't bring religion into this." 

And if we do, what does that say about our faith? Do we believe God when His word says He will supply our every need? Do we truly understand that we are more precious to our Lord than any other creation? Do we hold to the promise that God will uphold those who are righteous and who follow His Word?  I think often these times are in our life to test us to see if we truly do put God first, or if we have an idol somewhere that we do not even realize. If we are clinging tightly to a job or a position, or a relationship instead of holding steadfast to Him and His Word. 

So how did Mordecai and Esther handle the situation? The Jews, their family and their people, were about to be slaughtered because of Haman and his position. Mordecai went to Esther and instructed her to go to the King and ask him to save her people. This isn't like just asking your husband for help with something, back then, if the King did not call for you, no matter who you were, you could be instantly killed for daring to approach the throne. Esther's only hope was for the King to motion that she was allowed to come to him. She was terrified and said as much to her uncle and her lies one of my favorite verses in the Bible: 

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" 

Esther 4:14

You see, Esther could choose to remain silent and not risk her life for her people; play it safe so to speak. She likely would not have been killed as she was the Queen and very few people knew she was Jewish (including the King). However, Mordecai points out, 'deliverance will arise from another place...' He knew that God would deliver the Jews from this terrible fate. He knew that he and Esther were called to act, despite the risk. He also knew that even if they chose to not follow the call of God, someone else would. God's deliverance of the Jews would still happen, but they would perish in the process. (this could be a physical death or a spiritual death) So after days of fasting and prayer, Esther took a deep breath and did what she knew was right. She let faith lead and conquer her fear. This was the pivotal moment for Esther's faithwalk and became the instance that changed her future, Mordecai's future and the future of so many others. All because she did the right thing; the God thing. 

Because Esther had the courage to conquer her fear with faith in her Lord, she was used by God to do an amazing thing! He was glorified not only by her actions, but by the outcome and a King's heart was softened towards the Jews, God's Chosen People. The King allowed her to approach him and in the process of a few days, Esther was able to convince the king to counteract Haman's directive, thus saving the Jews. In the process, Mordecai was celebrated and brought into the palace and Haman was hung on his own gallows. How is that for a dynamic ending? (You really should read it for yourself! I am leaving out some very interesting details for the sake of time.)

Not to long ago, someone I love deeply was struggling with what God was asking them to do and an intense feeling of inadequacy. They were talking through it all with me and listing all the ways they did not "measure up" and the reasons that they were not the right person for the job, so to speak. I remember looking at them and out of my mouth came these words (completely from God, not from me): "You know, God can do more even with your failure if you try than He can ever do if you don't try at all." That was all I said. Trust me, it was God speaking, and it was not easy for this person to hear. 

I think that is kind of what Mordecai was saying to Esther when he said , "...who knows, but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" He didn't say it, but even if she had failed, God could have turned that around. I think the point is that we should have faith that God THROUGH us will not fail! Usually our biggest fear is of failure or messing it all up. We need a paradigm shift in our thinking! The real failure is not in being imperfect, but in not being willing and obedient. We can't control being imperfect; we are all imperfect. We do however have complete control over being obedient and willing to do what God asks of us. It is a choice; ours alone to decide to conquer our fear of imperfection with our faith in the Perfect One.

What is God asking you to do that you have been putting off? Or maybe you flat out refused? Do you feel inadequate? GOOD! God uses the inadequate!! If we were capable on our own, how would that bring Him glory? Why would we need Him? It is the willing and equipped, yet inadequate and ordinary that He wants to use for the most extraordinary and amazing things to further His Kingdom! I don't know about you, but I want to be used by God! I don't want to miss out on that opportunity! Because if I say no to Him, have no doubt-He will accomplish His goals without me and I will be left without that blessing and growth and the consequences of my rejection. 

So whether it is standing in the face of power and still doing what you know God wants you to do despite your fears of rejection or retaliation OR if it is stepping out in faith doing something that you feel completely inadequate to do, be an Esther! Go all in! Pray and fast first if you are that nervous and unsure, but have faith that your God, the same God as in this story, is not a god of failure, but a glorious God who wants to use you for His kingdom. Let your actions point towards Him in such a way that you don't even have to mention His name; people just know.