Marching Off the Map (article)
Article 3 of 13 from the Articles and Public Letters series
March 1996 – Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the emperor who ordered his favorite general to embark on a dangerous mission to conquer new land. Becuase that meant entering unknown territory, the maps stopped at the frontier of previous exporation. Many months later, after completing his mission, the general sent a message back to the emperor: “What do we do now? We have just marched off the map.”
Something like happens sooner or later to every Christian. We all have a “map” of our life on which we mark off our family, our job, our career, our relationships, and our dreams for tomorrow.
But life never fits neatly into the pages of our daily planner. Trouble comes, or sickness, or tragedy, or perhaps an unexpected turn of events,and suddenly we find ourselves marching off the map of life.
What do you do then? The Bible contains many stories of men and women who suddenly found themselves in uncharted territory. One of the best examples comes from the often-overlooked story of Esther. Here is a women who suddenly found herself in a dangerous predicament. A series of unforeseen events catapulted her from a life of luxury into an agonizing moral crisis.
From her story we discover four transferable principles for doing God’s will while marching off the map.
Principle # 1: God’s will is most often discovered in the outworking of the ordinary events of life.Esther’s story begins with an ancient beauty pageant. “Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17). Xerxes was king of Persia. He had deposed his wife Vashti and was looking for someone to take her place. At the suggestion of his attendants, the king sponsored an nationwide search for a suitable candidate among the young women of his realm.
A Jewish girl named Esther was one of those women. We are told that she was young, beautiful, and a virgin. It has been well said that beauty is both a privilege and a burden. Beauty is a gift God bestows on only a few people. Like any other gift, it must be used for God’s glory.
Esther was a very unlikely person to become the Queen of Persia and later the savior of her nation. She entered the beauty contest because she had to, not because she wanted to. Yet this unlikely person comes to an unlikely place at exactly the right moment in history.
Would you like to discover God’s will for your life? Here is one part of the answer: God’s will is most often revealed in the outworking of the ordinary affairs of life. Be faithful to the work God has given you today because through that faithfulness he will reveal his will for you tomorrow.
Principle # 2: God often reveals His will by first putting us in an uncomfortable position.Five years pass after Esther becomes the queen. These are years of peace, prosperity and luxury. When Esther was raised up as the queen over the Persian empire, she had no idea what God had in store for her. Haman’s plot was an unrevealed mystery. She didn’t know that the fate of her people would soon rest on her shoulders. As far as she knew, pure “luck” had lifted her to such a high position.
The same is true for you and me. When we are promoted, we rarely have a clear idea of what God has in store for us either. We make the move, we take the new job, we enter into a marriage relationship, we transfer to a new department, enroll in a different college, and move from one state to another. In all of our shifting around, we seldom understand the big picture of what God wants us to do.
When Esther became queen, she had five years to simply enjoy herself. Meanwhile behind the scenes God was preparing her for the greatest crisis of her life.
Esther’s DilemmaHaman was jealous because the Mordecai the Jew would not kneel down before him. So he hatched a plot to kill all the Jews in Persia. He even managed to get the king’s approval for his wicked scheme. But Haman overlooked one important fact: Mordecai was Esther’s cousin and had raised her himself. Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes and began to mourn in the city streets. When Esther heard about this, she sent a messenger to find out what was the matter. He came back with a full explanation of the plot and the request that Esther personally appeal to the king. That leads to a major complication, because Xerxes loved Esther, but he didn’t know that she was Jewish.
So Mordecai says, “Esther, you have got to go in and speak for your people.” This is her reply, “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death.” (4:11) The king did not like to be surprised. No one could come into his presence without his permission. Not even the queen could come in uninvited. The only exception would be if the king let down his scepter. Then you could touch the king’s scepter, which meant that even though you were unannounced, the king had welcomed you. But if he didn’t lower his scepter, you weren’t going to live to see another day.
“It’s Not Easy Being a Missionary”Not long ago I traveled to Belize to spend some time teaching at a mission station. As I talked with our missionary there, she told us about some of the difficulties she faced on the field. “It’s not easy being a missionary,” she said. How true. In the lobby of our church one whole wall is reserved for pictures of our missionaries. Those pictures can be deceiving because they make it look easy. But it’s not.
dishes, you had to put it under a microscope to find it.
The things most of us take for granted—going to a store, hopping in the car to go to a movie, picking up a phone and calling somebody, having electricity 24 hours a day—they simply aren’t there on the mission field. Going grocery shopping can take an entire day if you can find some food to buy. “The people back home don’t understand what we go through.” My friend was not complaining, simply stating the facts. We don’t understand.
When you read Esther’s story, please don’t think badly of her. She is not saying, “I’m not going to do it.” She is just counting the cost of going in to see the king. That’s actually a mark of wisdom because doing the will of God will cost you something. And when God gets ready to reveal his will for you, He often does it by putting you first in a very uncomfortable position.
Principle # 3: God arranges the circumstances of life so that when the right moment comes, we will be in exactly the right place to do His will.Mordecai then replies to Esther in what has become the most famous passage in the whole book. “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 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 royal position for such a time as this?” (4:13-14)
It’s as if he is saying, “Esther, how do you think you got where you are? Do you think it was your beauty? You weren’t the only beautiful girl. Do you think it was your smile? There were others that could smile, too. God placed you here so that at this very moment you can deliver your people.”
That is what God does. He arranges the tiniest circumstances of life. Sometimes he takes months and years to do it. He does it so that at the right moment you will be where you need to be in order to do the will of God.
Turning Right—Not Left!On Wednesday afternoon during our trip to Belize I didn’t have anything to do so I borrowed a car to go sight-seeing in Belmopan, the capital city.
After a few minutes we came to a stop sign. I said, “Let’s turn right.” The road led to the local hospital. As we approached the main building, my wife spotted one of the missionaries from the base. She was standing there with her young son waiting to be picked up. We drove them to the pharmacy so she could get the prescription filled for her son. Then she said, “We’d better go back to the hospital. Maybe somebody is waiting to pick us up.”
She was right. When we drove back to the hospital, we found one of the other missionaries looking for them. As we pulled up, a smile came across his face. “I can’t believe God brought you here. We needed to switch my van for your car because I have to go to another city. When I saw you a few minutes ago I prayed, ’Lord, please bring them back to the hospital.’ And now here you are.”
I confess that I am not used to thinking in those terms. But it is wonderful to realize that God is involved in something as small as turning right or left at a stop sign. When you are turning right, you are not doing it by chance though it seems like chance to you. But you are coming to the right place at exactly the right time so that the right people who have prayed for you can meet you so you can switch your vehicles. Who knows but you turned right instead of left for such a time as this?
Principle # 4: God brings us again and again to face one basic question: “Am I willing to do God’s will without regard to the consequences?”Now we come to the climax of the story. Mordecai has made his appeal. Esther answers with these stirring words: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (4:16)
"If I perish, I perish.” This is faith acting in spite of doubt. Was she sure? No, she wasn’t sure. Were there any guarantees? None whatsoever. But she was going to go see the king anyway.
This teaches us that God’s will is revealed to those who choose to do it. Normally God will not show you his will in order for you to consider it. We say, “Lord, if you show me the big picture, then I will be willing to do it.” And God says, “No, you must be willing first, and then I will show you what you need to know.”
Flying Through the FogOn our way back from Belize our plane was delayed for three hours in Miami because of bad weather in Chicago. During the last thirty minutes of our flight the plane was completely enshrouded in fog. We couldn’t even see the tips of the wings. We might have been 50 feet off the ground or 25,000. We could have been over the ocean or flying across a desert. The fog destroyed all sense of bearing.
That’s a frightening experience because your mind begins to play tricks on you. As long as you can see the ground below and the stars above, you feel like you are in control. But when those things vanish, you realize how helpless you really are. All you can do is hope and pray that the instruments are working and that the captain is in contact with the control tower.
Many times in life the fog rolls in and all the familiar landmarks disappear. Your friends are gone, your family is far away, your money has vanished, your health is gone, your career is over, your future uncertain, your marriage failed, and your plans in tatters. Suddenly the things you trusted in fade away and you find yourself flying through the fog. In the midst of confusing and uncertain circumstances, all you can do is take the next step and trust that the Divine Captain of our souls will brings you safely in for a landing.
In those moments it helps to remember that God is still in control of your life. He wants to bring you to the place where you will say, “Lord, I am willing to do your will without regard to the consequences.” When you can say that even while marching off the map of life, then you will know God’s will and you will do it.
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