Marching Off the Map
October 17, 1993
In our previous studies, we have uncovered some basic principles about God’s will:
1. God wants you to know his will more than you want to know it.
2. God himself takes personal responsibility to see that his will is done by us.
3. God’s will is revealed to us one step at a time.
4. What God wants more than anything else is a willing heart.
5. If you are willing to do God’s will you will do it.
6. Therefore, the key issue is our personal willingness.
There are many places we might go to see these principles illustrated, but I can’t think of a better one than the story of Esther in Old Testament. She is a model of how we discover God’s will. What happened to Esther is often what happens to us. As we approach the Book of Esther, which is basically a familiar story to most of you, I want to share four transferable principles about discovering God’s will for your life.
Principle # 1: God’s will is most often discovered in the outworking of the ordinary events of life.
We pick up the story in Esther 2:17, which tells of 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.” A man by the name of Xerxes was king of Persia. He had deposed his wife Vashti and was looking for another wife. At the suggestion of his attendants, the king sponsored an nationwide search among all the beautiful young virgins of Persia. Hundreds and hundreds of young women came to the capital for 12 months of beauty treatments. One by one they would present themselves to the king. Eventually the king would make his choice. A beautiful Jewish girl named Esther was one of those young women.
Now, I stop here to make a point which helps us to think clearly. As I read the Book of Esther, I don’t find any indication that Esther was trying to discover God’s will. It doesn’t seem to me that Esther was worried at all about discovering God’s plan for her life. As I read the story, it just seems that in the course of things, the king called for the virgins to be presented to him one at a time. Esther was one among them. There is no hint in the text that she was struggling to find God’s will for her life.
What we do know about Esther is very interesting. We are told that she was young. We are told that she was beautiful. And we are told that she was a virgin. Those happened to be the three requirements the king was looking for.
It has been well said that beauty is a great privilege, but it also brings with it a great moral and spiritual responsibility. Beauty is a wonderful thing, but only if it is used for the right purposes. Great beauty is a gift God bestows on a few people. Like any other gift, it is to be used for God’s glory. That, in fact, is what happens here.
That brings us to Esther 2:17 which plainly says that the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women. “So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.”
What Does it Mean?
What does it all mean? Number one: Esther discovers her place in life the same way we discover our place in life. I’ve already said I don’t think that she was struggling to find out what God wanted her to do. There is no voice of God. There is no miracle. There is no supernatural sign. In fact, there is no unusual working from the outside at all. In fact, in the whole Book of Esther there is no prayer at all. There is apparently no time when Esther goes back and reads the Bible. And there is no occasion, as far as we know, when Esther stops and says, “Lord, please show me your will for my life.” Esther is just there. She enters the contest because she has to. The king chooses her and now she is queen. It is just the outworking of the ordinary affairs of life.
That leads me to the second major point: As you read the text of Esther, she doesn’t stand out as an uniquely Godly person. In fact, in all the Book of Esther, there is no mention of Esther’s Godly character at all. I am not saying that she didn’t have one. I am just saying it is not emphasized in this story.
By the way, one of the most unusual facts about the Book of Esther is that it is the only book in the Bible in which God’s name is not mentioned. Doesn’t appear at all. There is no prayer in the Book of Esther. There is no mention of the covenant. No mention of the law. No mention of the temple. No mention of the sacrifices. All the religious elements that we would expect are completely absent. That’s because the Book of Esther is the story of God’s people in a secular society.
Although Esther had some great natural gifts and good common sense, no emphasis is put on her inner character at all. And I find that interesting. How do you explain what happens? Well, the Bible says that promotion comes not from the east or from the west, not from the north or south, but the Lord raises one up and pulls one down. (Psalm 75:6-7) Esther was a very unlikely person to become the Queen of Persia and later the savior of her nation. Yet this unlikely person comes to an unlikely place at exactly the right moment in history. In doing so, she fulfills the will of God for her life.
That leads me to a third point: Being in a beauty pageant might seem to be an unusual step to take to discover God’s will for your life. Some would regard this as a rather worldly undertaking, and in fact, Xerxes was indeed a man of the world. And yet it was through a worldly process that she rises to power. I jotted on my notes as I was preparing this sermon under that observation Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” And I jotted down 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Would you like to discover God’s will for your life? Well, here is the answer: God’s will for your life is much more likely to be revealed in the outworking of the ordinary affairs of life. So many of us look for dreams, visions, and supernatural things when God is much more interested in leading us step by step.
Be faithful today to the work God has given you today because through that faithfulness to God today, 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. She is the queen, the second most important person in the realm. She speaks, and 50 maidservants come to do her bidding. She lifts her voice, and everyone else is silent. She speaks, and it is done. For five years Esther enjoys the perquisites of her royal position.
That leads me to this crucial point: When Esther was raised up as the queen over the Persian empire, she had no idea what God had in store for her. She had no idea in Year 3 of the drama that was about to unfold in Year 5. Haman’s plot was an unrevealed mystery. She had no idea that the fate of her people would soon rest on her shoulders. She could not see past tomorrow. As far as she knew, pure “luck” had lifted her to such a high position. She had no inkling that God had bigger plans in store.
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 move from this job to that job, from this school to that school, from this city to that city. We think we understand what is in God’s mind, and everything is going well for awhile, but we rarely understand the big picture of why God does what He does.
When Esther became queen, she had five years to simply enjoy herself, but she had no idea that behind the scenes, God was working for a greater purpose that had not yet been revealed to her.
You know this story, I’m sure. A wicked man by the name of Haman was jealous because the Jew Mordecai would not kneel down out 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 there was only one catch. 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. He just knew she was a beautiful person, and he loved her for what she was, but he didn’t know the full story.
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 comes 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, and that even included the queen.
It had been 30 days since she had seen Xerxes. Her reply to Mordecai is simple. She says in essence, “You don’t understand what you are asking for.”
“It’s Not Easy Being a Missionary”
When you read the story, please don’t think badly of Esther. She is not saying, I’m not going to do it. She is just counting the costs. And that’s wise. Whenever you come to an important moment in life, it’s important that you should count the costs. Why? 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 into a very uncomfortable position.
A few months ago I traveled to Belize to spend some time teaching at the YWAM base. 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.
All you have to do is go to a place like Belize where they barely have meat. Several times during our visit they served us “invisible meat,” because there was so little meat in the dishes, you had to put it under a microscope to find it. That’s because they don’t have the money to buy the food.
The things that you and I take for granted—like going to a store, like hopping in the car to go to a movie, like picking up a phone and calling somebody, like 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. It is not easy being a missionary.” Beth’s right. We don’t understand.
The words of the Lord Jesus Christ come to mind. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ’This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30) Count the cost before you begin to build. Count your soldiers before you go war.
Count the cost before you go to see the king. Most of us would enjoy the five years of ease and luxury over the kingdom. But you have to understand this: If you are going to do the will of God, eventually it is going to put you into a very uncomfortable position. Why? Because doing the will of God will not always be easy. It will eventually become very difficult for you. So when God is going to show you his will, he very often does it by first putting you 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.
So Esther sends a message back. “Mordecai, you don’t know what you are asking for. You want me to go see the king. But if he doesn’t lower the scepter, I will be dead before a word comes out of my mouth.” She is not saying no. “I’ve got to count the costs before I dare to do that.”
Mordecai then replies to Esther. This is probably 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)
He makes three appeals. The first appeal is based upon nationality. “Esther, you may be the queen, but underneath all of that queenly regalia beats a Jewish heart. Once the killing starts, it is going to be hard to stop. They may start killing the poor Jews first and the Jews in the outer provinces first, but eventually they are going to find out that you are Jewish. When they do, the fact that you are the queen is not going to make any difference. You may be the last one to die, but you won’t escape. Don’t think your high rank is going to exempt you when the day of killing begins.”
The second appeal is based on the hidden providence of God. “Esther, if you don’t help us, relief and deliverance will come from another place.” That is one of the most amazing statements in the Old Testament. That’s a reference to the hidden hand of God in human history. “Esther, God has raised you up to save us. But if you don’t have the courage to do what you ought to do, then God is able to bring relief and deliverance from some other place.”
The third appeal is based on her sense of destiny. “Esther, who knows but that you have come to this high office for such a time as this? All that has happened to you was arranged by God so that he could put you right here so that in this one shining moment of history, you could save your people. Esther, all your life up until now he has been leading you to this place.”
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. There were other beautiful girls there. Do you think it was your smile? There were others that could smile, too. Do you think it was because you could flirt? The other beautiful girls could flirt, too. What do you think, Esther? Do you think it was because of you that you were raised to that high position? No, it was God who has placed you there. God has done it so that at this very moment you can deliver your people.
That is what God does. He arranges the minutest circumstances of life. Sometimes he takes months and years. 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.
The older I get the more Calvinistic I get in my theology. By that I simply mean the more I believe in the sovereignty of God—I don’t believe in chance or circumstance any more. I believe that God superintends all of the affairs of men and nations. And I believe that nothing happens by chance for the children of God. Nothing. Nothing. But there is divine linkage at work in every circumstance of life. Even in the small things God is at work.
Turning Right—Not Left!
We saw it during our recent trip to Belize. On Wednesday afternoon I didn’t have anything to do so I talked the people into giving us one of their cars. They have nothing but old beat-up cars at the YWAM base. So we got their 1977 Chevy. Had about a million miles on it. We were going to go sight-seeing in Belmopan. Did you know Belmopan is the smallest capital city in the world? Only 4,000 people live there. You can drive around it in about 4 minutes. They have some stores on one side of town and a few stores on the other side—with a sidewalk in between. And that’s about it.
So Marlene and I got in the car and started driving around Belmopan. We were just two wild and crazy kids from Oak Park cruising through Belmopan seeing what we could get into. After less than 10 minutes we had seen it all, so when we came to a stop sign, I said, “Let’s turn right.” Marlene said, “It’s the hospital.” Fine. So we drove up to the hospital.
When we drove up to the hospital, Marlene said, “There’s Margaret.” It was Margaret Wooding, one of the YWAM missionaries. She and her husband Max and their three children come from New Zealand. When we saw Margaret, she got in the car and said, “Oh, thank you, thank you.” “Do you need a ride back to the base?” we asked. So she and her little son Joshua got in the car. We took 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 there is somebody there waiting to pick us up.”
She was right. When we drove back to the hospital, we found one of the other missionaries looking for Margaret and Joshua. When he saw us pull up, a smile came across his face. “Pastor Ray, I can’t believe God brought you here. We needed to switch vans, my van for your car, because I had to go some place else outside the city. When I saw you in the city I prayed, ’Lord, please bring them back to the hospital.’” And then he said, “I gave up. 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?
God is so much in charge of the details of your life, that when the right moment comes, He will move heaven and earth so that you are able to do God’s will.
Romans 8:28 is still true. All things—the big things and the small things—work together for good for those who love God. That does two things for me. Number one, it gives me confidence. Confidence. Number two, it gives me courage. Confidence to keep on going and courage to be bold.
I need this because I tend to be a worrier. Not long ago I was worrying about something too much. And Marlene just looked at me and said, “Would you stop trying to micro-manage everything?” And I confess, that’s one of my problems. I try to micro-manage my life.
How much better to believe that in every circumstance God is working so that at the right moment in exactly the right way God’s will can be revealed to me and to you.
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.” If the king didn’t lower his scepter, she was going to die. When she said those words, she didn’t know what was going to happen. She just knew that it was God’s will to take the next step. She didn’t know what the king would do.
This touches on several major issues. First, we see 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. Second, we see again that God’s will is revealed to those who choose to do it. In an earlier message I mentioned that 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 be willing first, and then I will show you what you need to know.” God does not make deals with His children.
Elizabeth Elliott said it this way: “If you are thinking you know God’s will and you are eager to do it, you are probably in for a rude awakening. Nobody knows the will of God for his entire life.”
Flying Through the Fog
As we flew back from Belize our plane was delayed for three hours in Miami because of all the fog here in Chicago. We were supposed to arrive at O’Hare Airport around 9 P.M. but we didn’t get in until just after midnight. During the last 20 or 30 minutes of our flight the plane was completely enshrouded in fog. You couldn’t even see the tips of the wings. The lights were flashing but you didn’t know whether you were up or down. You didn’t know how high you were, how low you were, or how fast you were going. We might have been 50 feet off the ground or 5000. We could have been over the ocean or flying across a desert. The fog destroyed all sense of bearing. We were shrouded in the fog, hurtling through the night somewhere over the Midwest going hundreds of miles an hour.
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 disappear, 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 plans ruined, your marriage failed, 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 we know is that we’ve got to stay with the Lord and take the next step and trust that the Divine Captain of our souls will bring us safely in for a landing.
He Maketh No Mistake
Not long ago a friend faxed me the poem “He Maketh No Mistake.” I share it now because the message speaks to those who feel trapped by the fog of life.
My Father’s way may twist and turn
My heart may throb and ache.
But in my soul I’m glad I know
He maketh no mistake.
My cherished plans may go astray,
My hopes may fade away.
But still I’ll trust my Lord to lead
for he doth know the way.
Tho’ night be dark, and it may seem
That day will never break;
I pin my faith, my all in Him,
He maketh no mistake.
There is so much now I cannot see;
My eyesight’s far too dim.
But come what may I’ll simply trust
And leave it all to Him.
But by and by the mist will lift
And plain it all He’ll make.
Through all the way tho’ dark to me
He made not one mistake.
God has but one purpose for you: 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 in spite of your doubts, then you will know God’s will … and you will do it.