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There’s a heartbreaking occasion in my life where I once acted like the man in the modern day parable of the flood. The story goes that a man was once trapped in his house during a flood. He prayed to God for help and saw a vision of God’s hand reaching down from heaven and lifting him to safety.
So, he waited.
As the floodwaters rose, his neighbors urged him to leave with them and offered him a ride to safety. The man passed on their offer, explaining, “I’m okay, thanks. God is going to come rescue me.” The waters rose some more and he was forced to climb on his roof. A boat pulled up next to him with some people who threw a rope to him and offered their assistance. The man once again refused their help, explaining, “Thanks, but no thanks. I have a promise I’m holding on to and God will be here shortly.”
The waters rose precariously to the point that the house was starting to tilt off its foundations. Just then, a helicopter few by and a voice from a loudspeaker offered to lower a ladder to get him off the room. Still, the man waved them away, insisting and shouting that God would soon be there to save him. After much urging, the helicopter left.
A nearby dam eventually broke and the flood eventually swept the house away, drowning the man. When he reached heaven, he asked God, “Lord, why did you not save me? I believed you with all my heart. Why did you let me drown?” God responded, “I sent your neighbors in a pick-up truck, a boat and a helicopter and you refused them all. What else could I possibly have done for you?”
I chose to share that story instead of what happened to me personally because the real thing is too embarrassing to recount here, but the lessons still holds true. God will not do for us what he has equipped us to do for ourselves. “Putting the ball in our court” means that God encourages us to join Him in HIS work where He will supernaturally empower our human efforts so that we accomplish exponentially more.
But WE MUST get up and move!
It’s in such a scenario that we now find Esther and Mordecai in Esther 8. From a human perspective, God has outwardly done His part by foiling Haman’s plot and removing him from the picture, now it’s left to Esther and Mordecai to fully posses the promise God has placed in front of them.
God has put the ball in their court, hence it’s their move.
Esther 8 opens up with the king seemingly trying to appease the queen for being a part of the plot to annihilate and destroy her people, the Jews. Though the plot originated in Haman’s mind and was put in motion by him, remember that the king thoughtlessly signed off on the edict, so it could be argued that he is just as guilty as Haman was. But he’s the king, and no one would dare lift an accusatory eyebrow against him, no one expect … maybe his wife?
I don’t suppose Esther actually accused the king of any wrongdoing, but I’m a married man and I know that sometimes when my wife says, “I’m fine. Nothing is wrong!” it actually means everything is NOT fine and it is ALL my fault!
It’s with this perspective that we read in the opening verses of Esther 8 that the king not only offered Esther the estate of Haman, the enemy of the Jews, but also appointed Mordecai as the second in command of the entire nation. It’s a grand gesture designed to placate his wife and his Jewish constituents. In his mind, queen Esther would be walking away a winner. She's acquired great wealth by inheriting Haman’s property. Her cousin, Mordecai received an impressive promotion, and the best news of all? Their enemy, Haman was dead! This should make Esther and Mordecai happy, right? Everyone should go home happy. Right?
Wrong. (…and this brings us to the first lesson about that moment when God places the ball in your court).
LESSON 1: DON’T SETTLE FOR “GOOD” IF THE POSSIBILITY OF “GREAT” IS STILL ON THE TABLE
Everything was not A-OK. The threat of the Jews being annihilated and destroyed still hung over the nation like dark stormy clouds. Though God had put the ball in Esther’s court by exposing Haman’s falsehood and by granting Esther favor with the king, the edict to exterminate all the Jews had already been passed.
Death was still in motion.
So then, Esther’s strategy all along had to have been two-fold, each as risky as the next. First, she had to convince the king that his most trusted friend, Haman was the enemy. Done! But now, she had to go back to and convince the king to revoke what we will discover shortly was an irrevocable law. Make no mistake about it, approaching the king to make her request this second time around was just as dangerous as the first time she went before him. In chapter 4:11, Esther explains why it is she couldn’t just stroll into the king’s presence at any time to plead her case, “..any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”
We don’t know what the king’s movement in the palace was on that day in chapter 8, but there’s reason to believe that Esther had to go through royal protocol again to make her second request. Verse 6 tells us that when she did, the king “extended the gold scepter” to her again, which means the option of being put to death was a very real possibility if the king had still been in “killish-mode” (like he was when he ordered Haman's execution earlier in the day)
The point here is that Esther didn’t settle for one out of two. She didn’t settle for a small win when the possibility of a big win was still on the table! Her faith in God had been forged in prayer and she had already begun to see His silent handprint in palace events. So, acting on faith that there were still promises to be possessed, she audaciously pressed passed good results for something greater by appealing to the king, “TURN THIS LAW AROUND, KING!” It’s what she’s asking for in verse 3, 5-6 when it says, “Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews. … (5) If it pleases the king,” she said, “and if he regards me with favor and thinks it the right thing to do, and if he is pleased with me, let an order be written overruling the dispatches that Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, devised and wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king’s provinces. 6 For how can I bear to see disaster fall on my people? How can I bear to see the destruction of my family?”
The principle in this first lesson came to life [for me] in my first few years of seminary. I was getting restless with something I was involved in and was eager to jump into a new opportunity someone had put in front of me. One of my mentors and close friends who was familiar with my gifting and calling, and who also had a keen sense of what God was doing in my life, challenged me, “Shegz, be careful that in your impulsiveness, you aren’t settling for something good-enough when God may very well have something great in store for you.” His counsel gave me a serious moment of pause. I knew, and he knew that I was simply rushing into this next thing because I was getting weary of waiting on God’s timing, not because it was a compelling Holy Spirit inspired calling. It’s almost 10 years later since his counsel and I am so deeply grateful that I humbled myself enough to heed his words. Without going into all the details, I’ll just say you that he was 110% right that God did indeed have something greater in store for me!
So, what about you? What area of your life might you be settling for "good" in place of "great"? Certainly, we are to learn contentment in any circumstance we find ourselves in, but not when it comes to possessing the full promises of God in our lives. Has God planted in your heart a vision of where He’s taking you? Perhaps for your business? Family? Ministry? Great! Hold on unswervingly to it because you will be tempted every step of the way to settle for something less than the original plan. Be attentive, adaptive and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and most of all, don’t settle for “good” if the possibility for “God’s Great” is still on the table!
Realizing that there was more to be had, Esther moved from settling for “good” to seeking “great”, however, she’s facing a nearly impossible task. Esther 1:19 and the king himself, here in Esther 8:8 reiterate a Persian policy, “..no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked.” In other words, “Sorry, queen-honey, but there is nothing I can do about your situation.”
Some of you reading this know all too well the painful feeling of having a door shut on some of your great expectations. I’ve had my fair share of slammed doors (one time, literally. It was the 4th grade. She was more interested in dating Michael, and I said some things …. long story … I don’t want to talk about it!).
For Esther, this is that moment when she could throw up her hands and go, “Well, I gave it my best shot!” But something interesting happens, and that brings me to the second lesson about that moment when God places the ball in your court
LESSON 2: WHEN THE DOOR ON YOUR PLANS SLAM SHUT, DON’T WALK AWAY. GET CREATIVE!
I get the sense from verse 7-8 that the king is a little exasperated with Esther’s (and possibly Mordecai’s) request. The verses sound like the king is throwing up his hands in frustration and yelling, “What more do you want me to do, Esther?!? I already gave you Haman’s estate because he attacked your people! I even had him impaled publicly!! What else do you want!?!?”
But Esther doesn’t let up. Notice how she bundles two very strong emotions together earlier in verse 5, “If it please the king and he regards me with favor and thinks this is right, and if he has any affection for me at all, let an order be written…”
This girl is GOOD!
You know what she’s doing here, right? She’s tugging at his emotions and equating his love for her with his ability to lead well. She’s going, “Honey, if you truly love me, and if you want to be known as a great king, and if I mean anything to you, and if you think in your heart that it is right, please write this into law….”
Whether Esther was really just overwhelmed with emotion or whether she’s just brilliantly shrewd, we don’t know and it doesn’t matter. What matters is what it stirs the king to say next in verse 8, “Fine! I give you and Mordecai power of attorney! YOU do something about it!”
Yes. This is a win, but let’s be clear on this, the problem is still not solved. Esther (and Mordecai) have been entrusted with the power to fix the issue, but they CANNOT change Persian law, the death-edict still remains! Xerxes simply took the pressure off himself and placed the burden on them! So, this of course calls for some outside-the-box thinking. I’d imagine the hallway conversation between Mordecai and Esther went something like this:
Mordecai: “If the law says a pseudo-army cannot be stopped from carrying out their killing orders, how do we counteract that law?”
Esther: (excitedly and suddenly filled with inspiration): “Oh, I have an idea! What if we write another law that allows the victims to assemble their own army and defend themselves?”
Mordecai: Holy cow! That’s brilliant, Esther! I’ll assemble the royal secretaries immediately and start drafting out the orders in the name of the king! It must go out today to all 127 provinces in the empire, from India to Ethiopia in each people’s language, including the Jews!”
That essentially sums up verse 9-14, But it still required some outside-the-box creative thinking when it seemed every door was slammed shut, didn’t it?
I’ve been a Christian long enough to know that some of us often assume that God’s personal promises in our lives will be delivered to us on a silver platter with a golden spoon wrapped in purple satin lace. The truth is that those promises are sometimes acquired through a faith-filled fight. David had to fight Goliath and (evade) Saul to become the king God destined him to be. Paul had to face down the religious establishment and the Romans in his Church planting efforts God called to. Jesus Himself had to go to the cross before He ascended and sat down at the right hand of the Father.
The reality is that doors will sometimes (seemingly) slam shut on the very things God has promised to do in our lives. It doesn’t mean that the promise has failed, it may just mean we need to get creative and consider some other options of achieving the intended goal. Furthermore, the struggle and discipline of creatively seeking other options is sometimes a key part of the process that God uses to prepare us to become better stewards of the promise He will be entrusting to us.
So don’t walk away. Get creative and fight!
This is what we find Esther and Mordecai preparing the Jews in the provinces of Persia to do. The new edict has been written, the king has approved it, and it is being sent out throughout the empire by couriers riding on royal horses ( the UPS of their day).
But before Mordecai leaves the palace, we find God putting a little bit more balls in his court, which brings us to the third and final lesson:
LESSON 3: WHEN GOD BLESSES YOU WITH AN ELEVATED PLATFORM, IT IS SO THAT YOU CAN BE A VOICE FOR THOSE UNSPOKEN FOR
Read how this happens in the last two verses of Esther 8:15-17, “Mordecai walked out of the king’s presence wearing a royal robe of violet and white, a huge gold crown, and a purple cape of fine linen. The city of Susa exploded with joy. For Jews it was all sunshine and laughter: they celebrated, they were honored. It was that way all over the country, in every province, every city when the king’s bulletin was posted: the Jews took to the streets in celebration, cheering, and feasting. Not only that, but many non-Jews became Jews—now it was dangerous not to be a Jew!” (MSG)
The last chapter of this book explains what all the royal pageantry implies; Mordecai was essentially promoted to second in command to king Xerxes. This is a promotion of a lifetime, especially when you consider how far he and Esther have come since chapter 2. These two, in the span of several years (possibly 7?), have gone from cashier and front desk manager at Wal-Mart, to First Lady and Chief of Staff of the president!
But don’t miss what has happened here. Their divinely inspired advancements serves a greater purpose, and that is to set the Jews free so they can live in peace and prosperity in Peria. God is a God of nations and will often raise individuals (or a small team) to intercede on behalf of the greater masses, in this case, the Jews.
From Abraham till the end of the age, the Jews have and will always hold a special place in God’s heart (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). No matter how much she stumbles or stray, and no matter how many times God judges her, she remains His firstborn and He will someday return to restore her to her full glory. Presently, she stands in opposition to her Messiah, Jesus Christ, but God is not finished with Israel as a nation. The Bible teaches that in the end times (our future), Israel will finally recognize and embrace Jesus as her Messiah (Zechariah 12:10). The Jews are so near and dear to God’s heart that He has built in a blessing for those in favorable relational proximity to her, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3). Hence, it was for her (Israel's) sake and her benefit that Esther and Mordecai experienced all these blessings we read of in the book. The ultimate beneficiary of their rise to prominence was the exiled people of Israel in Persia.
When “good” begins to morph into “great” in your life, and slammed doors begin to swing wide open so that your standard of living improves, understand in that moment that God is blessing you so that you can become a blessing to others. He is granting you a platform with a loud microphone so that you’re in a position to speak for those whose voices cannot be heard.
In other words, it’s not about you! Sure, you’re special and God loves you, but He also loves your neighbors on your street, your coworkers, the men and women in your local government, the Christians in the mega Church or the tiny Church in your city, the president and his staff, and the list goes on. A wise prayer, thus would be, “Lord, grant me wisdom to discern between what I perceive as good for my life and what you truly consider to be great for my life. Bless me with a Holy Spirit tenacity and creativity to press on even in instances where it seems the doors have been slammed shut. And as opportunities begin to pour my way, use me in a manner that I may become a wellspring of blessing to those around me and those you’ve called me to serve.”
Now, that’s how you pray a kingdom prayer when God puts the ball in your court!
May God bless and guide you as you journey with Him and with me through the last two episodes of this amazing book of Esther!
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.