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I am by nature a starter.
At the present time, I have about two or three projects simultaneously being prepped for publishing or production, and at the same time, I’m heading up two committees established to reach two separate people groups in our region. My schedule for the Fall is also gradually filling up with a conference hosting gig and a churchwide prayer and fasting initiative.
I don’t tell you any of that to brag, but to point out the balance I’m still trying to find between a healthy ambition for success and a patient aligning of my plans with God’s timing. I’ve had experiences where I preempted God and rushed ahead of Him into a project, only to land flat on my face. Yet, I’ve also put myself in frustrating situations where I failed to plan and act because I thought God would show up in a burning bush to tell me what to do.
You may have experienced a similar struggle if you’ve ever wrestled with the question of how long to pray for something before actually acting on it. At what juncture does divine intervention intersect with human initiative?
It’s the question that this fifth blog post in our series through the Old Testament book of Esther attempts to address. Esther and Mordecai, along with every Jew in the city of Susa are facing a grave predicament. Haman, a highly influential and powerful royal official is plotting the genocide of the Jews. Though a queen, approaching her husband, king Xerxes to beg for a pardon presents an even greater danger because palace protocol dictates that anyone who enters the king’s presence uninvited could be instantly executed. So, Esther has called for a three-day national fast among the Jews, at the end of which she plans to approach the king.
It’s in this account that we discover OUR role in seeking God’s help and HIS role in meeting us in our time of need. Though God never shows Himself in the story, we can’t help but notice a flurry of activities in the unseen heavenly realms as God orchestrates human efforts to set the stage for a mighty move of His hand. There are four lessons we can learn from this story. The first two lessons focus on human initiative in prayer and fasting, and the last two focus on the divine intervention aspect of what happens when we pray and fast.
LESSON 1: STEER YOUR FEAR INTO AN ACTION PLAN
Esther 5:1, "On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance."
In the blank space between the end of Esther 4 and the beginning of Esther 5, we are to understand that 3-days of prayer and fasting has passed. Prior to this, however, Esther was afraid and gravely concerned that she might be put to death if she broke palace protocol to approach the king like her cousin, Mordecai had requested. That was still very much the case on the morning of day three when she put her royal robes on to approach the king. In other words, the threat of being executed [if her husband was in a bad mood] was still very much a real and present danger.
During those three days of prayer and fasting, however, Esther was not idle. She was busy working on a plan, in spite of her fear. Think about how much faith in God this must have involved. We know from a few verses later that she is planning to invite king Xerxes and Haman to a party where she will make her request known. She also knows that Xerxes is very fond of parties [based on the events of chapter 1]. So imagine all the planning that would have gone into preparing a party worthy of a king during that three-day period.
Esther could have chosen to simply remain in her royal chambers and pray until God thundered from heaven and changed Xerxes’ mind, but rather, she chose, by faith, to act on what she believed God would do. She understood that victory would come at the intersection of human preparation and God’s providence.
I recently met with a young girl whom I would describe as “on fire” for the Lord. She has a passion and a clear vision to build a discipleship program for a group of kids she’s served with overseas, but due to a power struggle within the organization she serves with, her efforts are being stifled. She was feeling discouraged and came to me for advice and I essentially counseled her to do what Esther did. I told her to set three days aside to fast and pray for an open door, but at the same time, begin drafting out on paper the details of what her discipleship program would entail. My reasoning was that God’s blessings are sometimes sudden [at least from our human perspective]. If that opportunity she was hoping for were to suddenly land on her table, she needed to have something concrete, a completed first draft of her curriculum to hit the ground running with.
This is exactly what we find Esther doing. After three days of spiritual and mental preparation, she has turned her fear into a plan. She hasn’t shown up casually in lingerie to entice the king, instead, she has dressed for success in what would be considered the “power suit” of her day. She is no doubt still very much fearful for her life, but she has chosen to press ahead anyway, and her first courageous move was to show up in front of the king’s hall in her stately regalia as queen of the Persian Empire. Make no mistake about it, that outfit was part of her strategy because it communicated to the king that she was important and had something important to say [if she’s going to get her head chopped off, she might as well go out in style!].
My point is simple. You have to get moving on what you believe God will do in your life because divine intervention often awaits human initiative. It’s not like God needs us to get things done, but time and time again in the scriptures, we find Him choosing to use people who are already on the move! So, this presents a challenging question for you. Might there be a promise you’re trusting God for, of which He would say, “What are YOU doing to prepare yourself to receive this?”
Suffice it to say, when Esther presents herself before the king, God’s grace and favor had already preceded her. Here’s how it happened happened. Esther 5:2-8, “When he [king Xerxes] saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. Then the king asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you. “If it pleases the king,” replied Esther, “let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.” “Bring Haman at once,” the king said, “so that we may do what Esther asks. So the king and Haman went to the banquet Esther had prepared. As they were drinking wine, the king again asked Esther, “Now what is your petition? It will be given you. And what is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.” Esther replied, “My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.”
LESSON 2: BE ATTENTIVE TO DIVINE OPEN OPPORTUNITIES
The first question that popped in my mind when I read those verses was, “Why in the world would Esther invite Haman to this party?” Wouldn’t it have made more sense to get some “alone time” with her sweetie-pie? The second question that followed was, “Why host two parties? Why not just get it all out of the way at the first gig?”
After several readings of this story, I am convinced that though Esther had a game plan for how to approach her husband, the plans evolved because she was being led by the Holy Spirit every step of the way.
Concerning her invitation to Haman, it’s very possible that she had every intention of exposing his sinister plot during that first party, but as the evening progressed, she discerned through the Holy Spirit that the king and Haman were a lot more chummy than she realized. The Holy Spirit may have even used that first party to give Esther some insight into how Haman relates with the king so she could determine the best approach in bringing up her concerns before the king. Whatever the actual case may have been, you can’t help but pick up on the fact that Esther is watching and waiting for something.
I propose it was a Holy Spirit moment. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts the moment we trust in Jesus Christ as the Lord and savior of our lives. What many of us Christians often fail to realize is that the Holy Spirit doesn't move in as a roommate, HE MOVES IN AS LORD! Listen to what Jesus Himself says about the Holy Spirit living in you, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.” (John 16:13-15).
The point I’m getting at here is that the Holy Spirit wants to make known to you God’s will in any and very circumstance you may find yourself in. He is not a mute counselor; He is a loving relational God. Even in the your best laid plans, there are things He KNOWS that you don’t know that He wants to make known to you [sorta like when the best time is to talk to you irrational-king-husband about his best friend who wants to kill your family]. The Holy Spirit creates open opportunities for us through the course of our day each day, the question is, are we paying attention?
If we’re honest, the reason many of us don’t hear from God and don’t feel “filled” or led by the Holy Spirit is that our lives are too noisy! From the moment we wake up, we turn to our mobile devices to get the latest updates on social media. We turn the news on while getting ready for work [or music]. When we get in our cars, we listen to the radio to hear some more about what’s happening in the world. At work, we’re dealing with data and conversations all day, along with social media updates at the top of every hour. At the end of the day, we listen to more radio, more social media, more T.V shows, more Netflix and more late night news.
Yet we wonder why it is we can’t hear God speaking?!?
Hear me on this, when you begin to quiet things AROUND you, you will begin to hear the Holy Spirit of God WITHIN you! It’s for good reason that Jesus often woke up early in the morning to meet with God the Father in prayer. It was the only time He could get away from the noisy crowds (most of who just wanted a great miracle show or some free fish burgers!). For you, the first step to hearing the sweet voice of the Holy Spirit may very well be to unplug for a few days or even weeks!
Esther is in tune with the Holy Spirit’s leading because she, along with Mordecai and every Jew in the city of Susa have turned off the noise around them to seek God’s divine intervention in prayer and fasting. Thus far, we've looked at the "Human Initiative" aspect of seeking God in prayer and fasting. This then brings us to the “Divine Intervention” part of the narrative where we see God's silent hand orchestrating events and setting the stage for the deliverance of the Jews.
It starts with Haman heading home after the first party Queen Esther hosted. Right outside the king’s gates, however, he runs into the man he hates the most, Mordecai. Here’s what happens, “Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai. Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home.” (Esther 5:9-10)
What I find most interesting here isn’t Haman’s seething, but Mordecai’s confidence.
Shouldn’t Mordecai be terrified of Haman?
You know what this tells me about what happens when we pray and fast?
LESSON 3: GOD FILLS US WITH CONFIDENCE TO RELY SOLELY ON HIM
Do you recall Mordecai’s emotional state the last time we met him? He was in fear and trepidation expressed as mourning and sorrow. He was so downtrodden that he was dressed in sackcloth and ashes which kept him from being able to go anywhere inside the palace courts.
But after three days of fasting and prayer, God has clearly intervened and strengthened Him with a new confidence. The first indicator of this is the fact that He can now return to the “king’s gate” (where he'd been previously barred from entering because of his undignified clothing) because he’s in new clothes. Think about that for moment. The edict to annihilate the Jews has not changed. Xerxes hasn’t changed his mind. Death still looms on the horizon for the Jews. Yet, Mordecai has taken off his mourning clothes and is now back to work as if nothing ever happened. Secondly, he shows zero fear when he stands in the presence of the 2nd most powerful man in the Persian kingdom, the same man who by the way wrote the edict to kill all the Jews!
In light of a whole city of Jews fasting and praying, we can rightly assume that the Spirit of God has filled Mordecai to overflowing with a heavenly confidence. Mordecai suddenly believes that “God’s got this!” Furthermore, he is expecting something to change dramatically soon because he suddenly believes the truth of Romans 8:31 that tells us, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” He is also holding on to another sure promise of God where God Himself says, “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their vindication is from Me," declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:17)
So what is it that you’re facing that has you cowering in fear? First of all, understand that “…God has not given us a spirit of fear, but [a Spirit of] power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7). Secondly, by calling on His name through prayer and fasting, He not only steps in to avenge His own cause, but also to strengthen you to stay the course!
LESSON 4: GOD CONFUSES THE COUNSEL OF YOUR ‘HATERS’
Haman has nursed an unhealthy preoccupation with Mordecai that has become murderous. He has clearly reached a point of no return as his actions in the rest of Esther 5 suggests. After restraining himself from “exploding” on Mordecai, he makes his way home and throws another party. Really, dude? He invites his wife and friends and spends the whole evening bragging about his wealth and influence.
But at some point, perhaps to shut him up, or maybe because they share his evil sentiments, his wife and friends suggest to him that he “set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall, and in the morning ask the king to impale Mordecai on it, [so that afterwards, he could] go on [his] merry way to the [second party the king and queen Esther invited him to].” (Esther 5:14).
I am going to resist the urge here to give you a lecture on choosing wise friends [who don’t suggest murder as a means of getting even], but instead focus on what’s really happening behind the scenes. Fair warning, this is a spoiler alert, … Mordecai and his sons are going to end up being the very ones impaled on those seventy-five feet tall poles in his yard!
We’ll get to the details of that story in two weeks, but for now, we can’t help but note the irony that Haman’s downfall [and death] would come from the very counsel of people he gathered around himself to blow up his ego! I believe this is one of the reasons why the scriptures urge us to leave plenty of room for God to fight our battles. When God says, “Vengeance is mine”, it means that He fights [on our behalf] in covert ways we can’t even fathom. He causes the counsel of your enemies to turn to foolishness so that before they can lift a hand against you, they experience "friendly fire."
In the coming weeks, we will watch as Esther finally makes her request known to her husband and how Haman foolishly places himself in a compromising situation at the exact moment, all of which leads to him being impaled on the very pole he built for Mordecai. In the words of pastor Steven Furtick, “Though your enemies surround you, YOUR GOD SURROUNDS YOUR ENEMIES!”
God moves in extraordinarily profound ways when we take initiative in preparing ourselves through prayer and fasting. He chooses to use our prayer-filled readiness and prayerful preparation to accomplish the “good works He prepared in advance for us to do.” So what do you need to get moving on today? And what do you need to commit fully into His hands?
Whatever it is, I pray that God’s Holy Spirit leads you as you try and discern that healthy balance between divine intervention and human initiative.
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Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.