{Esther 5} ~ Entering the hard places with confidence…

Esther Bible Study Week 5

I wonder what Esther was feeling as she watched the sun rise on that third day.

“On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace…” ~ Esther 5:1

This was the day that Esther would either end up a hero or end up dead. Yeah. I’m pretty sure I would have been tempted to crawl back into bed, pull the covers over my head, and desperately pray that God would find some other woman – some other way – to save His people.

Why me?

Why here?

Why now?

These are questions we often ask God when He calls us to be brave in less-than-ideal situations. When we wake up on that third day and it’s time to take that step of faith and move from the preparation stage to actually doing the hard things for God. Oh we’re bold in the preparing, but when it’s time to take that next step? Isn’t there an easier way, Father? Surely there’s someone else who’s more qualified… more available… more – I don’t know – “built” to handle these kinds of things?

But Esther saved the doubt and the drama, and instead responded with:

“Then I will go.”

From preparation to service. From out from under the covers and into the hard places.

I want to crawl out from under the covers, don’t you? I don’t want to look back on my life and realize that in all of my hiding and avoiding and wishing hard things away, that I missed out on key opportunities to be used by God. At some point we actually have to get up, show up, and with much wisdom and trust in the One who holds the world in His hands, engage in the hard places He has called us to.

{If you’re unable to see this video, you can view it here.}

How can we confidently enter the hard places God has called us to, and become women that God can use? Together, let’s learn from Esther Chapter 5:

1. A woman God can use in the hard places is willing to take that brave first step…

It’s one thing to say you’ll do hard things, but it’s quite another to take that first step and stand in the “inner court,” risking it all. As we begin Chapter 5, we see Esther entering in to approach the king. A woman God can use does more than just talk. After proper preparation, she turns ideas into action, she follows through with her commitments, and she doesn’t let fear stand in the way of taking that first brave step, because she knows that the battle is the Lord’s (Prov 21:31).

2. A woman God can use in the hard places knows when to speak and when to remain silent…

The Bible is packed full of verses that talk about the tongue and its power. It has the potential to be used for good, but there is also great danger in speaking many words (Prov. 10:19). I find it beautiful, refreshing and convicting that as Esther enters the inner court of the king’s palace in Chapter 5, she wins the favor of the king without even speaking a word. A woman God can use knows when to speak and when to remain silent, because she knows it is God alone who has the power to move in the hearts of kings (Prov. 21:1).

3. A woman that God can use in the hard places earns respect instead of demanding it…

In Chapter 5, we see a stark contrast between the way Esther appears before the king and the manner in which Haman handles Mordecai’s irreverence to him. Esther is humble, deliberate and wise in her approach, and Haman responds with pride, wrath and vengeance. A woman that God can use earns respect instead of demanding it, because she finds her identity and worth in Christ instead of from the things of this world (Col. 3:3).

4. A woman that God can use in the hard places knows that God’s purpose for her life isn’t just about her…

The favor that is on Esther’s life to this point is really extraordinary. This girl has gone from orphan to Queen, and in Chapter 5, Xerxes is willing to offer her “even to the half” of his kingdom. But Esther doesn’t settle for comfort, and she’s not easily swayed by fame and riches. Esther remembers the task to which she has been called, and she remembers the lives that are at stake. A woman that God can use knows that God’s purpose for her life isn’t just about her, because she remembers a world in need of a Savior (1 Cor. 15:57).

This week, won’t you enter in?

At His feet,

 

*LET’S TALK: What holds you back from entering into the hard places God has called you to? What truths from Esther 5 can help you combat your fears?

{Week 5} Challenge: Psalm 143:5 says, “I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.” Take a few moments this week to look back on your life and recall a time when God clearly went before you, preparing the way in a difficult situation. Then write out a prayer of thanksgiving to God, acknowledging his power, presence and provision in your life.

Esther Study {Week 5} Challenge: Psalm 143:5 says, "I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done." Take a few moments this week to look back on your life and recall a time when God clearly went before you, preparing the way in a difficult situation. Then write out a prayer of thanksgiving to God, acknowledging his power, presence and provision in your life.

 {Week 5} Reading Plan:
Esther Bible Study Week 5 Reading Plan

 

{Week 5} Memory Verse:

Esther week 5 memory verse ~ Proverbs  25: 11  "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."

 

Saying “yes” in the here and now…

I stood in the kitchen with one crying baby on my hip and another at my feet, and I watched him walk out the door.

Without me. Again.

I waited until I heard his car drive away before I crumpled into a pile on the kitchen floor and let the tears trickle quietly down my cheeks. The tears that I didn’t want him to see. Not only had it been a long day, it had been a long few months with no end in sight. Needy babies sixteen months apart and no sleep for nights on end can take their toll on a girl.

My tears might have seemed a bit more appropriate if he was headed someplace a little more - I don’t know - questionable. But you guys, he was going to … wait for it… church. We had sweetly talked about this, and it just made sense in this season. Feedings, a colicky baby and early bedtimes meant that I would stay, and he would go. There was no other way, after all, to satisfy this babe who had so adamantly refused the bottle. So there I sat, covered in spit-up, thinking of all of the things I could no longer do for God.

“Lord, I’ll do anything for you,” I had said.

As a little girl, I sat captivated week in and week out as I watched our pastor’s wife play the piano at the beginning of each church service. Her gorgeous long brown hair hung in ringlets across her back as she elegantly swayed with the music, and I remember thinking that she was doing a really great thing for God. “If you want me to be a pastor’s wife, I’ll do it,” I had offered God through a heartfelt prayer. And after eight long years of piano lessons, I married an incredible, godly man…

Who just happened to be a pharmacist instead.

That pharmacist and I sat knee to knee in a pew, years later, and were deeply moved by the message. They were missionaries from all over, and their riveting stories spoke of a need to further the gospel in a way that burdened us to our cores. After we couldn’t stand the nudge in our hearts any longer, we walked an aisle, fell to our knees and with hands gripped tightly together whispered, “Lord, send us, if it’s Your will.” And we meant every word of it.

And then He didn’t.

Over time, the deep urge to be a part of something “big” for God would continue to come and go, but our restless hearts became content as we settled into serving more in our local church. We loved accepting roles and filling in and being parts of teams. Our contributions weren’t fancy, but we were willing, and it felt good to be useful for God.

And then those two babies came in a whirlwind.

And there I sat in that kitchen, with two crying babies wallering in my lap, longing for those days when I actually felt useful for God. Oh, I loved those babies with all that I had. I had prayed for them. Longed for them. Thanked God for them over and over. But if I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself, how would I ever begin to make a difference for the Kingdom?

And in the process of waiting to be great for God, I had missed a million little opportunities to honor His great name right there in my own home.

You see, “for such a time as this” doesn’t just include the big stuff. Oh, there may be some big, bold, exciting, risky God-opportunities that He calls you to along the way. Don’t miss them.

But daily, God is calling us to the here and now. 

esther4

{6 years ago: one day into becoming a mom of four, and one day after finding out that this journey would include a spunky little girl after all…}

Where you are? That’s no mistake. And whatever your here and now consists of, I promise that if you stop and take a moment to look around, you’ll find whole lot of Kingdom work to do. That precious generation of little people right in front of your face? They’re tomorrow’s church. Your neighbor across the street and opposite your cubicle? You might be the only Jesus they ever see. That meal you made, that note you sent, that check you wrote, that prayer you prayed? You may have just inspired someone to love God greatly with their lives.

All because you decided to say “yes” to the here and now.

Lots of people want to do the “big” stuff for God, but there’s nobility in living in the quiet, humble, consistent, invisible places where no one but God sees. He delights in those who are faithful in the little, because He knows that they are also the ones who can be trusted with much when the time is right. In the here and now, God is purposefully working and preparing and refining in ways that you and I can’t see. He did it for Esther, and He’s still doing it today.

“For such a time as this.”

“Even this, Lord?”

“Yes, my child, even this.”

So I never became a missionary overseas and I can’t play piano today for the life of me, but there’s this spunky little girl in my house who’s falling in love with Jesus more and more each day…

And the little turns out to be not so little after all.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…” ~ Luke 16:10

“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” ~ Esther 4:14

At His feet,

Esther {Week 4} ~ Preparing to be used by God, for such a time as this…

Esther Bible Study Week 4
This is it… the week with the famous chapter with that famous verse.

“For such a time as this…”

It would seem a romantic story to get to this well-known portion of the book, but the truth is, the glamorous, movie-like scenes of banquets and beauty treatments and wealth and honor are long gone once we hit Esther, Chapter 4.

No glam. No glory. No easy road from here. Even Esther’s position as Queen no longer guarantees her future.

And this unpredictable, winding, drama-filled road reminds me much of the Christian life. Oh, make no mistake, we know full well how that story ends. But final victory doesn’t guarantee a life filled with ease.

I remember well the beauty, excitement and overwhelming joy I had early on in my walk with my Savior. I had experienced Jesus’ sacrifice for me fresh and anew, and grace had rocked me to my core. I was young, hopeful, and willing to risk the things of this world in order to elevate the name of the One who gave His life for me.

And then somewhere – somehow – in the midst of all of the effort of living, life got complicated and a little too comfortable, and those risks – those sacrifices that once were worth it all - suddenly seemed too much to bear.

“For such a time as this?” God, I think I’ll sit this one out. Surely it’s someone else’s turn by now…

It wasn’t God who had changed.

No, God hadn’t become less sovereign or less trustworthy or less worthy of my all. I had just failed to see Him as I once did.

And even now in my humanness, my default is often to limit God before He has a chance to act. I want to know how it’s all going to turn out before deeming the risk worthy of the sacrifice. But when we limit God from working through us, we’re the ones who are missing out. You see, saying, “Not me, not now…” doesn’t limit God’s fulfillment of His plan, it just limits our participation in the greater story He’s writing that we can’t yet see.

So how do we prepare ourselves to be used by God? Consider these lessons from Esther, Chapter 4:

1.  Invest wisely now, because it will matter later.

Esther’s influence didn’t begin with one risky decision in the palace that day. A series of right choices (powered by Sovereignty) led her to a position of royalty and respect, which was crucial to her effectiveness when the time came to stand up for her people. What you do now matters. Whether you’re sixteen or sixty, investing intentionally today can lead to open doors for you to be used by God tomorrow.

2. There is a time to mourn, but don’t stay there.

Chapter 4 begins with an intense scene where Mordecai deeply mourns for his people, and understandably so: they have just been condemned to death. Think of how different, though, the outcome of this chapter might have been had Mordecai continued in that defeated role. At some point, Mordecai made the choice to transition from someone in bitter despair to that of key initiator in the action plan that would save the Jewish nation. Mourn for the appropriate time, but don’t let your mourning take away your hope in God and linger to the point where God can’t use you. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” ~ Psalm 30:5

3. Prepare for battle by first being still.

Though prayer is not specifically mentioned in this chapter, it is paired with fasting in the Old Testament. Before rushing into a risky decision hastily, Esther and others spent three days fasting and in prayer. How many times have I acted quickly, making rushed decisions before even consulting the Lord, only to look back and regret my haste? When we humbly submit to God’s authority, wisdom and strength in our weakness, bowing before Him in reverence and submission, only then are we properly prepared for battle.

4. Recognize the potential of your position.

God placed Esther in a specific place for a specific time. Her answer wasn’t, “Maybe later,” or “I’m not equipped as some,” or, “My life is in a pretty great place right now, and I really don’t feel like messing it up.” Instead, she took ownership of her influential role and didn’t back down when it meant that the road wouldn’t be easy. God places us in relationships at the workplace, the home, the church, the soccer field, the courtroom, the hospital room and thousands of places in between, and gives us each unique spheres of influence where we can live boldly for Him. Do you recognize the potential of your position, or are you spending your time just desperately wishing God would pick someone else?

5. Be ready to take the right risks.

Risk is a tricky thing, because there is a profound difference between foolish risk and God-exalting risk. That said, there are plenty of stories in the Bible where ordinary people took God-exalting risks, which led to God using them in extraordinary ways for His Kingdom. In the words of John Piper, “It is right to risk for the cause of God,” and in the words of Esther, sometimes – as risky as it sounds – it is right to say, “If I perish, I perish.”

6. Remember to Whom you belong.

When risk decisions arise, the story endings – more often than not - won’t always be clear. Outcomes aren’t promised in this world… only the final victory that we have through Jesus over sin and death. But with God on our side, we can obediently say “yes” to where He leads us, because His sovereignty always leads to our good and His glory. When we spend time in God’s Word, remembering who Jesus is and what He has done for us, we are once again reminded that we are safe in His arms, that He is more than capable to accomplish His will, and that He is more than worthy of our lives…


{If you’re unable to see this video, you can view it here.}

“Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves,

but our competence comes from God.

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.”

~ 2 Corinthians 3:5, 12

At His feet,

*LET’S TALK: Which of these six points do you struggle with the most? Share in the comments section below, and I’d be honored to pray for you this week.

{Week 4} Challenge: Spend time recognizing the potential of your position this week. Identify your unique sphere of influence where God has placed you, spend time committing this opportunity to prayer, and then purpose to take one small step this week to prepare yourself to be used by God in this arena. 

{Esther Study Week 4} Challenge: Spend time recognizing the potential of your position this week. Identify your unique sphere of influence where God has placed you, spend time committing this opportunity to prayer, and then purpose to take one small step this week to prepare yourself to be used by God in this arena.

{Week 4} Reading Plan:

Esther Bible Study Week 4 Reading Plan

 

{Week 4} Memory Verse:

{Esther Study Week 4 Memory Verse} Psalm 32: 8 - I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.

Because I might not be able to reach the world, but I can reach one…

A hand extended.  A selfless act.  A step of faith.  Will you be the one, in Jesus' name? Because you never know when reaching one might just reach the world...

I have a lot to learn about parenting, but if there’s one thing that I’m sure of, it’s Taco Fridays at the middle school.

Look, I know it’s not healthy. Physically anyway.  But when you’re in middle school, tacos are the language of love, and they’re worth it. Don’t hug me in public mom. But tacos? Tacos are cool.

So every other Friday, I hope in the ol’ minivan, grab a twelve pack in the drive thru, and pray hard for the conversations I’ll have. You can learn a lot in thirty minutes at the middle school lunch table. You can learn even more when tacos are present. Heh. They talk about last night’s football game, their Math assignment, and how bad the cafeteria food is. And they don’t stop talking, because someone is actually listening.

And then there’s this boy I’ll call Max.

The first time I met Max, he walked up to me with his sparkly brown eyes and thanked me for his taco. And then he hugged me out of the blue, and next out of his mouth – like it was no big thing - he said, “I’m adopted, you know.” And before I could even get a word in, he proceeded to talk nonstop to me for that entire thirty minutes. He said a lot of stuff in that time, but what he really meant to say was…

“Do you see me? My story looks different than yours, but am I worth loving anyway?”

_____________________

It was 2010, and I remember the Haiti earthquake like it was yesterday.  Pictures of the broken capital city flashed across the screen, and I was affected deeply. I had been there in college. I’d walked the streets. I’d fallen in love with the people, and I’d cried out to God on their behalf over and over again. And now - all these years later – I was a mom, and I couldn’t look away from their deep brown eyes. Orphan eyes that spoke of their hurt. Their unimaginable loss.

And I wanted to save the world in that moment.

Max had that same look in his deep brown eyes. He was no longer an orphan, but his words and his telling eyes were still filled with void.

He headed back to his table - you know, the one where he sat completely alone – my heart now connected to him in an overwhelming sort of way. I asked God right then how I could be a difference-maker in his world. How I could show Max God’s love.

Because I might not be able to reach the entire world, but I can reach one.

______________________

As I read through the pages of Esther, I am astonished at how God’s providence lights every single twisted turn. A beautiful girl is orphaned, and her cousin steps in to care for her.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” ~ James 1:27

A hand extended.

A selfless act.

A step of faith. 

An intentional decision that said to one orphan girl, “Your story looks different than mine, but you’re absolutely worth loving anyway.” Little did Mordecai know that when he reached out to meet the needs of one, he would end up impacting an entire nation.

_________________________

You know when God just keeps putting something -  or someone – right in front of your face and you can’t ignore it – them – any longer?

Well, in my life – in this season – his name is Max.

When I asked the Lord how I might make a difference in Max’s life, in my small faith I honestly didn’t think it would amount to much. But just in case: every Taco Friday – before the boy ravagers dove to the middle of the table and let loose on the coveted brown box, I intentionally saved out one taco just for Max. And because God sees that boy down deep and knows that his soul needs fed more than his belly, He didn’t stop there.

Just last week, He moved Max into a house right on our very street.

I sit here shaking my head with a grin on my face because I can hardly believe it myself. Yet I shouldn’t be surprised. Isn’t that just like God?

To take our loaves, fish… and our tacos for crying out loud… and turn them into something so.much.more?

A hand extended.

A selfless act.

A step of faith.

Even when that faith was much smaller than it should have been…

Sunny skies and seventy degrees found me with windows down, music blaring, and my singing uninhibited in the ol’ minivan on my drive home last week. And then he saw me.

“Hey, Jack’s mom!”

But what Max really meant to say was…

“I’m here. Can you see me? My story looks different than yours, but am I worth loving anyway?”

Right on my street. Right in front of my face once again, begging to be loved. And in that moment, I was reminded that I too had been adopted. No, not by an earthly family like Max, but by a Heavenly Father who saw me in all of my sin, and who reached down and loved me anyway. And if Jesus could have whispered to my heart right then and there, I think He might have said something like this:

“Whitney, I see you. I know your story looks different than mine, but don’t you see… that’s why I came. Now go and reach out to just one in my Name, and watch what My power can do.”

Tell me, who is in front of you… just waiting to be seen and to be loved with the love of Christ?

Your child… who wants you to look away from your phone and into their eyes and really hear what they have to say?

Your friend… who longs for someone to ask how she’s really doing?

Your family member… who can’t explain her emptiness, yet knows there’s something so much more to life?

Your husband… who craves your smile, your respect and the affirmation that you once gave freely?

The widow. The orphan… who desperately want to know that they’re not alone in this world?

The lost soul… who will never feel whole until she’s introduced to the One who sees and knows and loves perfectly, no matter what she’s done?

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”~ Matthew 25:40

A hand extended.

A selfless act.

A step of faith.

Will you be the one, in Jesus’ name? Because you never know when reaching one might just reach the world

At His feet,

*LET’S TALK: Is there someone that God has put in your path, waiting to be seen? What first step can you take to reach out to that person with God’s love this week?

Lifting the name of Jesus high {when plans don’t go our way}…

Whitney's quote

I have a younger sister.

She’s beautiful, generous, hilarious, and has the best hair ever. That hair… really. She searches high and low for the perfect gifts for her friends, she rarely says “no” when it’s in her power to help, and she loves Jesus with everything that she has.

And her summer didn’t turn out like she thought it would.

In April, her six year old was diagnosed with cancer. A cancer that would require aggressive inpatient chemo for four straight months. A cancer that meant moving states to get closer to treatment and family. A cancer that required balancing hospital, work, and two other children at home on an amount of sleep that no one should ever have to survive on. A cancer that would challenge the comfort and stability of life that so many take for granted.

I’ll never forget the day she called me to tell me the news. I couldn’t stop crying, and she was on the other end of the line consoling me. Telling me that God is good. That’s just who she is.

Oh, she could have let things like fear, resentment, anger, exhaustion, and selfishness take over. And who would have blamed her, really? But every time I spoke with my sister, something completely counter-circumstantial came out of her mouth. Her response to the life that she never would have planned?

She praised God, and she served others.

She publicly shared her faith in bold ways, consistently taking the focus off of herself and instead pointing people to Jesus. She filled her mind with the truth of God’s Word, and gave thanks in trial after trial. Her countenance was one of joy, demonstrating her full trust in her powerful God. She sacrificially served in the hospital room day and night, and spent her rare free moments collecting dozens of gifts to encourage other pediatric cancer patients and their families.

She gave of herself over and over again, because as a servant of Christ, she knows that her life is meant to be given away.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of all of this? When I asked her if I could share her story with you all, her only request was, “Just make sure it’s not about me. Make it all about Jesus. Lift His name high.” 

It’s not about me. Wow.

____________________________

Esther, Chapter 1 tells a much different story. King Xerxes’ life was all about him.

“For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.” ~ Esther 1:4

His kingdom.

His majesty.

His name.

And when all of Xerxes’ planning and power and confidence didn’t get him what he wanted?

“Then the king became furious and burned with anger.” ~ Esther 1:12

_______________________________

I get it.

I crave order. I like predictable. I love it when a good plan falls into place.

All of that feels safe in the moment. It feels responsible. In control. It doesn’t make me too uncomfortable, and it saves my reputation a whole lot of the time.

But what is my response when plans don’t go my way? Will I “praise God and serve others?” Or will I “become furious and burn with anger?”

The world will tell us that we deserve to hold onto fear, resentment, anger, exhaustion, and selfishness. It will tell us to fight for our comfort and our reputations. It will tell us to look out for ourselves and to elevate our “kingdoms” at any cost.

But as a servant of God, I’m called to a different standard. I’m called to embrace God’s sovereignty even in less than ideal circumstances. To be a light in a world that desperately needs to see Jesus. To lay down my life, so that my Savior’s name might be lifted high.

God, help me to focus on Truth instead of the trial.

Help me to give thanks instead of giving into fear.

Help me to choose joy instead of anger.

Help me to trust in Your power instead of my plan.

Help me to elevate Your name instead of my own.

Whenever someone tells my story… may they say that it was never about me, and all about Him.

“Not to us, LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory…” ~ Psalm 115:1

At His feet,

 *LET”S TALK: Are you currently walking through a trial that has challenged your response? How can you respond in a way that gives glory to God?

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