In the book of Esther, we have a wonderful example of someone who walked with God in faithfulness during tumultuous times. Esther lived in Susa, which was the capital of Persia. It was a huge world power, located just above the tip of the Persian Gulf, near what are now the countries of Iran and Iraq. Esther was a young Jewish orphan, living with her uncle in exile, when she was plucked up by royal bride-hunters and ultimately chosen as the next queen of Persia. Because of her influence, the entire Jewish nation was saved from destruction. If you haven’t read this short 10-chapter book lately, take 30 minutes and refresh your memory with this amazing story!
The account just tells us that Esther “was taken” from the home where she lived with her uncle Mordecai—it doesn’t tell us how she felt about being taken. What we do have is a record of how she lived her life after that point, and how she became a woman who walked with God through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Discipline is not one of our favorite words. In fact, many of us inwardly groan when we hear it mentioned. But as Henri Nouwen says, “Discipline is the other side of discipleship.” And the wonderful surprise is that as we walk with God and draw closer to Him, we will find that somehow the disciplines have become our delight.
The first discipline I see in Esther’s life is Selflessness. Women were not valued or respected in Esther’s culture, and she was not given any choice about her sudden change of direction in life. Depending on how she viewed it, she could have either become angry and bitter, or perhaps prideful about her new position in the royal household. Instead, she showed great strength and courage by acting with dignity under duress, humbly respecting and following the wise advice of both her uncle Mordecai and the king’s eunuch, Hegai, in order to serve the greater good of her people. (2:15,20) Living a selfless life means that the needs of those around us become more important than our own wants and desires; it also means rejecting the temptation of drawing attention to our actions, either to earn praise or to make others feel sorry for us. It would have been easy for Esther, living in the king’s palace in luxury, to pursue her own pleasures as solace for all that she had lost. Instead, she stayed aware of the conditions “outside the gate” and sought to help. In contrast to our all-too-common reluctance to be inconvenienced, Esther’s selflessness was shown in her willingness to put her own comfort and welfare at risk. (chapter 4)
A person who walks with God also practices being a Seeker. Seeking the face of God conveys the idea of a pursuit, a pressing in. It is not a passive activity. Esther was thrust into a desperate situation, and her response was to seek God with intensity through the discipline of fasting. (4:16a) Although prayer is not specifically mentioned, it is implied; and fasting is ALWAYS accompanied by prayer elsewhere in Scripture. Fasting is still a valuable tool when used in our prayer life as a means of cleansing our hearts and minds, increasing our awareness of and commitment to God. We know the end of Esther’s story; how joy and feasting replaced the fear and anguish. But a wise person once said that “what happens during the fasting is the key to the feasting.”
Finally, one who walks with God lives a Surrendered life. By surrender, I mean living in such a way that we have given ourselves over completely to the Lord and renounced any claim on our own lives. It is acknowledging that He is in control and we are not, and (here’s the tough part) living like we believe it! Philippians 2:7 tells us that when Christ came to earth, “He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave.” Giving up any claim to my own rights in imitation of Christ means living with His peace, His assurance, and His confidence because I have humbly trusted all to Him. Esther courageously took this road, and as a result was able to say these fully surrendered words: “If I perish, I perish.” (4:16b)
Hannah Whitall Smith was a believer who lived in the nineteenth century and wrote many books, including the classic “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.” This handbook on living a life of joy has influenced and encouraged thousands, yet Hannah’s own life was fraught with tragedy. Four of her seven children died young. Her husband had three nervous breakdowns and engaged in repeated marital infidelity. Her beloved daughter married famed atheist Bertrand Russell. But Hannah was a deeply practical woman and her writings deal with the day-to-day struggles and tragedies of ordinary people. This is what she had to say about the issue of surrender: “What you need to do, then, dear Christian…is to put your will over completely into the hands of your Lord, surrendering to Him the entire control of it. Say, ‘Yes, Lord, YES!’ to everything, and trust Him…to bring your whole wishes and affections into conformity with His own sweet, and lovable, and most lovely will. The Lord is our burden-bearer, and upon Him we must lay off every care. He says, in effect, ‘Be careful for nothing, but make your requests known to me, I will attend to them all’…In truth, if we only knew it, our chief fitness is in our utter helplessness. His strength is made perfect, not in our strength, but in our weakness. Our strength is only a hindrance.”
At the climax of the story, Esther boldly prepared a feast for the king…before she made the appeal before his throne that would seal her fate and determine whether she would live or die (5:4). She was able to prepare the banquet by faith because she had first prepared her heart: living with an attitude of selflessness, prayerfully seeking God, and surrendering her future into His hands.
As Esther discovered, walking with God is worth it all.