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Seeing God in everything

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Esther 2

Thesis: God is in every detail of our lives.

Problem: We don’t know how to find him when we need him.

Answer: Look for him in small, hard, physical, and coincidental places.

Persuade: To see God in every event of your life today.

A little girl went to church, leaving her invalid father at home. In his anger and frustration he wrote on a piece of paper the letters, GODISNOWHERE. She came home, saw the sign, smiled, and said out loud, “God is now here!” And he is.

As you hurt, God hurts with you. And he promises you his presence, help, and hope. Every day. This day.

Where do you go when you need to hear from God? When you’re facing a decision, or a problem, or a pain. When it seems that the heavens are silent and prayer is unanswered?

Listen to the perplexed poet:

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;

Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

How can you find God every day, all day? Esther 2 tells us.

God turns small things into big things (2.1)

The first verse of our text is proof: “Later when the anger of King Xerxes had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her.”

Here’s the chronology to chapter 2:

•Xerxes succeeded his father Darius in 486/5 B.C.

•Three years later he gave the banquet which led to Queen Vashti’s deposal as queen (483/2 B.C.).

•Now Persia enters into three years of disastrous war with Greece (482-479).

•At the war’s end the king “remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her” (2.1).

The nation has been at war for three years, but this war is not even mentioned in the book of Esther. Imagine a history book which left out WWI, II, Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm, the Taliban. At the same time, the relatively trivial matter of palace politics and the next queen is the occupying issue of the book. In a day when kings had many wives and concubines (Solomon had 700 and 300, respectively).

Why is this so? The Bible tells us what we need to know about God, not about the world. Thus no dinosaurs in Scripture. God uses events we wouldn’t consider. A fugitive shepherd in time will defy the mighty Egyptian nation. A shepherd boy will become king. An enslaved prophet will find God in a lion’s den. A Galilean carpenter will die on a cross and save the world. God uses small things in big ways.

How can God use small things in big ways?

I became the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Midland, Texas at the age of 30. My previous pastorate, which I served while teaching at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, averaged less than 100 on Sunday morning; our new congregation had more than 8,000 members and more staff than our previous church had in Sunday night worship.

I had not been in Midland long when it became apparent that my previous experience and expertise was not sufficient to this new calling. I remember to this day those feelings of overwhelmed inadequacy. One evening I was sitting on our back porch, asking God to give me direction and strength for this ministry. My attention was drawn to a leaf which had fallen from the peach tree in our back yard and landed at my feet. I felt the Spirit’s leading to pick it up and examine it.

I had never paid much attention to a leaf, but I did that day. As I studied its intricate design, I was amazed by the minute detail it exhibited. I considered the chlorophyll and photosynthesis which it employed with ease. I reflected on the fact that modern scientists, with all our amazing tools, cannot produce from nothing a single leaf. As I focused on that leaf, I sensed God’s Spirit say to me, “If I can design a leaf, I can design your life.” With that thought came “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

God called our family from Midland to Atlanta, Georgia in 1994 and then to Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas only four years later. Not long after our move to Dallas, I returned to Atlanta to conduct the wedding of a dear friend’s daughter. I spent much of that weekend at Ignatius House, a Jesuit Catholic retreat center on the Chattahoochee River in northern Atlanta.

God has spoken to me often at this remarkable place, and that weekend was no exception. As I sat on a wooden deck overlooking the river in late August, I admitted to God my confusion. We were excited to be in Dallas, but didn’t understand why he had led us to make this move. I could discern no great narrative or strategy for our new ministry. I asked him for a sense of his plans and purpose for us.

As with the leaf in Midland years earlier, I sensed again the Spirit’s strange direction, this time to a caterpillar crawling along the wooden fencing of the deck. There I watched the hairy green insect make its way along the board, bunching and then stretching itself over and over again along the wood.

It was impervious to my presence, and had no idea that a Jesuit retreat center was responsible for its pathway. It seemed unaware of the river flowing beneath its porch or the swimmers inner tubing along that river. It didn’t know that I could squash it with my sandal if I wished. It simply did what it was made to do, and its Maker did the rest.

The Spirit spoke from that caterpillar directly to my spirit. If I would be as wise as that insect, crawling along the two-by-four which God had chosen as my pathway, he would take care of all that I could neither see nor understand. Once again the Creator used his creation to draw his child closer to himself.

How long ago did God make the first caterpillar? The first human? How did he make us? His word doesn’t say. It seems to me that we are wise to focus on what he intends us to know, defending his clear revelation rather than our opinions.

God turns bad things into good things (2-7)

God uses small things, and bad things. The king’s personal attendants proposed a national search for the next queen: “‘Then let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’ This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.”

Now our heroes enter the story, and not from easy places. First we meet Mordecai. There is interesting archaeological data regarding this man. A tablet found near Babylon mentions a Mardukaya who was a minister at the court of Susa in the early years of King Xerxes. Many scholars believe that this is the Mordecai of our text.

Mordecai’s great grandfather Kish “had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon” (v. 6). This occurred in 597 B.C., when Jehoiachin was king of Judah.

Mordecai has now been in exile from his homeland for four generations. He has not seen the land of his home and faith in his entire lifetime. But this fact means that God began preparing four generations earlier, specifically 118 years earlier, for this time and event.

God used the destruction of Israel to save Israel.

Esther’s background was no easier. Her parents had both died. Her father had been Mordecai’s uncle. So Mordecai raised this cousin from her birth. If he had not, he would not have had the relationship with her which God used to spare the nation.

So God used the destruction of the nation to save her; and the death of Esther’s parents to save her people. God turns bad things into good things. Paul reminded us of this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28).

Our faith tendency when bad things happen to us is to turn from God and refuse to listen to him.

God will use bad things in our lives for spiritual purposes to grow us spiritually and to give witness. But we have to allow him to redeem our hurt. We will find God only when we let him use the hard places for good.

God turns the physical into the spiritual (8-18)

Now the king’s advisers are looking for the next queen, and Esther “was lovely in form and features” (v. 7). So she was brought to the harem with other candidates. God used her beauty and personality to please Hegai, the head of the harem (v. 9), so she was given preferential treatment.

God used Hegai to show her what to take to the king (v. 15). And so “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” (v. 17). And he gave a great banquet and holiday in her honor.

God used Esther’s physical beauty and charm to impress Hegai, and used Hegai to help her win the king. All so he could use the king to save his people. God turns the physical into the spiritual.

What resources are at your disposal today? Physical abilities? Experience? Finances? Time? What spiritual gifts? Everything God has given to you, he intends to use through you. Are you open to his use, available to his call?

We will find God when we are totally available to him.

God turns coincidence into providence (19-23)

Esther 2 isn’t finished. God has used the small thing of Vashti’s disobedience to begin the process which will save the nation; he has used the bad thing of Mordecai’s and Esther’s background for good; he has used physical for spiritual. Now he turns coincidence into providence.

Mordecai “happened” to be sitting at the king’s gate (v. 21). The gates of the city were its markets, and the “city hall” as well. One was typically used by the king, and Mordecai happened to be sitting there.

Here he overhears an assassination plot against King Xerxes. He tells Esther, who tells the king, giving credit to Mordecai. The two officials were hanged, and the event was recorded in the king’s annals. And you remember how God will use these annals to remind the king of Mordecai’s service, leading to the beginning of the end for the enemies of his people.

Coincidence is when God prefers to remain anonymous. There is really no such thing for the child of God. God orchestrates some events, but he uses all events.

So look for God in the happenstances of your life. For there you will often find him.

Conclusion

Do you need to see God? To hear from him? To know his word and will for your life? Then look to these four places:

•The small events of your life

•The hard places

•The physical resources and abilities he has given you

•The coincidences of your daily experience

God loves us as much as the exiled Jews in Persia. And he will be found, if only we will look. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7.7-8).