VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams is at the New Wine Ireland summer conference in Sligo this week. She brings you summaries of all the Evening Celebrations and the morning Bible Teaching so you won’t miss a thing!
Monday 15 July
Dr Amy Orr-Ewing is Director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. She leads a team of pioneering apologist-evangelists and speakers around the world on how the Christian faith answers the deepest questions of life. Here is what she had to say from the book of Esther:
It is completely laughable to believe that the material world is all there is. The book of Esther shows how God works in a world where people are rampant materialists. This great king Xerxes viewed even his own wife as an object and when she refused to be objectified, he began a search for a new woman. As many as 1,000 women were trafficked for his “pleasure.” Esther was subjected to this horror along with all the other women but even in that darkness she was able to experience God’s love.
How do we resist powerful enemies? Haman is the name given to an individual who poses a serious threat to God’s people in the days of Esther and Mordecai. The enemy seeks to make God’s people afraid. Haman represents the cosmic enemy of God’s people. How do we live in a context in which we face threat, intimidation and fear?
When I was 19 years old, my then boyfriend (now my husband) and I met at a prayer meeting. It was the 1990s and God was moving in powerful ways. As a group of students, the Lord spoke to us about the Taliban. We got visas to go to Afghanistan as “journalists” for the student newspaper. The night before we left, I had a dream and in that dream, I saw the three of us giving Bibles to the Taliban. I shared this dream with the rest of the team.
We went down to Scripture Gift Mission and filled our rucksacks with 40 New Testaments and five Bibles. We arrived in Turkmenistan and hiked to the border. We asked around, “How can we meet the leaders of the Taliban?” The next day, we met the Taliban and we interviewed about their beliefs and in our naïve way, we began to share the gospel. They were armed with rifles and it was pretty tense. One of our group said, “We have brought you a gift and we believe that this is the most precious gift that one human being can give to another. It is the Bible.” There was silence and then the religion minister began to speak and they all deferred to him. He said, “I know exactly what this book is. I have been praying to God for years that someone would bring me this book. I am going to read it every day.”
That is an extreme example but threat and intimidation are tactics that the enemy uses to undermine God’s people. Here in Esther, we see this ominous threat to obliterate God’s people set in a context in which materialism reigns supreme.
Resisting fear is an essential part of the Christian life.
NB: A medical anxiety disorder can be experienced as an illness in the same way that cancer and a broken leg are illnesses. We know that sometimes God heals and sometimes He does not. We know that healings and miracles are signs of God’s kingdom breaking in but they are not signs of favouritism; they are part of God’s grace and there is a mystery. So I just want to say, if you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, we would love to pray for you. The Lord is the Lord of miracles!
But alongside that medical diagnosis, we see that the Bible is full of promises for followers of Jesus to be set free from natural fears. As a child of God, your legacy is that God can help you overcome and resist those kinds of natural fears.
What are the keys to resist an enemy who is making us afraid?
Fasting and Weeping before God
In Esther 4, we see that Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. All the Jews respond to this attack of an enemy in the same way. They fast and weep and push through discouragement and intimidation. When was the last time you fasted and prayed with that kind of determination?
In the ministry I work for, our HQ is in Oxford. For a while, we have been bursting at the seams. We’ve been crying out to the Lord for more space. We began to fast and pray. It was discouraging to keep going when we had people wanting to be trained as evangelists, but not really enough space to do it. In building next door, there lived a famous atheist. Just a few weeks ago, after years of praying and fasting, the contract was signed. And now the house of the most famous British atheist of the 1980s is going to be a centre for apologetics and evangelism!
Togetherness & Community
It wasn’t just one or two people who fasted and prayed. In the Bible, you do not resist fear and intimidation alone. It is something we are called to do in community. We do this together.
The story is told of a man serving in WW1. One night his friend was missing. He said, “I want to go and search for my friend” but the officer said, “No way.” It was difficult and dark but he went anyway. Eventually in the middle of the night, he returned carrying his friend’s body on his back. Now he himself was also wounded. The officer said, “I told you not to go.” But he replied, “It was worth it because when I got there, he looked into my eyes and said, ‘Jim, I knew you would come.’”
We are not meant to do the Christian life alone. We do not resist fear, intimidation and discouragement alone.
A Challenge to Remember
Mordecai gave Esther a challenge. We need to remember the Lord. We need to remember who we are by reminding ourselves who we belong to. In my own life, there are many times when I’ve needed that sort of challenge to me. When I’m afraid, I need to hear, “Don’t be afraid, remember the Lord. Remember who you are because you know whose you are.”
Is there a God-given opportunity for you to speak up in this dark context? Is it time to be braver? Even courageous preachers of the Gospel sometimes needs to hear the words, “Be braver.” There is a moment of challenge - Esther needed it and so do we. Esther responds to the challenge.
We worship the Lord who reverses enemies for us.
It is one thing to resist fear but we serve a God who is able to fight for us. We see it in an intriguing way in Esther 6.
Haman comes to the king to ask for him to make a public spectacle of Mordecai. The king asks what should be done for someone the king delights to honour. In pride, Haman immediately thinks this is about him. But the king tells him, “Go at once and honour Mordecai.”
There is a longing in our hearts to be honoured by someone more glorious than we are. Haman longs for that for himself. He sought the love of someone glorious but he was looking for it in the wrong place. He went to the wrong king.
The king with ultimate glory - our God - was prepared to be stripped so we could be honoured. We are totally loved and totally accepted by the king of all kings. We are all invited to be known and honoured by Him. We are robed by Him. Our king has come and He offers us His love and that is how He reverses our enemies. He fights for us.
Can we trust God to reverse enemies that we face? Can we trust Him to love us? Can we live in such a way that we are no longer striving for the love and attention of others? Can we let His love so fill us that fear dissolves?