The story of Esther took place during the reign of King Ahasuerus. The people of God had already suffered a great deal, having been taken from Israel after the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzer, but after Persia took rule over Babylon, the Jews were free to go home, but not everyone left.
In Esther, we find a story about the Jews who stayed in Persia. The king had held a banquet for the people, and during this banquet, he asked Queen Vashti to come and parade around for the guests, but she refused out of respect for her dignity. When she refused, the king denounced her as queen, fearing that others would see him as weak.
In an effort to look for a new queen, women were brought to him for selection. Esther, who was the adopted daughter of Mordecai, was one of the women taken into custody, and she became the chosen queen. When she was taken, Mordecai did warn her though not to reveal that she was Jewish.
Mordecai would come often to see Esther, his daughter, from a distance. On one trip to the king's gate to see her, he overheard an assassination plot against the king. He sent word to Esther, who then told the king on his behalf. The guards, who participated in the plot, were punished. Shortly after this incident, Haman was promoted. When Haman was promoted, Mordecai did not bow down in honor of Haman, as the king had ordered everyone to do. In return, Haman vowed to destroy all of the Jews.
Esther was not sure what to do. She could not sit idly by, but she did not feel adequate for the job. She had no credentials, except for being the person in closest proximity to the king. She throws a banquet for the king, and he promises to give her whatever she wants, but she knew that everything could backfire. She knew what happened to Vashti.
The tension begins to mount in the story, as Haman builds a gallows for Mordecai, but Esther steps forwards and asks the king for her life to be spared as well as for the lives of her people. She was a single, inadequate voice, but the king spares her life, and the lives of her people. Since Mordecai warned the king of the assassination plot, the king gives him a position of power and influence. God's people are freed from captivity, and Haman is punished.
The feeling of inadequacy can threaten to overshadow the calling of faith.
I can remember what it was like to sit a room at church as a young person, and the teacher would ask for a volunteer to pray. All of the sudden, everyone in the room suffered from the same affliction. Everyone's eyes would look down at the floor. People would twiddle with their shoelaces. They would start adjusting their socks. They would do anything to look like they were paying attention to something else. Everyone knew that the most important thing was to avoid eye contact. If you made eye contact, you would be volunteered to pray.
Everyone avoided leading the group in prayer because everyone felt inadequate. We felt inadequate because we saw ourselves as inadequate. What type of credentials did we have to lead the group in prayer? We felt inadequate because of how we saw ourselves, but also because of how we saw prayer. Prayer is a sacred task.
The work of faith is important. Offering prayer, granting a blessing, extending forgiveness, giving in service, and bestowing hospitality are sacred tasks, but they do not have to make us feel inadequate. Instead, they can help change how we see ourselves. The answer is not to lower our view of prayer, so that we feel able, but to alter how we see ourselves.
We can allow the work of faith, whether it is prayer, service, hospitality, forgiveness, or counsel, to make us feel inadequate, or we can allow them to reveal that we have been called for such a time as this. We can either lower our view of those tasks, or we can let them change us. No person is inadequate; rather, we are able to bear such responsibility.
This responsibility, as great as it is, belongs to all people in the church. It calls us to continue to learn, to embrace humility, to think differently, to speak carefully, to live innocently, and to become transparent. Esther knew all too well that credentials do not create ministry, but if we are willing to participate in the work of faith, it just may change how we see ourselves, and others as well.