Risk and Reward.

Be honest. Often we make our decisions based on what’s in it for us. Here’s how we think – the less the risk and the more the reward, the better. And if the return promised is significant enough, well then, we may just be okay with a little more risk. Just a little more, but don’t ask us to leave the security of what is comfortable, pleasurable, or familiar. Certainly don’t ask us to go to Africa or the Amazon! And please, whatever you do, don’t mention the word sacrifice! That concept blazoned across the Bible is almost lost to our generation. Today in America, no one is looking to sign up for the prospect of pain and loss. In our world of cul-de-sac living, $300 tennis shoes, and almond milk lattes (with a touch of raw sugar, if you please), the concept of sacrifice is extreme. We have been dubbed the “selfie” generation and rightly so.

This was not so with Esther who lived five centuries before Christ. She understood that the essence of real living is sacrifice. For a Hebrew slave girl living in Persia, hers was arguably the best station in life that could be afforded. Maybe the Lord included her story in the Bible just for us pampered Americans! Most of us reading Esther’s story would have preferred it to end before the sacrifice. After all, her sudden rise from rags-to-riches is a story well-suited to the current market. Add a couple of glass slippers and the phrase, “And they lived happily ever after” and you have the makings of dreams come true. Esther’s story is counter intuitive. It’s about the girl who had it all and risked it all. After reading it we might want to ask ourselves, “Would I be willing to leave the modest comforts of my own home to follow Christ? Anywhere? Would I trade anything for the Greater Cause of Christ?” The Apostle Paul would say, “I count it all but dung that I may win Christ.” (Philippians 3:8) Are we willing to see it like that? The problem with us is that we don’t see our palaces as dung-filled places.  

How did Esther make it to the palace in the first place? It’s a good question to ponder. Whispers of incredulity must have filled the poor, candlelit homes of Jewish slaves everywhere. How did a Jewess slave girl become the queen? How beautiful must she have been? How did she do it? Aren’t Christians supposed to look a bit . . . dumpy? Certainly, her rise to success was not based on her own skill, wisdom, merit, or ability. She didn’t work her way to the palace. Though she was beautiful, that was a gift from God. The story of Esther is not about prominence or prettiness but rather providence. Her life and ours, rightly understood, are to be seen as channels of undeserved blessing.

By what seemed a random stroke of good fortune (and a bit of misfortune for the former queen) this unknown Hebrew slave girl is swept up in a search for a new queen in Shushan. Her proximity to the palace seemed another “lucky break” that brought her within range of the search committee. The king hoped his new wife would be more submissive than the former leading lady, and Esther won the contest! At a time when Persia was the ruling empire of the world, becoming the new queen of the Persian Empire meant that she lacked for nothing. Not food, fashion, furnishings, or fame. Could we say she had it all? Yes, in terms of the selfish cult of all things selfish – Esther had it made. She was swimming in a material and imperial world far beyond our wildest imaginations. Even the colors of the palace interior are vividly detailed in Esther chapter 1. The Persian courts were stunning, and Esther was the star.

End of story? Hardly.

The question now becomes, “How could she risk it all? Why would she dare to? What reward could excel the best life imaginable?”

As modern-day believers, we wonder at her courage and question her intelligence. Even Mordecai, her custodial parent in the biblical narrative, warned her not to tell the king about her Hebrew heritage. (Esther 2) The tension in this story exposes our own weakness for money, security, and beauty. Palatial comforts are alluring. Slowly the success syndrome snuggles next to us like a fat cat purring for our attention. How soon our pleasures become our pets and how quickly they exert rule over us. Human success is often the arch enemy of true religion. Yet God had just the right person in the right place at the right time. He always does. This girl was much more than just another “pretty face.” She understood a word vital to every Christian’s life – expendability. She knew how to release her grip on her best life now to rescue the best life for others. She put all creature comforts aside in a brave appeal to her husband-King. She knew a secret: Happiness ever after is just that – a focus on the ever after.

God, who is not absent in our suffering, must not be dismissed in our success. He is the hero of this story.

Standing before a king who had the power to take her life, Esther pleads for the lives of others. What a great call to missions is imbedded in the narrative! In the face of Jewish extermination, she steps into harm’s way. God uses her feminine voice, sweet charms, and disregard for personal safety to move the heart of the king and change the course of history. Charles Colson once said, “History pivots on the actions of individuals, both great and ordinary.”

Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)

God knows, because He sent us here for such times. We are not to be held captive by comfort while the death of so many souls is impending. Stand up! Say something. Go! No one can take your place or hour, it is uniquely yours. This is our time.

“If I perish, I perish,” is not a statement of fatalism but of faith and sacrifice. (Esther 4) It is the same mind that left the ivory palaces of glory and descended to the cross for the sake of those bound in slavery and sin.

Such a life is the only life worth living. Esther knew it and took a risk worth taking.

Want to find your life? Be prepared to lose it.