Written by Ray Pritchard
One day an emperor ordered his favorite general to embark on a dangerous mission to conquer new land. Because that meant entering unknown territory, the map stopped at the frontier of previous exploration. Many months later, after completing his mission, the general sent a message back to the emperor: “What do we do now? We have just marched off the map.”
Something like that happens sooner or later to every Christian. We all have a “map” of our life on which we mark off our family, our job, our career, our relationships, and our dreams for tomorrow. But life never fits neatly into the pages of our daily planner. Trouble comes, or sickness, or tragedy, or perhaps an unexpected turn of events, and suddenly we find ourselves marching off the map.
What do you do then? The Bible contains many stories of men and women who suddenly found themselves in uncharted territory. One of the best examples comes from the often-overlooked story of Esther. Here is a woman who found herself in a dangerous predicament. A series of unforeseen events catapulted her from a life of luxury into an agonizing moral crisis.
Her story illustrates what it means to do God’s will while marching off the map.
Principle # 1: God often reveals his will by first putting us in an uncomfortable position.
Esther’s story begins with an ancient beauty pageant.
“Now 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” Esther 2:17.
Five years pass after Esther becomes queen. These are years of peace, prosperity, and luxury. When Esther was raised up as queen over the Persian empire, she had no idea what God had in store for her. Haman’s plot was an unrevealed mystery. She didn’t know that the fate of her people would soon rest on her shoulders.
The same is true for you and me. When we are promoted, we don’t know what God has in store for us. We make the move, we take the new job, we get married, we transfer to a new department, enroll in a different college, and move from one state to another. In all our shifting around, we seldom understand the big picture of what God wants us to do.
In all our shifting around, we seldom understand the big picture of what God wants us to do.
When Esther became queen, she had five years to simply enjoy herself. Meanwhile, God was preparing her for the greatest crisis of her life.
A man named Haman was jealous because Mordecai the Jew would not kneel before him. So he hatched a plot to kill all the Jews in Persia and even managed to get the king’s approval for his wicked scheme. But Haman overlooked one important fact: Mordecai was Esther’s cousin and had raised her himself. When Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes and began to mourn in the city streets, Esther sent a messenger to find out what was the matter. He came back with a full explanation of the plot and a request that Esther personally appeal to the king. That leads to a major complication because Xerxes loved Esther, but he didn’t know she was Jewish.
When Mordecai says, “Esther, you have got to go in and speak for your people,” she offers this reply,
“All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death” (4:11).
No one could come into his presence without his permission. Not even the queen could come in uninvited. The only exception would be if the king let down his scepter. Then you could touch his scepter, which meant that even though you were unannounced, the king had welcomed you. But if he didn’t lower his scepter, you weren’t going to live to see another day.
Esther now faces a life-or-death decision. But this should not surprise us. When God reveals his will, he often does it by first putting us in a very uncomfortable position.
Principle # 2: God arranges the circumstances of life so that when the right moment comes, we will be in exactly the right place to do his will.
Mordecai then replies to Esther in what has become the most famous passage in the whole book: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4:13-14)
It’s as if he is saying, “Esther, how do you think you got where you are? Do you think it was your beauty? You weren’t the only beautiful girl. Do you think it was your smile? There were others that could smile, too. God placed you here so that at this very moment you could deliver your people.”
The older I get, the more I believe in the sovereignty of God. I don’t believe in chance or circumstance anymore. I believe that God superintends all the affairs of men and nations. Nothing happens by chance for the children of God. That means there is divine linkage at work in every circumstance because God orchestrates the details of life.
He does it so that at the right moment you will be where you need to be to do his will.
Principle # 3: God brings us again and again to face one basic question: “Am I willing to do God’s will without regard to the consequences?”
Now we come to the climax of the story. Mordecai has made his appeal. Esther answers with these stirring words:
“I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (4:16).
This is faith acting in spite of doubt. Was she sure? Did she know how the king would respond? No, she wasn’t sure. Were there any guarantees? None whatsoever. But she was going to go see the king anyway.
God reveals his will to those who choose to do it. Normally God will not show you his will for you to consider it. We say, “Lord, if you show me the big picture, then I will be willing to do it.” And God says, “No, you must be willing first, and then I will show you what you need to know.” God does not make deals with his children. Elizabeth Elliott said it this way: “If you are thinking you know God’s will and you are eager to do it, you are probably in for a rude awakening. Nobody knows the will of God for his entire life.”
God reveals his will to those who choose to do it.
On a long trip home from overseas, we spent the last thirty minutes of our flight enshrouded in fog. We couldn’t see the tips of the wings. We might have been 50 feet off the ground or 25,000. We could have been over the ocean or flying across a desert. The fog destroyed all sense of bearing. All you can do is hope and pray that the instruments are working and that the captain is in contact with the control tower.
Many times in life the fog rolls in and all the familiar landmarks disappear. Your friends are gone, your family is far away, your money has vanished, your health is gone, your career is over, your future uncertain, your marriage failed, and your plans in tatters. Suddenly the things you trusted in fade away and you find yourself flying through the fog. In confusing and uncertain circumstances, all you can do is take the next step and trust that the Divine Captain of our souls will bring you safely in for a landing.
Marching Off that Map
Do you feel as if you’re flying through the fog or marching off the map at this very moment? Living by faith always involves moments of great uncertainty. God will never bring us to the place where we no longer need him. Sometimes we secretly (or not so secretly) wish we could be in a position where we weren’t so desperate. But if the choice is between self-sufficiency and desperation, it’s better to be desperate and cry out to God than to think you no longer need him.
God will never bring us to the place where we no longer need him.
God is still in control of your life. He wants to bring you to the place where you will say, “Lord, I am willing to do your will without regard to the consequences.” When you can say that even while marching off the map, then you will know God’s will and you will do it.
Dr. Ray Pritchard serves as president of Keep Believing Ministries. He has served in the USA and overseas as an author, pastor, and speaker. Ray is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and Talbot School of Theology (D.Min.).