Monday, 22 September 2014

Comfort and encouragement

Interesting. Esther's first response to her uncle's distress is, perhaps, to try to pretend that there is nothing the matter. Why? Because she sends him fresh clothes to replace his mourning garb. It is a poor response: it negates his feelings, tells him he is doing the wrong thing and that he should 'get a grip' and return to normality.

But of course he can't, He, his family and his entire people face annihilation. Refusing to bow to Haman had revealed his ethnicity: now, it was confirmed. All of Susa would have seen his actions and wondered, and I imagine the rumours must have reached Esther's ears. Nevertheless, she sent a trusted servant to find out the full story.

But perhaps her wish was primarily to restore his dignity and get him in a place where he would be presentable enough to return to work and, even, to meet with her. Perhaps her connection with him was already known. Perhaps her maids had told her about Mlordecai, knowing the relationship; or, perhaps, it was all just part of the palace gossip.

What she heard could not have been comforting - the rumours could not have sounded worse than the actuality.

Yet Esther had, in a sense, already lost her life. She had been taken from her family and it was only by the grace of God that she was where she was. (Who knows, with such a king, what could have happened otherwise?) She had been brought up a Jew in a family which was so well assimilated into the culture that their identity had been kept secret, so how well did she know the mighty Jehovah who had saved his people from slavery in Egypt? Did she recognise what he had done for her?

Paul knew. He could shout out, in his letter to the Corinthians: "All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us." The God who "who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."

So Esther tried to comfort Mordecai in his mourning, sending him clothes, then sending someone to find out what the matter was.

We all need comfort and encouragement: Maddie MacMath reminds me: "when we are living under the weight of insecurity ourselves, we become incapable of thinking about others. We are concerned about self: how we feel and how we can improve our self-confidence. No one wants to feel like they aren’t enough or they are a failure, so we naturally focus on digging ourselves out when we fall into that hole of lies. But the catch is that we all have insecurities because we all have weaknesses. We focus on improving our weaknesses (through Christ, of course), which is a good thing. It’s the process of sanctification. But there’s a danger. We run the risk of missing out how the Holy Spirit is moving in someone else’s life, and getting the humbling privilege of encouraging them in that. And they miss out on the blessing and community that encouragement brings. I’m reminded of what Paul says about our weaknesses. . .it’s all too familiar:
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
 2 Corinthians 12:9
My insecurities, my weaknesses – I have to remind myself that those are the places Christ is made strong. Those are the areas where I can’t rely on myself. They are places where I am reminded that when you squeeze me in my flesh, nothing good or righteous or holy comes out. I am 100% dependent on Christ and His Spirit in me. So, the places that spur on my personal sanctification should also be promoting my encouragement of others. Because Scripture tells me that my weaknesses are never meant to point back to me; they are meant to point back to the God who has victory over all of them. The holy, holy, holy King who pours out such GRACE upon us. Insecurity can kill encouragement. Because insecurity keeps us focused on us. But it shouldn’t be that way. Yes, we are weak in our flesh – but that only means that Christ that much stronger! So maybe we should step outside of ourselves and recognize what He’s doing in the people around us. Because everyone, even the most confident and seemingly secure people need to hear Truth. Write a letter. Send a text. Meet someone for coffee. Pick up the phone. It doesn’t matter how the encouragement comes. What matters is that it does, and that’s it’s rooted in Christ. Not encouraging others because you are too focused on fixing your own insecurities (or because you are “too busy”) doesn’t build up the Body of Christ. Encouraging superficial things or offering fake compliments doesn’t build up the Body of Christ. Jesus-lovers should be the most encouraging people around because we’ve been saved and encouraged in the most undeserving way. Even if encouraging others is a weakness of yours – whether in the family or outside of it – it’s not a fatal flaw; it’s just another place where Christ can show Himself stronger and more merciful than you could ever imagine."

Encouragement. Esther was trying to do that, but what she really needed to do - couldn't do, because of who and where she was - was to come and sit with Mordecai in his distress.

Uncomfortable. Comforting others, really really comforting others in God's spirit, might, perhaps be uncomfortable. Esther discovered that...

Esther 4:4-7

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