My daughter decided to put in a garden this year. Our little yard has really only one convenient and well-situated place for a garden, so this spring it became Claire’s. The soil in our area of town is full of rocks and clay, not the best for growing vegetables. Some friends gave us a truckload of beautiful “carrot soil” from a commercial farm. We took out the bark that had covered the area for the garden, dug down as far as we could in what little topsoil there was, then my husband used a heavy spade to chunk out the hard-packed, unyielding dirt beneath. After digging out several inches, we put in the good dirt and Claire went to work. The results were delicious tomatoes, a gigantic basil plant, and other edibles.
That process of breaking up the dirt for Claire’s garden is a partial picture of brokenness.
The workable state of Clair’s garden soil was not, however, a permanent situation. Harsh summer sun continued to bake and harden the ground. Irrigating was a daily need. Weeds threatened to overtake the plot and had to be pulled down to their roots. Some plants were in danger of being over-crowded and had to be thinned. Later, bugs and the dreaded “tomato worms” had to be extracted. Keeping the garden good for growing fruits and vegetables meant constant vigilance.
In the same way, brokenness is not only found in our one-time choice leading to salvation. It is a state of being where we allow God to work his refining will in our hearts enabling us to become more like Christ. The weeds of self will grow again – perhaps thicker next time. Our own desires will likely grow in our hearts, taking up room for the desires God wants to plant there. Cutting away, tearing off and pulling out must happen again and again. Brokenness keeps us in a place where our soil is soft and ready for God’s new seeds.
Sometimes God uses pain, tragedy or extreme circumstances to bring us to brokenness, like he did for the Jews in Persia.
After the frightening details of Haman’s plan were revealed in last week’s lesson, we now see Mordecai and Esther coming to grips with what to do next. In the face of calamity, something far beyond themselves that they can do nothing about on their own, we see them struggling with and then choosing brokenness before the Lord.
DAY ONE AND TWO
A. Read Esther 4:1-8. Loud wailing. Bitter weeping. Deep mourning. Urgent fasting. Sackcloth. Ashes. These heart-wrenching words set the opening scene for chapter 4. It’s been speculated that up until this point, the religion of Mordecai and the other Jews in Persia was simply cultural, just part of their heritage with no special depth of relationship.1 Yet, in the face of extermination, their need for God is remembered. As always, God was ready to make Himself real in their lives. There was absolutely no solution in sight for the Jews. Their only hope was Divine intervention. Choosing brokenness begins with definitive steps: wailing represents calling out to a Redeemer, mourning shows self-examination for sin, and fasting depicts waiting for an answer.
B. Watching Mordecai’s actions we see that brokenness is not the same as despair– isolating, shutting down and making us ineffective. In brokenness, however, there is an inner catalyst to action, an element of hope.
- Read Elijah’s story of despair turned to brokenness in 1Kings 19:1-18. In this passage, how does God comfort, confront and call Elijah?
- Read Psalm 5 and Psalm 42. God moves us from impotent despair to a place of brokenness where we are uplifted and ready for His purposes. How has God done this in your life?
C. As believers we are called to bear one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2) When a Christian sister or brother has come to a place of brokenness, we are to choose brokenness with them. It can’t be simply taken away. Esther tried, at first. Scripture says she “writhed in anguish” when she saw Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate in sackcloth, so obviously distraught. She sent to him nice clothes – perhaps to lift his spirits. (At 41 I still call my father, “Daddy,” and I know my heart would seize tight if I saw him in such a situation. I would want him to smile again.) But Esther needed to “learn what this was and why it was” (vs. 5) to understand what her real course of action should be.
- Read 1 Thessalonians 5:11 and 14. What burden have you been asked to carry for another?
- Choosing brokenness points us to God’s answer. Read Psalm 109. I can imagine Mordecai using these words of David as he knelt in ashes. How does this psalm begin and end, and what does this tell you regarding true brokenness?
D. It’s evident that Esther knew nothing of Haman’s plans, nor the king’s approval of them. Through her trusted eunuch Hathach, Mordecai told her everything from what happened between him and Haman, the amount of money from plundering murdered Jews that Haman promised the king, and even gave her a copy of the edict. Then, he ordered her to go to Ahasuerus on behalf of her people. In all things so far Esther has implicitly obeyed Mordecai (see Esther 2:10, 20). Yet, here Scripture says this is much more than a suggestion, a request or even a telling-to. He commanded. It might be deduced that God had already laid on Mordecai’s heart this course of action. And it’s likely that Mordecai knew how frightening this decision would be for Esther. As with any loving father, perhaps he wanted the results to be on his own head. Knowing what Esther was facing, Mordecai had to pray as Jesus did in the garden, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew26:39–NASB).
A. Read Esther 4:9-11. Often we struggle against brokenness as Esther did. Here we see Esther restating the obvious to help her case. She must be shocked and scared – both by the news and by what Mordecai commanded. It’s reminiscent of Moses and his encounter with God in the burning bush.
- Read through Exodus 3 to 4:17. How many excuses do you count? (Often there will be more than one excuse in a sentence.) Notice how thoroughly God answers, often addressing unspoken fears in Moses’ heart.
- Which of these excuses and answers most speak to your heart?
B. “I have not been summoned to come to the king for these thirty days.” (vs. 11) The honeymoon appears officially over. The implication goes even further – there has been no communication, no notice taken, nothing – for an entire month. When my husband was in Africa several years ago, I only heard from him once during his 17 day trip, but I wasn’t expecting to hear from him at all. Those few surprise minutes were amazingly precious. Yet, if I knew he could have called or contacted me somehow and chose not to, I would have felt small, insignificant and unloved. Here we have a woman in a fragile marriage to a godless man used to disposable women and having his way, and desensitized to ruthlessness. For those in hurting marriages or who have unapproachable spouses like Esther, there is hope.
- A familiar passage, Jeremiah 29:11-13 begins with, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope…’ ” Read the rest of the passage with Esther in mind. (This is actually part of a prophecy that promises the return of captives from Babylon to Judah that we discussed in the introduction.)
- Meditate on Psalm 31:24; Psalm 33:18-22; Psalm 42:5; Psalm 68:5; Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 54:5; 1 Timothy 5:5.
- In what way will you choose brokenness and allow God’s future and hope to mold and shape you into His likeness?
A. Read Esther 4:12-14. In this very famous passage we find a father encouraging his adopted daughter to step up to the plate even though the outcome is uncertain. My son will be of driving age this next year, voting age soon after that, off to college too soon beyond that. Ephesians 3:14-19 is a passage that I claimed long ago to express my desire for my children’s spiritual maturing. Pray these verses on behalf of your children, even consider making it into a time of blessing over them.
B. How often have we been silent? God longs to use us. In 2 Kings 7 we read about the four lepers who knew they had to tell the besieged, starving city of Samarians that the enemy camp of Arameans was deserted and full of provisions. Both the prophets Isaiah (62:1) and Jeremiah (4:19) were compelled to speak their message, no matter how foreboding, so that the people would have an opportunity to repent and return to communion with the Lord. In Acts 18, the Lord came to Paul in a vision while in Corinth to encourage him to continue sharing Christ in the city and not to keep silent out of fear. Silence was not an option in these cases. Ecclesiastes 3:7 simply states, “A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak.” The Hebrew word for “speak” has the basic meaning “putting words [properly] in order.”
C. Part of brokenness is speaking God’s words, stating truth, standing up for what is right. It isn’t about our comfort, our popularity, our fears. How is God calling you to speak for Him?
D. “For such a time as this.” (vs. 14) Mordecai had no idea what was beyond this moment. But he knew that Esther was the only one with any credentials at all – and suddenly, the obviousness of God’s plan for this moment became evident. One of my favorite things to do whether reading biographies, perusing current news events, or listening to testimonies is finding that “one” reason for something. Why someone was born with a disability. Why a family had to move to another community. Why a woman is barren. The answer could be so that a future evangelist could find inspiration through his own disability. A family on the verge of meltdown needed to have the truth of Christ presented to them by new neighbors. Two precious, abandoned babies needed a loving couple to adopt them. There is, most likely, a vast number of “whys” for the circumstance about which we may never know the outcome, but for a single moment in time, we are allowed to see one of them.
- Read Ephesians 1:18-19. According to these verses, what can we know once the eyes of our hearts are enlightened?
- How can you more effectively prepare your heart for God’s “one” reason for where He has you right now?
A. Read Esther 4:15-17. Fasting – seeking God’s answer – was an important result of Haman’s plot. Even though the outcome is unsure, God has His people where He wants them – united with Himself. Author Richard Foster said, “Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained. … If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed.”2 Though it isn’t a command, in Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus makes the assumption that we will fast.3 Whether it’s in worship and waiting like Anna the prophetess, to bring humility to a prideful soul for the Psalmist (35:13 and 69:10), or if in mourning or a time of national crisis as in Esther, fasting is part of a believer’s life.
- Read 1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:12, 12:16; 2 Chronicles 20:1-4; Daniel 9:3; Joel 2:12, 15; Zechariah 7:5; Luke 2:36-38; Acts 1:14, 13:2 and 14:23.
- Has fasting been a part of your Christian experience? If no, pray for God’s leading in this matter. If yes, has it become something not truly of Him, having selfish motives?
B. In my recent quiet times, 1 Corinthians spoke to me in the areas of brokenness and fasting. Skim through 1 Corinthians 1:10, 18-31; 2:6-16; 3:18. Brokenness before God makes no sense to the human brain. The cross, unity, fasting – these are not part of what the world thinks of as good business, good politics, good positioning, good living. Yet it is through brokenness that God works miracles – within us and around us. What will you do to make brokenness a reality in your life this week?
C. One final note. In the final verse of Esther 4 we read that “Mordecai went away and did just as Esther had commanded him.” Interesting. His little girl made a queenly decision. Mordecai honored and obeyed his queen.
God desires us to choose brokenness not just for calamity but for every aspect of life. He wants us to depend on Him and come to Him for everything. When God walked with Adam in the garden, everything was perfect. In a now sin-marred, extremely imperfect world, Christ has enabled us to again walk in that perfect relationship with the Father. Brokenness allows us to fully enjoy Him. Allow God to keep your soil turned over and soft, ready for planting. His fruit will come in due time.
1. J. Vernon McGee, commentary on Esther 2
2. “The Celebration of Discipline,” Richard Foster, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1988, pg. 54-55
3. Ibid. pg. 53.
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