By Tony Wheeler, Superintendent of Pastoral and Church Health and Stacey D. Wheeler, Director of Pastoral and Church Health
The word “providence,” according to Oxford Languages, is defined as “God or nature as providing protective or spiritual care,” and, as an example, “They found their trust in divine providence to be a source of comfort.”
Last week we were on vacation in Branson with some of our family. We love to go to Silver Dollar City and decided to go on Wednesday. Stacey felt inspired to get up a little early that morning to pray and happened to pray for protection over all of us that day and during our trip.
Fast forward to the afternoon when we decided to ride the train that can carry around 250 people on a 20-minute ride through some of the forest surrounding the park. Stacey’s parents, our youngest daughter and her husband, and three of our grandchildren rode the Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train with us, and we all enjoyed it immensely. It was nice to sit down, relax, and enjoy the fall colors in the leaves of the trees and the silly, but fun, drama the play actors provide at the halfway point in the ride.
When we heard that less than an hour after our ride, three cars on this train derailed, and seven people were taken to the hospital (there were no fatalities, thankfully), we felt grateful for providence. Some might say we were “lucky” it didn’t derail during our ride, but we would say God protected and shielded us from harm. We are thankful for his grace and mercy.
One excellent example in the Bible of providence can be seen in the book of Esther. After Queen Vashti refuses King Xerxes’ request to join him during the last day of his banquet, Esther is eventually chosen to replace her. Most of you are familiar with the story, a story of good versus evil with Esther’s uncle, father through adoption, and a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin—Mordecai—battling against a nobleman King Xerxes honored—Haman. Haman, angry that Mordecai refused to bow down to him, implemented a plan to destroy not only Mordecai, but all the Jews in the kingdom of Xerxes. In Esther 3:8-9, Haman explains to King Xerxes what he desires to do:
Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”
The King agrees and gives Haman his signet ring and permission to set this evil edict in motion: Esther 3:13 explains that “dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.”
In the end, as most of you know, there is a divine twist to this story, as God’s plan to protect and shield his people, the Jews, unfolded—and not only to protect them but to significantly honor and advance both Esther and Mordecai.
Walking in courage, Esther goes before the king and pleads for the edict to be overturned. King Xerxes is troubled and will not overturn the edict, but he orders a new one to be written which allows the Jews to fight anyone who tries to come against them, and not only to fight to kill but to plunder their property as well. In one day, a divine reversal occurred for Mordecai and all the Jews. Instead of fear and mourning, they walk in confidence and joy:
When Mordecai left the king’s presence, he was wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor. In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them. (Est. 8:15-17)
In looking at the beginning of this story through the eyes of Esther and Mordecai, it is easy to see how fear, anxiety, and stress could overwhelm and overshadow their faith in God. Haman seems to have the upper hand with having the favor of the king and a day of slaughter and death has been decreed against them. It appears Haman will be victorious, ending in Mordecai and Esther’s death. Through human eyes, there is no way out of the edict implemented by Haman that will surely annihilate the Jews.
But as Mordecai and Esther continue to put their faith in God, seeking and obeying him, he directs their steps and provides a way out that no human could have seen coming. Haman is impaled on the very pole built for Mordecai. King Xerxes takes the signet ring from Haman and gives it to Mordecai to oversee a new decree that allows the Jews to not only defend themselves but to plunder and prosper their enemies. Esther has become Queen Esther and King Xerxes elevates Mordecai to second in command.
In addressing the angel to the Church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3:9 it states, “I will make those of the synagogue of Satan to come and to worship before thy feet and to know that I have loved thee.” Is this not what happened to Mordecai and Esther as Haman begged Esther for his life and then suffered death while they were both elevated? And verses 7b-8 express the power of God’s hand to protect and to guide:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
For many of us, the last few years have tested us mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We understand and, even, embody the phrasing used in Revelation 3 concerning “little strength”: “I know that you have little strength.” We feel tired and weak. Yet, this strength is recognized and approved by God and called out as true strength, maybe only a small amount, but real and true strength that has come through seeking God and only after being given God’s grace to continue on in the trial of our weakness.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary expresses it by saying, “True grace, though weak, will do more than the greatest gifts or highest degrees of common grace, for it will enable the Christian to keep the word of Christ, and not to deny his name. Obedience, fidelity, and a free confession of the name of Christ, are the fruits of true grace, and are pleasing to Christ as such.” When we humble ourselves and seek Christ, he will draw near and answer our prayers. When we recognize the power in his name, and call on his name, he is faithful to give us the grace we need for today. We are encouraged to hold on to the grace we are given within each day: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34).
For those who would come against us, our enemies, Revelation 3 declares, “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” His love for us is true and real. God alone knows the details of our character and the plans he has for our lives. He can see both the front and the back of our tapestry that represents every church we’ve served in, every assignment we’ve been given and faithfully endured, and every call we’ve answered. When you look at a physical tapestry, the front might look beautiful, but the threads in the back cross over one another, have loops that hang down with knots and jumbles of thread, and what can only be described as a mess.
Oh, God, take our mess and make it more! Take our weakness and make us strong in you! Bless this mess! We know God’s ability to create something beautiful on the front of the tapestry of our lives astounds our human senses and understanding, but he is able.
As we keep our eyes on Jesus and obey him, the truth of God’s providence from Psalm 27:4-5 comes alive:
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
Just as a divine reversal occurred for the Jews in Esther’s time when Haman begged Esther for his life, God is watching over his church, the ones who acknowledge his name and use the “little strength” they have to continue to press on and serve through the grace of God’s providence. Esther summoned courage from the Lord to step into King Xerxes presence to fight for the life of her people, the Jews. Mordecai sent this message to Esther: “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 your royal position for such a time as this?” (Est. 4:13b-14).
Grant Colfax Tullar wrote a poem that describes the idea of our lives as a tapestry:
LIFE IS BUT A WEAVING
My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.
May God increase our trust in him and increase our faith in his ability to thread the tapestry of our lives. May we continue to put our strength in him alone, keep his word, and not deny his name. Former Lead Superintendent David Williams felt God saying that there’s a storm coming, and we need to be ready for it. May we not shrink back in the face of any storm. May we have the courage of Esther and Mordecai who refused to give up in fighting for justice and righteousness. May we know we serve a big God who is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine. If God is for us, who can be against us?