Survival technique number three is that you need to form a supportive alliance. We need friends and intimate relationships in our lives that can help us in our times of need. You will find in scripture that it is impossible to live this life without forming supportive alliances.
There are a lot of examples in scripture. God led a nation out of Egypt and not just individuals. The twelve disciples pulled together, Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, all needed each other in order to get through difficult times.
We live in a day where we embrace technology that moves us farther and farther from each other. It makes us more and more isolated and as a result, people lack the ability to cope with life and to grow in their faith.
Just the other day I took my daughter to a birthday party in a tiny sub-division called Pinewoods. There are only twelve streets in the whole neighborhood and I couldn't find this little street called Sabina Circle. I asked people in the neighborhood where Sabina Circle was, and not a single person knew. In this tiny community that exists on two or three acres, no one knew where Sabina Circle was.
How can we be so isolated from each other? Not only do we not know the ten or twelve streets around us, we don't know our neighbors and that's tragic.
Esther is our example today of forming supportive alliances. The story takes place about 483 BC. Israel is in exile. Mordecai and Esther have been taken to Babylonia and later were relocated to Persia. The setting is in the capitol of Persia which is called Susa. Today the area is known as southwest Iran. Haman is jealous of these Jewish people and he has a particular dislike for this Jew he calls Mordecai. As a result, he tricked the king into proclaiming an edict to have the Jews killed. Mordecai discovers the plot and puts on sackcloth and ashes. Just before this happened, Mordecai learned of an assassination plot against this same king and had turned in the assassins. He was not really recognized by the king for this, and that fact will come into play later on. Queen Esther is Mordecai's niece and he raised her when her parents passed away. God providentially placed her in the royal palace, and she wants to know why Mordecai is in mourning.
Before we talk about how important it is for us to form alliances, there is one thing that we need to know first. That is, we don't need allies and friends for everything. There are a lot of things we can do for ourselves. I am not trying to foster a sense of co-dependency. But if we want to make it in this life, then we need to take charge of our own lives and give our very best. No one is going to hand things to you. You need to accomplish them for yourself.
This is true for all of us, but it is even more important if you are a minority in this country. You still face prejudice at times and that shouldn't dissuade you. It should make you all the more determined to prove them wrong about you. If you grew up poor, you were disadvantaged because things weren't handed to you. This shouldn't discourage you. You can still accomplish a lot of things. I believe this is still a land of opportunity.
This is true if you are a Christian. We live in a culture that is slightly prejudiced, and sometimes even hostile, against those who are religious. That shouldn't make you weak in the knees. It should make you all the more determined to be the best that you can so that you can prove people wrong. God will help you.
We see this in the lives of Esther and Mordecai. Think of the situation. I've only moved from Pennsylvania to Iowa, back to Pennsylvania and then to Delaware. I really haven't moved into a different culture. Mordecai and Esther have gone to a whole different nation and culture with a different language. It is totally disorienting. They were relocated by force, uprooted as a nation, and assimilated into a different culture. However, they don't moan about how bad things are, They are not depressed. They adapt and move on. Mordecai learns the language and the culture. In fact, he learns it so well that we read in Chapter 2:19 that he "sits in the gate."
If you were part of the pastor's Bible study, you would know what it means to sit in the gate. The gate is where official business took place. Mordecai evidently is now an official of the city, a very high-ranking position, much like we read about in our own day where there are senators who are second-generation immigrants. Their parents came to the United States, they assimilated themselves into the culture, they showed that they were people of integrity, and they did the best that they could do and succeeded. It is wonderful to see the immigrants who come to our country and succeed. Asian, Indian and Arab immigrants do extremely well in our culture. They learn the language and become part of the culture. They become the best that they can be and they prove themselves.
Esther does the same thing. She had a gift, and in that culture they prized beauty. She is not simply a pretty face, though. She is very smart and extremely wise in her dealings. She is a woman of integrity, faith and dignity. God providentially places her in the palace as a result. All the women in scripture that God places in positions of influence are all godly women. They are unwilling to compromise themselves, and we can learn a lesson from that.
We, too, will experience things that we didn't know would happen. The lesson that Mordecai and Esther teach us is that we need to make the best of it. We can do it by working hard, making the change and adjusting to the set-backs. Be the best worker, the best employer/employee, the best person and do so without compromising your faith. The Bible doesn't teach rigid individualism where you do anything to climb the corporate ladder. No. We try to succeed with the best tools and gifts God has given to us.
In Acts 4: 9-12, Peter and John are in jail for their faith. They get out and go back to their friends and tell them all that happened. They don't moan and groan about how bad it was and ask why God let that happen to them. They don't pray and ask God to change the situation or change how they feel about it. Instead, here's what they say, "Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servant to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch forth your hand to heal and to perform signs and wonders in the name of your holy servant, Jesus." They asked God to change them, help them adjust, help them succeed and to move forward with boldness.
One of my favorite legislators in the House of Representatives was J.C. Watts. He was a man of integrity. He grew up poor and faced prejudice because of his color. Yet he decided to show people who he was. He used his gifts and talents to become the best he could be. When people met him, despite their initial prejudice, they liked him because he was a man of character, honesty and sincerity. He was hard-working, and God blessed him.
There are many things we can do for ourselves. However, there are things that we cannot do for ourselves and we see this in the story. Imagine if the government passed a law that all Christians should be executed. What would you do? Mordecai and Esther called God's people together and faced the crisis. They called people to their side, and they formed intimate bonds with others that they could call upon in their time of need. They began to pray and seek God. There were two to three million Jews in Susa at that time. They got on their knees before God and prayed.
What happens? A miracle takes place. The edict is rescinded. The gallows that Haman made on which to hang Mordecai were the very gallows on which Haman was hung. There is power when people rally together. In Acts 4:31 Peter and John and the whole church begin to pray. God shook the place, the Holy Spirit filled them, and they began to speak boldly and with power.
I received a picture over the Internet of a set of infant twins, a sister and a brother. The brother has his arm draped over his sister. The little girl was not doing well after birth and her vitals were going down. As a last ditch effort, one of the nurses took her brother and put him in the same bassinet as the sister and he put his arm around her. After that, the girl's vital signs improved and she does well enough to go home the next day.
There is power when people get together and connect with one another. We even see this in nature. Geese fly in formation because it is 60% more efficient and it enables them to fly for long distances because they work with one another. May we learn that same lesson. There is power when we work together.
There are a lot of things we can't do alone, and yet so many people try. Their lives fall apart and they lose faith. You can't be married for a lifetime alone. Being a husband or a wife is difficult and you need to receive help from other couples. You can't be parents by yourselves. You need help from other mothers and fathers who have experienced parenting and who know things that you don't know. If you want to be a good man or woman, you can't do it alone. You need other people to come alongside you and encourage you. If you want to live the Christian life, you can't do it alone. When will we understand as we read scripture that all of God's people are found in communities? Because we can't live the Christian life alone. We don't have the power or the strength. But when God's people hook up with each other, there is a power that is released in us that enables us to do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
We cannot perform the church's ministry alone. There are so many hurting people and there are so many opportunities, that it takes all of us. Imagine what would happen if 500 church members bond together to accomplish God's work. I would love it if White Clay exploded into small groups-young mothers getting together with other young mothers to encourage them, fathers getting together with other fathers to talk about what it means to be a Christian husband and father, members who are struggling with illness getting help from others who have experienced those same struggles before.
If there is anything I can pass on to you, it is to make intimate relationships within the church and the body of believers. Call up couples your same age, call people who are of different ages, and invite them over for dinner. Get to know them and form an intimate bond. If you don't, you will get discouraged.
There is a third thing that Mordecai and Esther did that enabled them not only to survive but to thrive and that is that they connected with God. There is a lot we can do for ourselves, and there's a lot we can do together. But there are some things that we cannot do as human beings. Only God can do them. For instance, doctors and hospitals call on pastors when there's nothing else that they can do and death is imminent. No one but God can give you hope at the time of death. So many people think they can cure themselves and they pass away because they adamantly refuse to go to the doctor. Yet, when you are ill and go to the doctor, so often you get better because there is power when people connect with one another.
Only God can change a person's character. You may be married to someone you can't stand anymore. You may be a person and you cannot stand what you have become. Psychology tells us that a person cannot change after age four. I know people who have been institutionalized for their entire lives and they have never been helped. In fact, they have gotten worse because there are some things that are beyond our human ability. Only God can change a person on the inside and heal them.
In the story of Esther, the people don't live in a democracy, but in a dictator-ship. This king had unusual rules: He didn't want people wearing sackcloth near the palace, if you came into his presence you could live only if he extended his scepter to you. He assigns the Jews to genocide because Haman suggested it to him. Who can change that? No one. Not even prayer can change this king, only God. In Chapter 5, God keeps this king awake one night and he decides to do some bedtime reading. He reads about Mordecai, this Jew who saved his life, and he didn't do anything to recognize him. The very day that Haman launches the plot to have the Jews killed, the king recognizes Mordecai. By God's divine act, he changed the king's heart. Proverbs 21 says, "The king's heart is in the hands of the Lord, he directs it like a channel of water wherever he wills." God changes the course of history and intervenes.
God will intervene in our lives as well. Maybe you are experiencing something in your life that no one can change. It seems helpless and hopeless, and no one can do anything about it other than God. Maybe you are having marital troubles, maybe you fear death or the death of a loved one. Maybe your life is a mess because God has not been part of it and you don't feel that you have any future. I encourage you to make God the center of your life and the center of your home.
This is available to us-all we have to do is ask. The power of God in our lives is not active until we flip the switch of faith and we ask God in. Have you done that? If not, I invite you to ask God into your life now.
I'd like to close with a story:
When I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, 'Why would anyone bring home all of his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd."
As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt.
He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, "Those guys are jerks." He looked at me and said, "Hey, thanks!
I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried some of his books.
He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play a little football with my friends. He said yes. We hung out all weekend, and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him; my friends thought the same of him.
Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors, we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem. He was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business on a football scholarship.
Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn't me having to get up there and speak.
Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses.
He had more dates than I had and all the girls loved him. Boy, sometimes I was jealous. Today was one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, "Hey, big guy, you'll be great!" He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled. "Thanks," he said.
As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began. "Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach...but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story."
I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. You know those books he had carried - big stack- made him look like a nerd - well, turns out he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn't have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. "Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable."
I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and Dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize its depth.
Never underestimate the power of a friend . . . an ally you can count on . . .