Esther Chooses to Belong

Be All There

The story of Esther is one that sometimes feels foreign to me because of the vast difference in her culture and mine. To live in a place where she can be pulled from her home and made a sex slave to the king (my words, not the scriptures) at the whim of a ruler, seems such a terrible way to live. The word of the king is absolute law to the point that the people would live and die at the word of one man.

I don’t know what it would have been like for Esther to have to give up the life she expected to have to serve the king. She was the “lucky” one selected to be the Queen, so she lacked for nothing. Still, she was essential a servant who risked her very life when she entered the throne room without permission. Hardly what I’d call freedom even if it was the most lucrative position a woman could hold.

In addition to seeing Esther’s predicament, we see how it affected Mordecai, her uncle. The Bible doesn’t give us a character chart of Mordecai, but we can see how much he cared for Esther. In addition to taking care of her when she was orphaned, he visited the court of the harem to try to hear if Esther was doing alright. It doesn’t say that he was angry about Esther being taken, but it’s difficult to imagine that he’d not have any angst over it considering how much he seemed to love her.

Knowing all this about them, it would be easy to assume that they fought the system. It seems like they’d have the right to be angry and not listen to or help those who took away their chance at a “normal” life. She not only didn’t seem to sulk about her situation, she excelled during it. She gained favor and attention with those responsible for her. Of course, this was all a part of God’s plan, but God’s plan might have had to be very different had Esther ended up sulking and pouting about her life changes. She was where she was and she owned it.

After Haman’s plan was put in place to eradicate the Jews, Esther once again showed she owned her position. She didn’t whine and complain and demand. She handled the situation with grace and wisdom. She knew to approach the king in a way that would appeal to him, not necessarily in a way that appealed to Esther. Esther put her life on the line when she walked in to his courtroom without permission. That wasn’t an easy choice. She and her women helpers fasted for three days and she asked the all the Jews in Susa (where they lived) to fast and pray as well in preparation for her death walk.

Even then, she knew better than to ask the king her request in the courtroom. She knew the power struggle that was always present then. The Bible doesn’t say who was in the courtroom or anything else about the political posturing of the day, but those things have existed since Cain and Able and they were surely there as well. Esther knew better than to open up with her request right then and there.

Esther play it smart, and Esther owned her position. She didn’t cower; she didn’t demand. She used what she had at her disposal to better the situation for the Jews. She once again knew that she risked her life telling the king she was a Jew. She hadn’t told anyone the entire time she’d been in the harem or since she became queen. By admitting it now, the king had the option to dismiss her as queen the same way he’d dismissed the previous queen (or worse).

In this story, it all turns out well. The heroes are honored, the villains are destroyed, and the people are protected. Everything seems to have a nice bow on it. In fact, it’s easy to think that’s the point of the story. But I don’t think it is. As I look at this, that’s a perk of the story and it’s a good thing to keep in mind: we are the children of a God who has an angel army to protect us. Who then shall I fear?

The real power in this story, though, can be summed up in this quote from Jim Elliot: “Wherever you are, be all there!” No matter the difficult circumstances that Esther found herself in, she was all there in grace and dignity and beauty.

Meditating on the Lord

1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. 3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. &em; Psalm 1:1–3 (NRSV)

What Is Meditation

Merriam-Webster defines meditation as: the act or process of spending time in quiet thought. Current science has shown that it is more than just quiet thought; it is the process of choosing quite awareness.[1] Meditation is defined by Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier, as the process of focusing on breathing, getting distracted, then refocusing on it.[2] Researchers like Wendy Hasenkamp agree.

In an attempt to see what meditation did to the mind, Wendy Hasenkamp asked participants to focus on their breathing. If their mind wandered, they were to push a button and refocus on their breathing. While they were doing this, their brains were being scanned by an MRI to see the changes in activity.

The study showed that the mind, when switching to a meditating mode, used three different parts of the brain: the default mode network when the mind was wandering, regions of the brain that detected important or relevant information when the participants realized their mind was wandering, and the executive brain function took over to redirect the mind to focus on the correct thing. In addition to seeing the mind switch the areas it was using, participants who were more experienced at meditating were more quickly and completely able to switch back to the meditation when their mind wandered.

Researchers concluded that meditation allows us to practice the mental “muscles” that let us be the boss over our own thoughts. As we continually pull our thoughts of the daydreaming, wandering thoughts that take us wherever our emotions allow, we become stronger and faster at choosing what our mind focuses on. [3]

Meditation and Scripture

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. &em; Joshua 1:8 (NRSV)

Many places in scriptures we are commanded to meditate on the Lord, His ways, and His laws. The Old Testament promise for this is success and peace.

3 Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace— in peace because they trust in you. &em; Isaiah 26:3 (NRSV)

Under the new covenant of the blood of Jesus, it is even more beneficial to focus our mind, as Apostle Paul reminds us, to find the peace of God that protects our hearts and minds.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. &em; Philippians 4:4–7 (NRSV)

Practical Meditation Steps

The process of meditation as described by Dan Harris or the research of Wendy Hasenkamp is about clearing your mind or about thinking about nothing. This is not what the scriptures say, but it is the first step of getting to a mental place where we can clear our thoughts to focus on who God is and what He’s done for us.

If your mind is full of worry and troubles, just adding the good thoughts in won’t reset your mind; it will only clutter it more. Focusing on something as peaceful and regular and necessary as your breath can turn off the “worry circuits” in your mind and create a quiet place to bring in the thoughts of praise for the Lord.

Prayer and asking passionately (supplication) are also a part of this mediation process along with the meditation habits of not worrying. When we’re coming to the Lord and focusing on Him, talking to Him about what’s troubling us is a vital part of letting go of the anxious thoughts. In fact, from the way Apostle Paul phrases it, it might be the only way to truly get rid of them, “Do not worry… let your requests be known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Living Every Moment in Meditation

In the busyness of daily life, it can be difficult to see how the mundane tasks tie in with serving and glorifying God. It can be easy to divide our actions and even our thoughts into separate categories: the God stuff and the life stuff. However, every moment we’ve been given is a gift from God, not something that we have to get through in order to get to the “real” ones.

Meditation offers a way to take a moment and feel connected with what we’re doing. It’s a way to bring a connection with God into anything and everything we’re doing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the cares of the world, or the demands of your day, stop and take one moment and find the peace of God. Still your mind through turning off your busy mind, and reconnect with God by choosing to focus on Him.

Protection of Heart and Mind

Apostle Paul says the result of this kind of focused mind “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7). This kind of effort isn’t simply a good idea or suggestion. It’s the mechanism that we’ve been given to protect our devotion to Christ. We are constantly being shot with by the flaming arrows of the devil (Ephesians 6:16). Our faith can be potentially damaged if we don’t keep our focus on Him and seek His goodness in everything we do and see.

In the parable of the sower, the seeds (the good news of Jesus Christ) that were strangled by thorns were the people who let the cares of the world take over and defeat the belief in Christ.

22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. – Matthew 13:22 (NRSV)

We need to have a tool in our spiritual belt that allows us to fight the thorns away. Meditation is a heavyweight in the fight of keeping our faith strong and our focus on Christ.


[1] “Psychology Today.” Mindfulness. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2015. <>.

[2] ABC News. “The Long Journey to Becoming 10% Happier”. Nightline. 12 March, 2014. Video. 09 May 2015. Notes from approx. 10:39. <>

[3] Hasenkamp, Wendy. “How to Focus a Wandering Mind.” Berkeley, 13 July 2013. Web. 09 May 2015. <>.

Making Moments Matter

We All Seek Happiness

Happiness is something we all seek. Psychologists study it and scientists look for products or life changes that can improve it. Long before today’s scientific method and late-night “info-mercials” selling happiness came around, one of the wisest men alive spent his life searching for the same answer.

The book of Ecclesiastes was written by “the Preacher” tradition, and tradition says that it was King Solomon who wrote it. The fact that he says he was the son of David, king in Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 1:1) and that he had collected “have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me” (1:16) lends credence to this tradition, and most scholars agree with it.

According to the book, the Preacher decides to learn about wisdom and madness and folly (1:17) and spends his life chasing after things that are supposed to give us happiness and purpose. His overall result in all things, however, is that they are all pointless and don’t give us any security in life. (9:12) The only things that really make life worth living, according to him, are to enjoy the life you’ve been given.

So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!

Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. 10 Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave,* there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom. – Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

He also talks about knowing God and living in fear and respect of who He is. That, combined with finding joy in everything you do, is “the whole of the matter”.

13 That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. 14 God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Choosing Happiness

Today, psychology is beginning to come to the same conclusion as the Preacher. Happiness itself is fleeting and not able to be maintained by any outside influence or material goods. Lottery winners are not happier than the average population and accident victims are not unhappier.[1]

Hedonic adaptation is the process of us returning to a medium level of happiness. It’s what happens after the high of a vacation comes down. After the raise/promotion levels out and we’re back to the grind at work. It’s our mind’s ability to return to a “normal” feeling.[2]

According to an article by Sonja Lyubomirsky in an article for Psychology Today, we can affect the process of adaptation by how we look at what has happened to us. When a positive experience happens, just enjoy it! Thinking about it or analyzing it brings it down quicker than just accepting the good feelings and experiences. When a negative experience happens, think about. Write about it, more specifically. By analyzing and journaling and expressing what we’re dealing with and going through, we can more quickly move through the bad feelings and get back to our normal happiness level. [3]

One group of psychologists says that the process of becoming happier takes 5 pathways: positive emotions, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, drawing on character strengths. [4] Paralleling what the Preacher learned, we can pull from this daily habits to help increase our happiness.

Positive Emotion (savoring the moment): Eat and enjoy life

Positive emotion isn’t about trying to always feel good. It’s about choosing gratitude in each moment and finding ways to focus on the positive. It’s about choosing to praise God in all circumstances. Enjoying life is easy when everything’s going well and the sun’s been shining every day. When the clouds come, we can still choose to find the good and celebrate what brings joy.

Gratitude journals can be a wonderful aide in helping us keep our focus on what’s truly important. One study even showed that gratitude increases your wellbeing by 10%.[5] The effects of gratitude go through your whole life and help you find balance and joy in every day and every situation.

Ecclesiastes talks about this concept in as “Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart” (9:7). It doesn’t mean put your head in the sand and pretend that nothings happening; it’s just another way of saying enjoy the moment and celebrate what you have.

Engagement : Do Your Work Well

Engagement is the act of being connected with whatever you’re doing at the moment. When you are not engaged, you may be going through the motions of something, but you’re not giving your best or contributing to your fullest potential. Happiness is negatively affected by feeling disconnected from your everyday routine.

If you’re in a situation that you’re struggling with, it can be easy to try to change the circumstances. Sometimes, that’s the only solution. More times, however, you are better of learning to find engagement in a situation you don’t like in order to practice a beneficial mentality. While a change in circumstance might be a quick fix, almost all circumstances get old and boring and challenging. A well-developed habit of engagement no matter what brings longer lasting contentment than the short term fix of running away.

Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God. – Jim Elliot

Ecclesiastes’ version of this idea is “Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave,* there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.”(9:10) There’s no do-overs in life. This is our one time of doing things and we should take advantage of that by doing it to our fullest.

Meaning : Know that You’re Working for God

We all need to know our purpose and to know that we’re engaged in working in that purpose. It doesn’t have to be a great and noble purpose that brings great worldly accolades or attention. It can be a simple purpose that only you know. But knowing what that is and being able to smile about even the most mundane tasks and feel connected with God in serving that purpose can bring a huge bump to your overall happiness.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that we are here to work for God and to know God, “That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.” (12:13) Fearing God, knowing who He is and who we should be in Him (the root of obedience) is vital to finding meaning, happiness and purpose.

Positive Relationships : Enjoy the Wife God Gave You

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. – Proverbs 13:20 (NIV)

Husbands and wives are one relationship that is vital to happiness, but all relationship are important to our overall well-being. Who surround ourselves with can make or break our day and can bring us up, make us better people, or drag us down and make us feel worse. Sometimes, we can even surround ourselves with people who enable our problems because it’s easier than facing what we need to face. Good friends, friends worth having are the ones that support us and love us, but also challenge us to not stop in the middle of the race. They bring us up and help us become the fullest version of us that God has planned for us.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. ― Jim Rohn

Ecclesiastes says “Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil.” As true as this is for marital relationships, it’s even true for friendships as well. Having friends and people we can turn to in the good times and the bad is an absolute joy.

Drawing on Character Strengths : Fear of God and His Judgement

We live in a world that lacks moral absolutes. We are told that it’s OK to believe what you’ve been taught, but not to expect others to believe it. It’s no longer about finding the truth that exists outside ourselves (as those of us who believe in a God with standards think), but instead it’s about finding the truth inside yourself and no one can tell you you’re wrong in what you find.

This is not helpful when learning to live a moral life. Christian morality has a dependence on knowing who God is and changing our behavior to reflect His likeness. We don’t think that we can define good; our theology says that we are all fallen and sinful and only God is good.

To operate and find happiness when we are denying ourselves what the world says is fun and entertainment, we must fully be convinced of the importance of our moral compass and draw from that when we make decisions. If we are feeling like we are just doing a duty or following an archaic list of rules, we won’t have the conviction to follow through when it matters. And it does matter.

Ecclesiastes, in all its admonitions to enjoy life, always reminds the reader that God is the judge and we are to fear Him (in reverence adore Him) and honor the commandments and teachings knowing we will stand before Him on judgement day. “God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (12:14)

As the Preacher says in his conclusion on the matter, it’s about knowing God and remember who He is. In this life of instability and change and ambiguity, we know we can rely on Him and that He is there for eternity. Getting to know Him and getting to enjoy being in His presence both now and in eternity is the whole reason and purpose for us.

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. – John 17:3 (NKJV)

[1] Adams, Susan. “Why Winning Powerball Won’t Make You Happy”. Forbes. Com: Retrieved May 3, 2015.

[2] Amin, Amit. “The Hedonic Treadmill”. Retrieved May 3, 2015.

[3] Lyubomirsky, Sonja. “Hedonic Adaptation to Positive and Negative Experiences”. Retrieved May 3, 2015.

[4] Zone Positive. “Five Pathways to Happiness”.

[5] Amin, Amit. “The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Even Know About”. Retrieved May 3, 2015.