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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Spiritual Outlook: Finding favor through fasting

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Why did Jesus come?

A model of a mighty man

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“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.’ On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters. … And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter.” -Esther 4:14-16; 5:1-2

We have entered the season of Lent. In preparation for Easter, it is a period of 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday. It ends on Thursday or Saturday of Holy Week, depending on one’s religious tradition. The 40 days represent the time when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13). Its purpose is a time of self-examination, reflection and repentance in deepening relationship with God, engaging the spiritual discipline of fasting.

I want to present a perspective on this spiritual discipline from the Book of Esther.

The events in the Book of Esther are during the post-exilic period about the Jews who did not return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile but stayed in Babylon during the reign of King Xerxes. Esther was a Jew whose family was among those who stayed in Babylon. She was the cousin of Mordecai, who adopted Esther as his daughter when her parents died. Following Mordecai’s direction, she kept her family background and nationality a secret. Esther eventually became queen to King Xerxes and Mordecai was a palace official to the king.

Over time, a conflict brewed between Mordecai and Haman, the most powerful official in the empire. The conflict escalated to the point that Haman devised a plot to destroy Mordecai, also including all the Jews in the entire empire. Haman persuaded the king to write a decree to have a certain group of people who did not obey the king’s law to all be slaughtered on a single day. King Xerxes signed and sealed the decree without knowledge it targeted the Jews.

At this juncture, Mordecai asked for Queen Esther’s help directing her to go to the king to beg for mercy and plead for her people. The issue regarding Mordecai’s request was that Esther did not have unlimited access to the king; she couldn’t just go to the king without being summoned. Esther must decide to risk her life by going to the king, unsummoned. Yet, if she decided not to act, for certain she would lose her life. This was a decision with serious consequences. Just like us many times, at this point Esther couldn’t see the happy ending of the story from the frightening, unnerving middle.

Esther was challenged with an unsure undertaking that is resolved by a resignation to the providence of God. She implored all the Jews, herself included, to fast three days in hope that it would result in divine favor.

After the three-day fast, Esther put on her royal attire, went and stood in front of the king’s quarters in full view. When seen by the king, she obtained his favor and was welcomed to approach him. From that point in the story to its end, God turned everything in their favor.

The story of Esther presents fasting as a spiritual discipline that expresses faith in God, which can result in the favor of God.

Rev. Johnson A. Beaven III is pastor of Citadel of Faith Church of God in Christ. Contact him via email at jabeaven@gmail.com, or via Twitter @jbeaven.

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