Posted by: Ed | September 4, 2008

FROM WORST TO FIRST – A FINAL THOUGHT ON PRAYER

Before we get too far from last weekend, I wanted to share one more thought on prayer that I’m calling “Worst to First”. It’s a little bit of a round about thought so please bear with me.

It has to do with my personal Bible reading. I follow a reading plan that takes you through the Bible in a year that is put out by NavPress. It just so happens that last week took me through the book of Esther. I thought about how Esther used to be one of my LEAST FAVORITE parts of the Scripture (along with Job & Ecclesiastes). I didn’t like these books because they didn’t fit many of my formulaic ideas about how God works & how life works.

Esther has the distinction of being the book in the Bible that doesn’t mention the name of God or even the word “God”. It doesn’t directly refer to God’s work or prayer or scripture. I guess I could take comfort in the fact that lots of other Christians have been troubled by this & many have questioned the book itself. Check out this footnote in the wonderful web resource, The NET BIBLE:

In the English Bible Esther appears adjacent to Ezra-Nehemiah and with the historical books, but in the Hebrew Bible it is one of five short books (the so-called Megillot) that appear toward the end of the biblical writings. The canonicity of the book was questioned by some in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. It is one of five OT books that were at one time regarded as antilegomena (i.e., books “spoken against”). The problem with Esther was the absence of any direct mention of God. Some questioned whether a book that did not mention God could be considered sacred scripture. Attempts to resolve this by discovering the tetragrammaton (YHWH) encoded in the Hebrew text (e.g., in the initial letters of four consecutive words in the Hebrew text of Esth 5:4) are unconvincing, although they do illustrate how keenly the problem was felt by some. Martin Luther also questioned the canonicity of this book, objecting to certain parts of its content. Although no copy of Esther was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, this does not necessarily mean that the Qumran community did not regard it as canonical. It is possible that the absence of Esther from what has survived at Qumran is merely a coincidence. Although the book does not directly mention God, it would be difficult to read it without sensing the providence of God working in powerful, though at times subtle, ways to rescue his people from danger and possible extermination. The absence of mention of the name of God may be a deliberate part of the literary strategy of the writer.

I hate to quibble with a site I love (I use it literally every day) but the last line… “MAY”?
This is why I now LOVE THIS BOOK. I get stoked when I’m about to read it in my quiet times. Why did it go from worst to first? When you experience the messiness of life it’s not uncommon, for me at least, to pray, “so God, where are You in this mess?” Often all God says to me is, “I’m am present, regardless of what you can see.” This is the real world, the messy world work of God in the unseen doing more than we can imagine.

I love the way that the writer of Esther weaves together coincidence & small decisions. The whole book the entire story, the foundational work of God in delivering the Jews begins at a party in which too many people had too much to drink. The heroine of the story is a member of a Persian monarch’s harem.

I love the way this book helps us to believe in God’s hidden work, in the neglected concept called “Providence” which is all over the Bible once you start noticing it, no where more artfully & ironically displayed than Esther. Providence is not about neat, pain free, spirituality. It’s about faith & the “conviction of things unseen”.  And (I’m now finally back to where we started) when you have a working & living awareness of God’s providence, you pray more – more often, more fervently, more consistently and yes even more expectantly because you never know what crazy thing He is doing.

I loved this book again. Worst to first!

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