Have you ever had so many voices competing for your attention that it was hard to even think straight, let alone know what to do? How do we learn to listen to the right voice?
I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I played soccer when I was growing up. I started when I was 4 and played all the way through my second year of college. I played on rec teams, select teams, boys teams, and championship teams. For a long time, soccer wasn’t just what I did; it was who I was.
One of my favorite things about being a mom has been coaching our kids’ soccer teams, especially the boys. They are both really good players, but since Eli is older, he tends to dominate on the field. He is extremely competitive, but he is also a pleaser- he doesn’t want to let anyone down.
I noticed during one game he kept hesitating and looking over at me whenever he got the ball. When I asked him about it at half time, he said everyone was telling him what to do and there were so many voices that he didn’t know who to listen to. “My teammates all want me to pass it to them, you’re telling me to give and go, and dad’s telling me to score. I’m so confused, Mom! I don’t know what to do!”
I looked my boy in the eye and reminded him that when he was on that field, I was his coach, so my voice was the only one that mattered. Mine was the voice of authority.
The second half was completely different! He was totally focused on the game, and he did whatever I instructed. All he needed was a little reminder of whose voice to listen to, and then he had no problem hearing me and knowing what to do.
Now, fast-forward a month or two, to basketball season. I get pretty into sports, so I’m not really one of those moms who sit quietly in the stands and smile at their kid. No, I’m pretty loud (my girls might even call me obnoxious, but whatever).
I noticed again that Eli kept glancing over at me. This time when I asked him about it, he said he was confused because I was telling him to do different things than what his coach was telling him, and he wasn’t sure which voice to listen to.
Hanging my head in shame, I told him to listen to his coach- the voice of authority on the court- and I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the game.
It was a good reminder to me of the power of my voice and how I need to be mindful of when and how to use it wisely.
And it was a good reminder to Eli to listen to the right voice.
A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk to the College group at our church about the book of Esther, and I thought I’d share my thoughts here as well. I know, I know, most of you guys out there are already tuning me out, thinking it’s totally a chick-flick thing, but I want you to hang with me!
There is so much in the book of Esther we could focus on, like how God raises up people “for such a time as this” or how God is always at work, even when we don’t see Him. But as I read through it in light of our current circumstances, I couldn’t help but notice all the different “voices” clamoring for attention.
Friends, I have to be honest… there are so many voices and so much noise all around me these days that I find myself hesitating like Eli, not sure which voice to listen to. Enter Esther. As we walk through Esther’s story together, notice which voice each person chooses to listen to and how that decision makes all the difference.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING TO THE RIGHT VOICE
The story of Esther begins with King Xerxes, the King of Persia, having a banquet for the people of Susa, while his queen held a banquet for the women. At the end of the week, King Xerxes commanded his servants to bring Queen Vashti to him so he could “display her beauty” (ie, show her off) to the people. For whatever reason, she refused to come, and the King got super mad (after 7 days of partying, you can imagine he was probably not thinking very clearly)!
1. King Xerxes listened to the voices that resonated with his feelings (Esther 1:13-21)
As was customary, the king sought advice from the “experts in matters of law and justice… the wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king.” He asks them, “According to the law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?”
If you notice, their response does not answer his question. If there was anything illegal about what the queen did, they do not bring it up… instead, they appeal to the current culture, the king’s pride, and his emotions. Verse 21 says, “The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memucan proposed.”
King Xerxes was a man driven by passion, and this passion often blinded him to truth. As a result, he often listened to the wrong voices, ones who manipulated his emotions for their own benefit and purposes.
This makes me think of Pontius Pilate standing before a crowd of Jews, offering them the choice of who to set free- Jesus, the Teacher and Healer, or Barabbas, the worst of criminals. Many in the crowd had been shouting Hosanna and honoring Jesus just days before, but now were so quickly and easily swayed by the emotion of the mob.
How often do we get carried away by the voices around us, the ones appealing to our emotions?
2. Esther listened to voices of wisdom
So the king dethrones Queen Vashti and has all the beautiful girls in the kingdom brought before him for a giant beauty pageant so he could choose a new queen. (Umm, shallow much??) Our girl, Esther, finds herself in this group and quickly wins the favor of the man in charge. He gives her special treatment, singling her out as a good choice for the king.
In verses 10, 12-13, and 15 we learn Esther was in the habit of seeking out and obeying wise counsel.
- She trusted Mordecai to know the cultural and political climate and listened when he advised her to keep her nationality quiet.
- She trusted Hegai to know what the king liked and didn’t like, so she asked for only what he suggested.
- We see her more than once seeking advice- not from the other girls, not from all the guards, not even based on her own opinion- but from those who had actual knowledge and experience with the situations she was facing.
I can’t tell you how imperative this is in today’s social media culture.
I recently listened to an interview with Dr. Lucretia Berry of brownicity.com. She emphasized that one negative aspect of social media is how it elevates everybody’s voices and makes them equal, which causes the voices of wisdom to be drowned out. If everyone is an expert, how do you know who to believe? The reality is, not everyone is an expert and not every voice needs to be heard on every subject. Instead, Dr. Berry, who is an educator with extensive research in issues of race, said she often avoids speaking on social media, but instead shares her voice quietly with those who have a heart to listen and learn.
If everyone is an expert, how do you know who to believe? The reality is, not everyone is an expert and not every voice needs to be heard on every subject.
This reminds me of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. He has just defeated the prophets of Baal and is now running for his life from Jezebel, who is determined to kill him. After being on the run for 40 days, he spends the night in a cave and then basically tells God he is tired of not hearing Him. “God, I am doing everything right! I stood up for you, I’ve risked my life, I’ve been hiding out for over a month… WHERE ARE YOU???” God tells him to go stand out on the mountain and wait for the voice of the Lord.
- A great and powerful wind tore past, but God was not in the wind
- An earthquake rocked the ground, but God was not in the earthquake
- Next came a fire, but God was not in the fire
- Finally, after the fire came a gentle whisper…
GOD WAS IN THE WHISPER.
In my experience, the voices of wisdom are often the quietest. Truth doesn’t feel the need to shout or make a spectacle or play on your emotions. Sometimes they are bold, yes, but often they are quiet. Esther took the time to step away from all the other voices and really listen for the quiet voices of wisdom.
How often do we step away from the noise and really listen for the quiet voices of wisdom?
3. Haman and King Xerxes listened to the voices of Pride & Power
So, the King makes Esther his queen, not because of the content of her character, but because she is super hot (well, it’s true; read your Bible). And he also makes another guy, Haman, his next in command. Haman is feeling all high and mighty because of his new position, but then gets all upset because this Jewish guy, Mordecai, refuses to bow down to him. So, rather than just punish Mordecai, Haman listens to the voice of pride and devises a plan to exert his power over ALL the Jews in the kingdom. That will show Mordecai who’s in charge!
It turns out the king is easily deceived when Haman appeals to his sense of pride. He twists the truth just enough that King Xerxes doesn’t notice and believes him without question. Without realizing what he’s doing, he, too, uses his power to preserve his pride because he listens to the wrong voice.
How often are we deceived by voices that appeal to our pride or sense of power?
Be aware- this can look different than we think.
Sometimes it looks like preserving our heritage. Sometimes it looks like defending the weak. Sometimes it looks like standing up against evil, when really it’s just making us feel good about ourselves. Sometimes it’s not standing up against evil because we are afraid to lose our power or position.
In Ronne Rock’s book, One Woman Can Change the World, she talks about God being the God of the “ampersand.” (I had to look it up… it means the ‘&’ sign. Who knew??) So often we like to put God in a box, stating He is for this and against that; He is this thing, but not that thing. And while that is true in certain cases, more often the Bible reveals He is “both, and…”
- He is justice AND mercy.
- He is sacrifice AND abundance.
- He accepts us as we are AND asks us to change
- He is our Judge AND our Defender
- He has compassion AND allows consequences
There are times God has led me to respond with mercy and similar times when He has required me to discipline justly. In one circumstance He may ask me to speak up, while other times He tells me to remain silent. In Exodus 17, God tells Moses to strike a rock with his staff to bring forth water, and then in Numbers 20, He tells him to simply speak to the rock this time. Moses’ determination to do it his own way results in him not getting to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.
There is no easy answer, friends. The voice of pride and power are often convincing… it requires asking the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and listening for the quiet whisper of God in reply.
4. Esther & Mordecai listen to the Voice of God
When Mordecai finds out about Haman’s decree to kill all the Jews across the entire nation, he mourns the news and sends a message to Esther, urging her to defend their cause to the king. Esther, feeling caught in the middle, reminds him that approaching the king without being requested is likely to end in her certain death, especially since he has not sent for her in 30 days.
Mordecai’s response (Esther 4:13-14) reveals a Higher perspective, a clue that he was listening to a Kingdom voice. Though he is used to advising Esther, he does not give her a plan this time; he simply gives her a perspective.
Basically he says, “God promised our Fathers a long time ago that we are His children and He will not abandon us. He will find a way to save us, one way or another. But Esther, perhaps one of those ways is YOU. Who knows? What if God orchestrated all these things in your life for exactly this moment, so He could accomplish His plan through YOU?”
Esther’s reply also reveals what voice she is listening to:
- She surrenders her own will
- She fasts and prays for 3 days (and asks her community to seek God as well)
- She serves the king AND Haman
- She serves him AGAIN before petitioning… waiting on God’s timing, His wisdom for her words, etc.
Do those words sound familiar? Surrender. Pray. Serve. Wait.
(It sounds a lot like Jesus to me.)
Remember, God comes in the whisper.
Haman had a plan, but He didn’t plan on God. Esther didn’t have a plan, but she chose to listen to God and walk in obedience. The result is a story of God delivering the people of Israel through the faithfulness of two ordinary people seeking HIS voice in extraordinary circumstances.
Did you know that the word “GOD” does not actually appear at all in the book of Esther? And yet, maybe that’s the point.
When there are too many voices shouting all around us, or when God seems to be absent from our circumstances, it is THEN that we most need to listen for His voice. He is still working, even when we don’t see it. He is still present, even when we can’t feel it.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the noise of everything going on in our world, step away from all the voices. If you are feeling swayed by emotion or enticed by power or protective due to pride, turn off the voices, and get alone with Jesus.
He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
He is our Coach, our Authority, our Expert-
His voice is the only one that matters.
And He comes in the whisper.