For Such a Time as ThisTom Ascol
The theme of the 1993 Southern Baptist Convention which met in Houston was "For Such a Time as This." The phrase, taken from the account of Esther's life after she wed Ahasuerus and became Queen of Persia, is a call to duty-duty born of a profound awareness of God's providence. It reminds us that God is a God of purpose. He will get glory for Himself in time and eternity. Furthermore, it is to that end that working out all His plans and promises on the contemporary scene.
In the daily press of Christian life and ministry it becomes easy to lose sight of the larger picture. Our own peculiar worlds offer more than enough challenges to demand full attention. The effort required to fulfill one's normal, ongoing responsibilities tends to leave little energy for gazing beyond the immediate horizon. Yet, a living faith in Christ continuously stretches our vision beyond the seen into the unseen world
Time and again God's Word calls us to recognize the divine purpose at work behind the scenes. Failure to stop and reflect upon the larger purpose of God and its progressive historical fulfillment inevitably produces spiritual myopia. Such short-sightedness inhibits encouragement, invites self-absorption, and fosters spiritual lethargy.
Conversely, conscious awareness of the providential outworking of God's eternal plan builds hope, broadens vision, and gives real strength for kingdom service. Is this not the prophet's contention and aim in Isaiah 40?
In the midst of trial and sorrow, Isaiah announces comfort by directing attention beyond the visible and obvious to eternal, unchanging realities that are rooted in God's character and involvement in the world. This change in perspective causes the immediate to be viewed in the context of the historical and eternal.
Though we cannot precisely determine beforehand exactly where we are on God's eschatological time-table (despite many foolish attempts to do so), we must not forget that He has one. Soldiers fight more courageously when they know that victory is assured. By remembering that God has already given us the victory in Christ, and that He is persistently working out the final revelation of that fact, Christians are similarly enabled to be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:57-58).
"Behold your God!" is Isaiah's call to his discouraged countrymen (Isa. 40:9). With rhetorical questions and dramatic descriptions the prophet leads them to remember that God, their God, is the Sovereign of the universe. As our Lord has created all things, so He reigns over all things. He is sovereign over nations and rulers, nature and history. He is the God of providence. He gives strength and power to those who are weak (v. 29), to those who wait upon Him (v. 31), thereby demonstrating that He is also sovereign in grace and mercy.
We must never forget that our great and glorious God is presently and continuously working out His eternal purposes for this world. As servants in His kingdom, we clearly have roles to fulfill in the plan. It is precisely this point which Mordecai tries to convey to Esther by asking, "Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" His question was designed to move Esther to see herself as having been placed by God in that precise position at that precise moment for the fulfillment of His all encompassing will.
"For such a time as this." It was a propitious moment; an opportune season; a time of great potential It was a opportunity which, in the providence of God, called for boldly moving forward in the performance of duty. Gripped by these realities, Esther ventured forth with abandoned resolve, reasoning, "if I perish, I perish!"
Through her faithful actions God reversed the plans of His enemies and brought about a great salvation for His people.
At this point in the history of our convention we can learn much from the lessons of Esther. We are in the midst of crucial days. The significant changes that the SBC has experienced, especially during the last few years, should cause every serious Southern Baptist reverently to ask, "What is our Lord doing?"
It has become widely accepted that unashamed submission to the non-negotiable authority of God's written Word is an appropriate expression of one's commitment to the Incarnate Word. Moreover, with growing frequency strategic leaders are expressing the need not only to reaffirm the Bible's truthfulness but also to restudy its content.
At the same time there is a growing recognition and appreciation in our ranks of the Reformed tradition which looms large in our denomination's heritage. Books and articles which reflect this heritage and explore its contemporary relevance are more prevalent now than at any time in the previous 50 years. It is proper to ask, "Why is all of this happening now?"
As we move toward the celebration of our 150th anniversary the convention seems ripe for an even deeper, more thorough renewal than that which we have witnessed thus far. The closer we draw to the sesqui-centennial milestone, the more we will hear references to our Southern Baptist history and heritage. What better time to pray and labor for a return to our spiritual and doctrinal moorings as Southern Baptists? Could it be, in light of all that God is doing in our ranks, that we stand poised for a great reviving work of God-a work which will leave neither doctrine nor life unaffected?
Certainly that is our great need. Is it presumptuous to hope that this is what God is preparing us for? With full acknowledgment of His sovereign prerogatives, I think not. One thing is certain: you and I have been brought into God's kingdom "for such a time as this." He has "determined [our] preappointed times and the boundaries of [our] habitation" (Acts. 17:26). It is by the wise providence of God that we find ourselves serving Him here and now.
What we need, then, is the resolve of Esther! O, that God would kindle in us faith like that which was found in Paul, Barnabas, and Epaphroditus-that we, like they, would risk our lives "for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 15:26; cf. Philip. 2:30). Regardless of your circumstances, by God's grace you can become an instrument of great good in the faithful discharge of your providentially ordered duties.
Look beyond your own horizons. Stop and consider what God is doing. Recognize His providential ordering of your life and ministry. Remember His sovereign lordship over history in the fulfillment of His good and glorious purposes.
Labor to see the old, unchanging, God-centered gospel proclaimed in your own sphere of influence and beyond. Give to support the ministry of the gospel. Pray! Pray for pastors, teachers, churches, professors, denominational servants. Pray for the good, solid, biblical literature that has been and is being distributed.
Pray for the ongoing ministry of the Founders Journal in these days. Pray for Mission 150. As you are able, financially support it. That one project has tremendous potential to introduce thousands of Southern Baptist pastors to those doctrines of grace which once flourished in our convention.
Do not let these opportunity-filled days pass without abandoning yourself wholly to the service of Christ, confident that He has brought you to the kingdom "for such a time as this."