Esther began her life as part of a large Jewish community that remained in Persia (modern day Iran), where God had sent them into exile 100 years before. By the time of Esther’s story, however, most of the other exiled Jews had already gone home, because in 536 B.C., a Persian king named Cyrus had issued an edict declaring that the Jews could return to their homeland and re-build the temple. And so, a large group returned to the land under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, whose books come right before Esther in the Bible.

But there was a large group of Jewish people that, for whatever reason, didn’t go with Ezra and Nehemiah. They were often looked down on by the Jews who returned to Israel. After all, God had opened the door to return to the Promised Land. What else but disobedience could have kept them from going home? It is entirely likely that the Jews who remained in Persia had become too comfortable in captivity.

Esther was one of those who remained. She was an orphan girl who was being raised by her older cousin, Mordecai. She would eventually become the victim of a cruel and exploitative man in power. Her life did not begin in ease.

Though she got a pretty rough start in life, Esther ended up saving the entire Jewish nation. And, her courage transformed our lives, because a few generations after this, one of the descendants of the people Esther saved would be visited by an angel and told that she was pregnant with the Messiah, the Son of God.

Esther is actually a pretty controversial book of the Bible, because God’s name is not mentioned—not even once—in the whole book. I believe Esther’s story serves two purposes: It shows us the remarkable way God brought Jesus into the world, and it shows you the way God wants to use you in his global purposes. Esther’s story shows you how to act with integrity and courage at a defining moment of faith.

The irony is that when it comes to God working his plans, we don’t usually expect God to use “Esthers.” We expect God to use someone like Esther’s cousin Mordecai. Mordecai is a consistent model of faith in the book of Esther. Because he was man, the original readers would have expected him to emerge the hero.

We make the same kinds of assumptions today, though we may have different presuppositions. The “Mordecais” of the world are the kind of people you think of as regular churchgoers. They are good people, sincere in their faith. They haven’t been involved in any major scandals. They have pretty tame testimonies; the worst thing they’ve done in life is speed or forget to recycle. Of course God would use someone like that, right?

“Esthers,” on the other hand, are people whose lives are filled with shame, regret, and weakness. Maybe, like Esther, they’ve been literal victims of someone else’s manipulation. Or maybe they look back and see that they have not always acted with courage and faith when they should have. “Esthers” tend to have a hard time believing that God can use someone with their kind of past.

But if you consider yourself an “Esther,” you need to see that God has a plan to use you, too. God used Mordecai, but Mordecai couldn’t save Israel alone. He needed Esther.

Of all the people in Israel, God chose to preserve the Messianic line and bring salvation into the world through a young, orphaned, mistreated immigrant. Why would God do that? It has to be to show us that he brings his salvation into the world through unlikely, weak instruments who are available.

God has placed many of you at a specific place, with specific opportunities, for his kingdom.

I want you to look around and realize that you may be “in a palace,” so to speak—a place where you have a chance to influence and literally save the lives of others.

You may look back with a lot of regrets as to how you got where you are. Your past may be one you hate to reflect on because of the shame that infuses it. But you’re here now, and God wants to start a new thing with you, beginning right now. Esther didn’t get a good start in life, but in her defining moment, she committed herself to God’s plans and changed the course of history.

It’s never too late for you to begin the journey of faith. Salvation is about new beginnings, and God is ready to start a new beginning with you. Others may have mistreated you. You may have made your own share of mistakes.

Quit looking back! God can use you, and he is ready to start a new thing in you if you’re willing to put your “yes” on the table.