Ask any Christian about prayer and fasting and there will be unanimous agreement about the importance of these two spiritual disciplines in the life of the believer. As Christians, we are taught to pray and we are taught to pray about everything. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, our prayer lives often mimic our commitment to exercise. We know it is “good” for us. We think about it often, and we intend to “do it” on a regular basis; but, somehow, time just slips away, and other things take priority. Simply put, we do not use our “prayer muscle,” as often as we should. We allow our circumstances to drive our prayer life, instead of allowing our prayer life to drive our life circumstances.
The great Jewish theologian and author, Rabbi Abraham Herschel wrote this commentary about prayer: “Of all the sacred acts, prayer comes first. Prayer is the essence of spiritual living. . .Prayer is the means by which the gap between God and the human world is overcome. If we do not pray, this gap widens into an abyss.”
This “gap” and “abyss” which Rabbi Herschel speaks of is the evil and sin in our world, to which we are born and to which is in our world; but, prayerfully we can overcome through prayer. While there are many, many, many blessings for us, as God’s humanity, we are naïve, misinformed Christians, if we do not acknowledge that we are confronted with immense trials and tribulations that threaten to overtake and shake us to our very core. There are distractions, detours, and destruction sent by the enemy of God to take us out, (our families, schools, communities, etc.) and prayer and fasting are the weapons given by God to wage war and WIN the battles that Satan, the enemy, wages against us.
So, as women of God, who are faced with the many challenges of living in a world which is growing increasing violent, chaotic, and frightening; prayer and fasting must be the weapons we yield to wage war against the evil which confronts us daily. While we may never pick up an actual weapon to wage war, our weapons of choice are PRAYER and FASTING -therefore; THIS MEANS WAR!
And now, The Word from Our Sponsor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Esther 4: (NRSV)
4 When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; 2 he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 3 In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
4 When Esther’s maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what was happening and why. 6 Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, 7 and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. 8 Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people.
9 Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” 12 When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 13 Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 15 Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
Chapter 9: 28 to Chapter 10
28 These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.
29 Queen Esther daughter of Abihail, along with the Jew Mordecai, gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. 30 Letters were sent wishing peace and security to all the Jews, to the one hundred twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, 31 and giving orders that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as the Jew Mordecai and Queen Esther enjoined on the Jews, just as they had laid down for themselves and for their descendants regulations concerning their fasts and their lamentations. 32 The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing.
10 King Ahasuerus laid tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. 2 All the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? 3 For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.
The book of Esther, an ancient biblical story, demonstrates a tragic account of humanity that too often repeats itself across the annals of time: war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and hatred exalting itself against God’s people, threatening to completely annihilate an entire nation.
Esther, the girl who would be Queen, was orphaned as a young child, and rescued by her relative (cousin or uncle) Mordecai, who became her father figure and godly guide in her life. Mordecai was a devout man of God, who never compromised his religious principles. Mordecai raised Esther in the ways and understandings of the Lord. In other words, Esther, as a Jewish girl, knew who she was and whose she was because of Mordecai’s attentive training, even though, as a young woman she was chosen by the King Ahasuerus, to be a concubine in the royal court. Mordecai instructs Esther not to disclose her religious background, as a Jew, and so, when Esther wins the king’s favor, and is chosen as his queen, the King has no idea that Esther is Jewish.
As queen of one of the earth’s most powerful kings, Esther was rewarded with great wealth, entitlement, and privilege. Imagine a girl born in a Jewish ghetto, in a community of people despised and abused by the government of King Ahasuerus; yet, God in choosing Esther, works a plan of deliverance and salvation through her, which saves the Jews from utter extinction. Her destiny includes great prosperity and privilege; but, most importantly, the positioning of her royalty is not for her own promotion; but, for the salvation and security of her people.
Both Esther and Mordecai realize the precarious nature of her life behind the royal court of the king. She is hiding her religious upbringing and identity (i.e., Esther is “passing”). She is of the despised minority which King Ahasuerus is urged, by his administration, to eliminate. As hatred for the Jews grows, Esther watches from the throne, hoping she can avoid involving herself in the politics of her husband’s government. Esther hopes deliverance for the Jews will come from another place.
But, Mordecai knows exactly why God has placed his daughter in a sovereign position. In one of the most impactful and unforgettable commentaries of the Old Testament, Mordecai tells his daughter: “For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity (position) for just such a time as this.”
Esther, despite her rise to power and prosperity, is no different from the rest of us, whose back is against the wall, forced to make a decision she hoped she never had to make. Esther could have looked away, hoping that she did not have to put her privileged life on the line for her people, which she left behind for the queen ship. But, Mordecai is there to remind her who she is and where she comes from. In no uncertain terms, her father “reads” her like a book: “You can run, but you cannot hide. You may be queen today, but who knows what tomorrow will bring. God did not put you in this royal position to act on your own behalf, at the expense of those who desperately need your help.”
Her father’s words are convincing and convicting; but, what could Queen Esther do, by herself, against such an evil and heinous plan? Is Esther called to make a life or death decision (“if I perish, I perish) just because she is now royalty? If salvation for the Jews can come from another source, why does she have to put her life on the line? As a young queen who has everything to lose by acting as her father urges, these and more questions must come to her mind.
As a woman of faith, Esther shows us, through her bold and courageous actions, what we must do when faced with the impossibility of circumstances that confront us. Queen Esther realizes that options are few and that, in order, to defeat the horrific plans directed toward her people, she must first position herself to hear from God. Before she takes ANY action on her own, Esther takes this action: “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do.”
The weapons Queen Esther, and her sister circle used to war against the enemy, and win, are fasting and prayer. They join together in like minded mutuality, seeking to hear from the Lord. Their first steps in waging a battle against the enemy, were to diligently seek what God advised through fasting and prayer, as opposed to planning a battle strategy without God.
Through corporate fasting and prayer with her maids (i.e., the sister circle), Esther receives the courage to do what she must do to act on behalf of her community. God honors the fast and the prayers of Queen Esther, her maids, and her people. The Jews are delivered and their enemies are defeated. Esther becomes celebrated as one of the greatest figures (a messiah-savior) in Old Testament history. She is a model of feminine faith, spiritual devotion, and courage for all of us who seek to overcome circumstances which are beyond our control, in which we must wage war to win!
Even today, as the festival of Purim is celebrated by Jews all over the world each Spring, we can say once and again , “if not for a woman. . . . . . . . . .”
Fasting and prayer are the spiritual disciplines which fulfill the requirements of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Fasting humbles the believer to hear from God. Putting aside our own agendas and egos, whether this is food, media, and/or our daily interactions and routine, fasting moves us from concentrating on ourselves to concentrating on God. Prayer, the spiritual partner to fasting, moves us away from our own personal thoughts to the thoughts of divine grace alone. The closer we come to God through prayer, the less we speak of “I.” We then become a vessel, filled with the movement of God, to do God’s will in this world. Prayer opens the door to God. We petition and prayer is an invitation to God to intervene in our lives, and to allow God’s will to be done, “in earth, as it is in heaven.”
When we pray with those who agree with us in prayer, we tap into the divine energy of God, as Jesus tells us in the following scripture: “For when two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20). The story of Esther teaches us, when women pray, things will change. Our lives become compatible and connect to God’s will, and God is able to use us, the daughters of God, to bring about God’s desires on this earth.
Questions for our study and consideration:
In the story of Esther, why do you think that Esther asked for her maids to fast and pray with her, as opposed to praying and fasting by herself?
Have you ever fasted for spiritual reasons? If so, what have you learned about fasting and how it affects your thoughts and actions?
Jesus was recorded in all four gospels, as one who fasted and prayed. He tells His disciples in Mark 9:29, “This kind can come forth by nothing but prayer and fasting.” Jesus was referring to an evil spiritual possession. Based upon the story we just studied, why is prayer sometimes not enough, when faced with an overwhelming and impossible challenge?
Finally, the festival of Purim is still celebrated by the Jews, in honor of Queen Esther and her courageous acts for the deliverance of her people. Since Esther was not born into royalty, what does Mordecai mean when he tells her: “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity (position) for just such a time as this.” Does this commentary have any contemporary meaning for you and your life?
“We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on our difficulties.” (Oswald Chambers)
“God made you to be the answer to someone else’s prayers. Keep your eyes open.”
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the full staircase. (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King)
Written by Evangelist Angie Garrett for Tabitha’s Daughters Empowerment Series
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