Two women. They never met. They lived very different lives. They were of different nationalities. And yet, both are remembered as women who saved lives. One saved the lives of millions and her action is celebrated in a yearly festival. The other saved the life of only one and those who read her story celebrate her action too.
Come with me and meet the woman who saved millions. She was a real live Cinderella. Her story is that of a poor orphan girl who became a Queen. Her beauty was so heart stirring, so heart thrilling, so heart swelling that she won a beauty contest. In fact, there was hardly any competition, because to go along with her Hollywood looks was a character of equal beauty that captivated the onlooker.
That contest transformed her from Orphan Esther to Queen Esther. The prize? To marry King Ahasuerus. He was a man of great power, great wealth, great influence who ruled during the 5th century BC. With one lingering look from the King, Esther went from the poverty of a tiny village home to a palace beyond her imagination. With one open-mouthed look of admiration from the King, Esther was transformed from the owner of three dresses to the owner of closets overflowing with garments of the most dazzling colours and scrumptious fabrics and textures. With one gaze of desire from the King, Esther went from a young woman who ate simple stew and brown bread, to sit at tables heavily laden with food that she didn't even know the names of. She lived in a world that young girls dream of—and some older ones too—a world of beauty, riches, extravagance, luxury, indulgence—with a man, no, not just a man, but with a King who adored her!
The other woman? No beauty contests for her. No Cinderella story for her. She was probably middle-aged, with a few gray hairs beginning to creep through her coarse black hair. Her face was tired. Her eyes were tired. Her body was tired. Everything about her portrayed weariness. There was nothing outstanding about her appearance to warrant a second look. Or was there? For if you looked deep into her eyes, you could see something more than weariness. She was a woman with a purpose. She was a woman who couldn't give up. Something in her eyes showed that she was not a quitter, She was a fighter. She knew what she wanted and she had determination to keep on pursuing it.
Two women, so different, and yet they both faced a crisis that could rip their worlds into shreds. The beauty Queen faced the possible death of the Jewish nation. The middle-aged women faced the possible death of her much-loved daughter.
What did each woman do with her dilemma? She took them to an expert in dealing with problems--God.
Let's observe how each woman did that.
For Esther, the crisis occurred when Mordecai told her of Haman's plans to wipe out the Jewish nation. Esther and Mordecai knew that she was the only one who could speak to the King and warn him about what was happening. Esther had the conviction that it was only possible for her to speak to her King, if she spoke to another King first, the King of Heaven. For three days, Esther talked with God as she prepared herself to talk to her husband. She also asked Jewish people to support her by praying and fasting with her.
After 36 hours she knocked on the door of the King's court. With wisdom from God she invited the King and Haman to a banquet where Esther courageously told the King of Haman's plans. The King believed her. Instead of ordering the death of the Jews as Haman had planned, the King ordered the death of Haman. Esther and her God had saved the Jewish people.
The other woman's crisis occurred when she realized that her daughter was possessed by a demon. To see her daughter, day after day, suffer, finally caused her to pull her skirts around her and decide that she was going to look for someone to help and she was not coming back until she had. But no one could help. There was no doctor, no old wives remedy, no herbal medicine, no one who could heal her daughter. No one that is, apart from God. So that's where she went.
She had heard about Jesus and how He was visiting in Tyre and Sidon. She hurried over to meet with Him and cried out, "Have mercy on me, 0OLord, King David's Son!" Again she pleaded, "Sir, help me!"
Do you know what Jesus did when He heard the cry of that mother; saw the pain in her heart and the tears in her eyes?"
He did nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing! She came to God with a passionate hope, a great sense of need and incredible persistence. And Jesus did nothing.
The most amazing thing however, is that this woman just kept on and on and on, asking. She had so much confidence in Jesus' power to heal her child, that she was not going to stop asking, begging, pleading for Him to give her daughter a new chance of life. Possibly the woman was able to see past Jesus' apparent coolness and see the warmth in His eyes, sense the compassion in His heart, and feel the acceptance He had of her. So she refused to relinquish her request.
You know what happened. Jesus granted her heart-cry and her daughter was healed instantly. Jesus affirmed her by saying, "Woman, your faith is large, and your request is granted."
Two women. Both faced a crisis that they took to God. And both received the answers they sought. As workers in ministry, we too, face a crisis. We have a message to share with people who do not want to hear it. And we have become a church where our relationship with God no longer excites us enough to share that message with passion. How do we find an answer to the crisis? I believe that the stories of Esther and the Canaanite woman can help.
Before Esther spoke to the King, she spent three days asking God to prepare the way for her. Don't you think it is incredible, that this beautiful woman depended upon God instead of her beauty to soften the heart of her husband? She could have relied on her beauty, her riches, her charms, to persuade the King to listen to what she had to say, but instead she turned to God and the prayers of those she trusted.
As ministers, we can be tempted to depend upon our own skills or the talents of our members more than we depend upon God. Our abilities, our wisdom, our solutions to the problems of our churches are never a match for what God can do when we truly lean on Him in our ministry.
Like Esther, we need to have a team to pray and suppor t the ministries of our church (Esther 4:16). When my husband and I first began ministering in the Central London Church, at times it was just one lady and myself meeting for prayer. We prayed that God would develop an intercessory prayer group in the church. We now have about 30-35 people who pray every month for baptisms, for members, for our church to become a magnet to draw unchurched people to God, and for our church to value the holiness and righteousness of God. Together as a team, we are asking God to do amazing things for our church.
What does the Canaanite woman teach us? She shows us that we need to know the God we go to for help. To know Him in such a way that even though He may not answer our prayers in the way in which we would like and when we would like, we will not give up on prayer. As ministers we need to possess the most incredible determination and faith in God, so that even though God may not be answering our prayers to suit us we will not waver in our confidence in what God can do.
Establishing Prayer Ministries in the Local Church
Believing that these key principles have a part to play in dealing with the "crisis" that we meet, can be the basis to starting a strong prayer ministry in your church. There are several ways to do this. Here arc some of the things that we are doing in our church to promote dependency upon God rather than ourselves.
Good Morning God
This takes place every Sabbath before the church service begins for the day. Open to anyone in the church this is where we pray for personal concerns and also for the church in general. Usually when someone comes to me with a problem, if it is appropriate, I ask him or her to come to the prayer group where they themselves can ask God to meet their needs. It is also good for the individual to know that others are willing to support them in prayer. It also helps the church members to depend on God, rather than just the prayers of my husband or myself.
At times when we talk with God we use a map of the church and pray for the various teams that will minister throughout the day, as well as for the general ministry of the church. For example, pointing to the seating area in the church we will ask God to give everyone who sits in the church a real desire to worship God, pointing to the doors of the church, we pray that all who come through our doors will sense a warm welcome, pointing to the pastor's office we pray that the Holy Spirit will be effective in speaking to those in the pastor's baptismal class.
This takes place during the Sabbath School lesson time and those interested will leave their classes for one morning each month. We study how to be an effective Intercessory Prayer Team. Time is also spent praying for the work of our church. This group is made up of those with the spiritual gifts of faith and intercession. We have found it wise to ask for a recommitment each year from those who are on the team. This ensures that those on the team have a passion to serve God in this way.
We also have a special library for those on the team, where they have access to books and cassettes exclusively focusing on prayer. Notebooks are distributed, so that the team can make a record of how our prayer requests are answered,
Prayer Cards For Those on the Prayer Team
These are issued once a month to those on the Prayer Team and also to those in leadership positions. Currently we have about 35 people receiving these cards. This means that every day 35 people will be praying for the same thing. We pray specifics—for those in the baptismal class to make a commitment, for our outreach teams to be effective, for problems that plague the church, for my husband as he ministers, We claim biblical passages as a solution to our problems and at times have adapted the famous "Prayer of Jabez" to our needs. For example, for those having Bible studies we pray that God will enlarge their ability to love an. I commit to Him.
Prayer Cards For All Members
On the prayer cards we also pray for individual members of the church. The members do liot have to have a specific problem. We just want to pray for every member of our church and ask God to bless him or her. We then send a card to the member telling him or her that the Prayer Team has prayed for them. The impact of this is great. It helps the members to feel that they are valued and cared for. It is also amazing how many members have told us that the day we were praying for them, they really needed our prayers!
The Role of Elders
We work prayer ministries in our church in such a way so that one group is supporting another in prayer. The Elders of our church will receive a different prayer card to those on the Intercessory Prayer Team. They also receive their cards once a month. On their card, they are invited to pray for the Prayer Team as well as things of a confidential nature that threaten to destroy the ministry of our church. Each day the elders will pray for two members of the Prayer Team, asking God to enable them to use their spiritual gift of intercession unhindered by Satan, that their prayers will be answered and that God will enlarge their gift of praying—yet again another adaptation of the "Prayer of Jabez."
Days of Special Prayer
We set aside special times where we can pray about specific things. For example, we may have a time when mothers can come to pray for their children or have a prayer breakfast for the women of our church on a Sabbath morning.
We also set aside times of prayer and fasting where we tend to focus on well-known books on prayer or a scripture passage. We will then produce a worksheet to go along with the book or scripture passage. Usually in these prayer sessions we pray in creative ways. It is also a good idea to let the "Prayer Team' organize these, so that their enthusiasm about prayer can overflow to the rest of the church.
A Personal Prayer Partner
I meet once a week with a prayer partner. She works in ministry. We pray for our families, our husbands, and the situations that seek to fragment our churches. We pray for our prayer teams, our elders and specific problems of some of the members. We also pray about the struggles that we are going through as we minister. We invite God constantly to be the focal point in the plans and programmes that are taking place in our churches.
Is Prayer Ministry Really Worth the Time and Effort?
Yes, I believe that it is. Ellen G. White says, "At the sound of fervent prayer, Satan's whole host trembles?' (Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 345, 346). Satan has very limited power in our ministry when we make prayer the foundation of all that we do in our churches. In our church we have seen God work since we have been more determined and more disciplined about establishing a "Prayer Ministry". Try it for yourselves and see what a difference it can make, not only to your church, but to your ministry too!