Why do you do what you do? Why do you plan Sunday school lessons for four-year-olds? Why do you go bowling with a group of junior high kids? Why do you sit on the floor with a group of kids every week, trying to explain God's ways to them, trying to listen to them and bring truth to bear on their young lives?
Almost anyone who participates in Christian ministry, whether paid or volunteer, whether for children, teens, or adults, would most likely say that somehow, they hope to make a difference in the lives of those they teach and lead. They want to positively influence other people for Christ.
So, how does one really influence others in such a way that what you’re doing and saying can make a difference? Each of us might answer that question differently, based on our experiences, but we do have examples of men and women in the bible who made a difference in the lives of others. There’s much we can learn from these difference-makers whose stories are told throughout the pages of God’s Word to inspire and encourage us to do the same.
One of the great heroines in the Bible, was a woman named Esther, and she made a difference by boldly speaking truth. We can learn a lot about how to make a difference in the lives of others by examining Esther’s dramatic experience that ultimately defined her life. Here’s how her story unfolds...
Persian King Xerxes falls in love with Esther, an orphaned Jewish girl and makes her his Queen. Unfortunately, the King is led astray by an evil-minded government official by the name of Haman.
Haman hated the jewish people and dupes the King into ordering the genocide of the Jews, whom the King does not realize are Queen Esther's people.
Esther's cousin, in challenging her to ask the king to repeal his edict (which could result in her death), says to her: "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14).
Esther is afraid, but agrees that she must act to save her people and herself. How? Consider her strategy: She does not rush in and demand anything of the King. First, she goes to the source of all Truth... God. She begins her quest to speak truth with prayer and fasting, asking God for wisdom. She courageously tells her cousin: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16).
So often, we find ourselves in circumstances in the context of church relations, where we want to charge ahead... speak the truth and pray later. What usually happens in such situations? Our prayers end up focused on damage control necessitated by our rashness. Wise people know that God is in control and that his wisdom is the key to our success. The first step of making a difference by speaking the truth is prayer — heartfelt, focused prayer. The first step in speaking wisely is realizing that your own wisdom is not enough — you need God's wisdom, you need the light of his truth to flow through you. Truth is truth, and needs to be said. But how you say it, and when you say it, makes all the difference in the outcome.
Prayer is what gave Esther both courage and an amazing plan for winning over the king's favor. Read the story for yourself, in the Old Testament book of Esther. Her strategy, combined with God's amazing provision, was brilliant. She is a perfect illustration of what James wrote about several hundred years later... "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you" (James 1:5).
Notice how God gives wisdom... not just to a few, not just to the perfect, not just to the powerful, but to anyone. To all. He gives that wisdom unconditionally, liberally, "without finding fault"—without nitpicking or bias. As The message translation puts it... "If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believe he will help without a second thought.”
Esther's awareness of her situation is expressed in her statement... "If I perish, I perish." This a huge turning point for her. It’s where her “hope” meets the harsh circumstances of her “reality”. Prior to that, she had seemed rather passive, basing all her actions on her cousin's directions. She mostly seemed to let things happen to her, rather than making things happen. Then her cousin's challenge — "who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"— brings something forth in Esther. At that moment, she shifts from follower to leader. From a shy girl to decisive woman who, by telling the truth, anchored by her pray first and bold actions, saved her people from destruction.
The first truth she told was this: Before we act, we must fast and pray. I don't know anyone who would put fasting in their list of favorite spiritual practices. If you have fasted, you have to admit, that things become clear and you see a path forward.
As we consider how our ministries and outreach can become more effective, as we try to act on this deep longing to “make a difference”, consider Esther's example and many like hers throughout the pages of God’s Word.
Written by Steven Haught
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