One of the very first times I knew God was answering my prayers had to do with me giving up control to Him. My husband and I had entered the time of parenting teens—when they are stretching, pulling back and trying to find their way in independence. Old forms of parenting no longer worked. Offered rewards. Warnings. Threats. It all becomes a new world when the age digits move past a dozen.
One of our children was struggling with the nuances of high school; the independence accorded those students by the teachers; the higher expectations of self-motivation. My child was lagging farther and farther behind, dragging through the day, unable to figure out how to catch up.
It wasn’t a crisis. There was no physical or mental danger involved. But it was a stress that I felt uniquely incapable of understanding or knowing how to handle. After weeks of angry nagging, feelings of incapacity as a parent and more than a few tears, one dark night, I simply gave it all to God. I acknowledged that I had no idea what to do. I released it; lay the issue at Jesus’ feet and asked that He carry the burden.
The next morning, my child was up, dressed and ready for school before I was even out of bed. Could this be my teen? The one I had to drag from bed each morning? I knew then God had heard my prayer and that my husband and I were not parenting our children alone. I was simply to love my children with Jesus as the focus of our lives. I learned the importance of seeking God’s guidance.
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 maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king (Esther 4:16).
Although this verse does not say that prayer was involved, all scholarly commentaries I have encountered indicate that the fasting done by Esther, her maids and her community of believers was accompanied by prayer. Prayer was not mentioned because back then fasting was nearly universally accompanied by prayer. There was no fasting without prayer; no reason to fast unless you were seeking God’s guidance, power or presence.
There are two types of people when it comes to worry and food. There’s that group (generally thin people) who lose their appetite when they’re worried. The idea of food makes them feel sick. So they basically don’t eat until the object of worry has been resolved.
Then there is the rest of the world which I’m part of. We eat everything in and out of sight when we’re worried. It’s not a matter of hunger. It’s not even a matter of appetite. It’s a matter of the physical comfort certain foods give us; the energy food provides; the activity it requires to keep our hands and teeth busy while we wait for the object of worry to resolve.
But take a look at Scripture and how often fasting and prayer are linked. The cool thing about fasting and prayer even for those of us with “hands-on eating compulsion” is that they are linked in a good way. Giving up food causes you to think about food even more. Although that sounds problematic, in reality it means that our attention is thus all perfectly focused in a tidy packet which is then easier to refocus on God. With that tidy packet of focus, you can spend more time in prayer—seeking God’s will and receiving it.
Scripture is filled with examples of people who fasted. Sometimes it was for specific occasions (2 Samuel 12:16) or holy days. Sometimes it was for safety (Ezra 8:21) or power (Acts 13:3). Sometimes it was an act of repentance (1 Samuel 7:6) or for mourning (2 Samuel 1:12) or before making decisions (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23). And it did not always involve fasting from food (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
Are we guided by prayer? Do we recognize our need for God’s help? Are we asking for and giving prayer and guidance to others? And while we are praying (and fasting), are we doing it for our personal sense or in order to spend time with our Lord?
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18).
Remind you of another verse about praying in secret? Going into a closet to spend time alone with Jesus? Not for what others will say about our righteousness, but so that God will be able to look into our hearts and so that we will be able to hear His voice more clearly. More reason not to look gloomy. God desires our presence with Him. He desires us to seek us and when we do, He’s right there—in the closet with us. Not in the dark, but with His light shining brightly into and through us.
If Esther were here she would say this was her story. She knew the importance of seeking God’s guidance.
Who are we to God? When we recognize that God desires us to seek His guidance, we understand how He might see His women of faith. We can answer:
I am (like) Esther.
For Thought and Discussion
- How do you seek guidance from God? Through prayer? Scripture? Teachings by others?
- Have you tried fasting and prayer? If so, what was your experience?
- If you have not tried fasting and prayer, might you consider giving up an activity or a food or all food for a period of time in order to be able to focus more on God?
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for your guidance. We recognize that we can’t do life on our own. We need you to show us your way. Help us find more ways to seek your guidance. Amen.
Carol Peterson is the author of the I am Esther Bible Study Guide, which is available from Ruby’s Reading Corner. She is also a regular contributor to the RUBY magazine. You can read more of her inspirational articles on her blog.