Esther and Guidance

The turning point of the book of Esther happens between the two feasts she invites Xerxes and Haman to. But how did Esther know that two feasts, rather than one would be appropriate? She could never have predicted what would happen in between. Why did she feel it necessary to refrain from making her request at the first banquet?

As they were drinking wine, the king again asked Esther, "Now what is your petition? It will be given you. And what is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted." Esther replied, "My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favour and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfil my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question." (Esth 5:6-8 NIV)

I can think of three possibilities. First, she simply lost her nerve and used delaying tactics rather than coming out with the request. It would hardly be surprising as Xerxes was a volatile and unpredictable character. If this is the case, then we see an example of God’s providence at work, sovereignly orchestrating events according to his purpose. What appeared random was all part of the plan.

Second, maybe this is an example of great wisdom on the part of Esther. Maybe she discerned that the king was not yet in a place where he would be receptive to her request, and she needed to delay. Maybe Esther had been praying for wisdom, and this was the way in which God had answered her prayer.

Third, could it be that she was supernaturally led by the Spirit? Perhaps as she had been praying and fasting, God had spoken to her, indicating what she needed to do. This type of guidance is often criticised by non-charismatics since it is notoriously subjective. It certainly does need to be weighed and tested in the light of the Scriptures, but there is ample Biblical evidence that God is able to speak and guide through supernatural means such as visions, dreams and prophetic words.

We cannot know which of these was the case for Esther, but it is worth pointing out that God is able to guide us through our lives using a combination of these methods. Sometimes, the Spirit may prompt us directly to take a specific course of action, but in most instances, we simply have to make the wisest decision we can based on the information we have available to us and the principles of God Word. And at other times, in his grace, God works despite the decisions we make out of weakness, and uses them anyway for his glory.

Some Thoughts on ‘Treasure Hunts’

A new form of evangelism known as “treasure hunting” has gained popularity in recent years, stemming I think from a book written on the subject (which I haven’t read). The basic idea is that you spend a while praying for words of knowledge concerning specific people (e.g. someone called Brian, someone with a green jumper, someone with a knee problem etc). Then simply go out on the street, looking for people who match those descriptions, strike up a conversation (“I’m looking for treasure, and I think you’re it” – great chat up line!), and then offer to pray for them. For an idea of what goes on, have a browse through Simon Holley’s blog archives.

I have heard many exciting testimonies of people receiving healing, gratefully receiving prayer, engaging in deep conversations about the gospel, and accepting invitation to come to church or Alpha courses. There is a group here in Southampton who are attempting this form of evangelism, and I am hoping that the cell group I lead will be able to join them on one of their next excursions.

I do have to confess to having a few reservations concerning this method of evangelism, which mostly stem from the understanding of a “word of knowledge”. Much of what passes for words of knowledge often seem to me to be nothing more than lucky guesses (in fact, too often guesses that miss the mark totally). The idea that any random thought that pops into my head should be uncritically accepted as God speaking strikes me as a sub-biblical understanding of prophecy.

But enough negativity already. This technique, though somewhat unconventional does have a few important things going for it.

First, on a very pragmatic level, it provides a conversation starter. There is nothing more likely to end a conversation than asking someone “do you mind if I tell you about Jesus?” The whole idea of a “treasure hunt” provides a way to break the ice with a stranger, and allows the conversation to naturally move on to spiritual matters.

Second, it encourages a reliance on the Spirit’s guidance. Even the most ardently non-charismatic groups I have done evangelism with have recognised the vital importance of being Spirit-filled in our witness. To pray for God to divinely guide us to those in whom his Spirit may already have been working in, as well as to trust him for the right words to say is surely the right way to begin any form of evangelism.

Third, it focuses not on apologetics, but on demonstration of God’s power. Important as apologetics certainly is – people do need to face and answer their questions concerning the truth of the gospel, often apologetics can be a red herring. A chance to pray with someone gives the opportunity for them to experience first hand the living God who hears and answers prayer.

Finally, it requires faith. The fear of looking foolish or getting it wrong holds many of us back from stepping out and telling others the gospel. Praying for someone in public is a risk – what if the prayer is not answered? What if they think you’re insane? And yet, it seems that so often God is pleased to act when his people have nowhere to hide, and have to trust him completely.

So it is not hard for me to see why God may indeed be blessing those who use this mode of evangelism. I tried to think of any examples of this being used in the New Testament. I suppose you could point to Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well in John 4. Though his meeting with her was apparently a chance encounter, the supernatural revelations concerning her circumstances certainly opened her up to consider Jesus’ message.

Or Paul, who had a vision in the night of a man of Macedonia (Acts 16:9). He saw this as God’s leading to evangelise in that region and off he went. Interestingly, he doesn’t appear to have attempted to find the man he saw in the dream. When he got there, he took the strategic approach of searching for devout worshipers of God (Acts 16:13) as well as taking advantage of the chance encounter with the slave girl (Acts 16:16).

So while I am not wholeheartedly endorsing the technique of “treasure hunt” evangelism, I do want to be someone who is full of faith, following the Spirit’s lead, and seeing God’s power at work in changing lives as people hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would be interested to hear of any readers who have done this, and what your thoughts and experiences were.