What Can I Do for Jesus?

For many years Isabella Alden wrote a regular column for Sabbath School Monthly magazine. Titled “Primary Department,” the column provided complete children’s Sunday school lessons for each week of the month. Isabella also contributed stories to the magazine, and sometimes released one of her new novels in serial form, publishing a chapter in successive issues.

Sabbath School Monthly header

In one issue of the magazine, Isabella gave an account of a ladies’ prayer-meeting she attended that had such an impact on her, she wanted to share the experience with other Sunday school teachers:

The subject was, “What can I do for Jesus?” It was to be answered first by Bible verses. How wonderfully pertinent they were!

“Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing,” said one.

“Increase in the knowledge of God,” said another.

“Be strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power,” said a third.

Then one summed up, as it were, the whole question in that marvel of condensation, “Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

“It all resolves itself into this,” one lady said; “if we have our own hearts right, then, whatever we do, or say, or think, may be to the glory of God. What we want, more than anything else, is to put on Christ in his fullness, so that his will shall be ours, and so that, in any event, we can rest in him. Then he will accept all work, and all waiting, as done for him.”

“Isn’t it a great help,” a dear, earnest, loving woman said, “to think that all our little, everyday work may be done in such a spirit, that it shall be to his glory? That just glorifies the meanest thing that we may have to do, and sweetens the heaviest toil.”

“Doesn’t it make less of the toil?” A lady asked, quickly, and her face shown with the reflected light of Him from whom she had learned her message.

“How?” another asked, puzzled at the expression, not being able to take in its fullness.

Ladies Praying and Singing 1879 ed“Why, if whatever we do, even the eating and drinking, is to be done to the glory of God, will it not make us careful that we glorify Him by not expending unnecessary time or strength in this work, but keeping ever before us the great aim—His glory. It will lessen the work, depend upon it. You cannot do that which is simply unnecessary, and worse than unnecessary, being often unhelpful, if you have this end in view.”

There were those present to whom these words came as a revelation. They drew new meaning from the familiar text. One’s thoughts could not help going rapidly over other things than the eating and drinking. What about dressing? Did this new idea take less ruffles and puffs and flounces? Could they, also, be managed for the glory of God? So long as one held the thought, it seemed to grow and expand. The rich crumbs still fell around us.

“It is just this spirit, I think,” said a sweet-faced sister, “that makes it possible to live the life that we are directed. ‘Pray without ceasing,’ I have heard one say. How is that possible, when life is crowded full of hard and incessant work? But I see how it is possible; if the work is done with that grand end in view, what is more natural than to look constantly to Him for help to carry it out, to turn our thoughts to Jesus in every trial, or annoyance, or perplexity? I think it rests one as nothing else will. Isn’t it possible, don’t you think, even in the midst of perplexing business cares that try heart and brain, to have this spirit of prayer?”

There came instant answer to the query. A bright-faced lady, who had hitherto listened with eyes, and heart, and glowing face, said quickly:

“I am not sure how it would be in mental work. But I know one can run the sewing machine and pray earnestly and eagerly at the same time; I’ve done it often.”

Sweet Hour of PrayerThus the talk went on, each adding her crumb, or her rich slice, according as the Spirit had given her a precious thought. The name of it was a prayer-meeting—a female prayer-meeting at that; but the utter absence of all the stiffness and horrible decorum that usually characterize such gatherings made one forget that it was called by so dignified a name. It was just a little social talk about our hopes, and plans, and prospects, and privileges—as we might have met together and talked about our journey to Europe, and our preparations for the journey, if we were expecting to go. At intervals there came in sweet, short, tender, helpful prayers, and a verse of a hymn sung now and then.

When the hour was gone we felt a sense of wonder that so much could be crowded into one hour of time, and that an hour could be made to pass so quickly; and we went out from that parlor feeling a new and closer link added to the chain that bound our Christian hearts together. We had taken a step forward.

“Why,” I said to myself, as I came down the street, “why could there not be teachers’ prayer-meetings somewhat after this type, where they could meet to gather up the treasure crumbs from the coming lesson, and to pray for each other’s classes? I mean to tell the teachers of the Sabbath School Monthly about our dear little meeting; and so teachers, I have told you.”

“A word to the wise,” etc. 


A Woman’s Voice

Colored drawing of a country church displayed above the word Prayer In her memoirs, Isabella Alden wrote about the first time her father and mother visited her after she was married. It happened when Isabella’s minister husband was new to his church and was working hard to make the Wednesday prayer meetings a success. He wanted the prayer meeting attendees to participate, so on Sunday mornings he would announce from the pulpit the topic for the Wednesday meeting. He asked everyone to come on Wednesday with a Bible verse that supported or illustrated the topic.

One Tuesday, Isabella’s mother and father arrived unexpectedly for a visit. The next evening Isabella proudly escorted her parents to the church and sat beside her father as her husband, Reverend Alden, led the prayer meeting. But something happened that forced her to make a terrible choice.

Her father had always strongly opposed women speaking in public and that opposition extended to prayer meetings.

Yet Isabella had prepared a Bible verse to recite aloud if necessary to help and support her husband. None of the other attendees were responding to Reverend Alden’s call to participate and an uncomfortable silence stretched on for several minutes. Isabella wrote:

“I sat in distressed silence for several minutes; so did everybody else. Suddenly I looked at my husband. I had promised him, had even talked with him about some of the thoughts that I wanted to present. What must he think of me now?

“Oh, Christ!” I prayed in my heart. “Tell me what to do!”

And the answer came, she said, as plainly as spoken words. She broke the silence and recited aloud the verse she had prepared:

“Thus saith the Lord who created thee:
 “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.”

As soon as she finished, others followed in quick succession, and the prayer meeting continued on.

But Isabella was keenly aware that her father never said a word to her about the meeting or the verse.

“He was kind and tender toward me, but graver than usual; I had a feeling that I had hurt him by showing no respect for his opinions.”

Her mother and father left early the next morning and never visited the Alden home again.

A black and white illustration of a woman in Victorian era dress speaking before an audience of men and women.That was an experience that stayed with Isabella. In fact, it made such an impression on her that she described that scene—in different ways—in many of her books.

In Workers Together: An Endless Chain, Miss Joy Saunders knew that the church she belonged to “believed in woman’s sphere, and desired her to keep strictly within its limits” and “on no account to let her voice be heard” in its religious meetings.

But when Joy followed her conscience and spoke a simple verse in an otherwise very quiet prayer meeting, she “set in motion forces that are pulsing yet” because the verse she recited touched so many hearts.

Profile of a young woman standing in church. Behind her is a stained glass window; but instead of Christian icons, the window  features faces of people looking down upon her, some forwning, some laughing.


Rebecca Harlow, the heroine of Links in Rebecca’s Life, was well aware that people in her church thought women and girls should keep silent when they were at prayer meeting. But after one of those long “awful pauses” in which no one at the meeting said a word, Rebecca spoke up and asked the people to pray for a friend who was in temptation.

That was all she said and though she couldn’t see anything wrong in her words, she knew there were some in the room who “thought it was out of taste.”

And when Ester Ried attended her first prayer meeting in New York, she was astonished by the proceedings:

“Now,” said the leader briskly, “before we pray, let us have requests.” And almost before he had concluded the sentence a young man responded.

“Remember, especially, a boy in my class, who seems disposed to turn every serious word into ridicule.”

“What a queer subject for prayer,” Ester thought.

“Remember my little brother, who is thinking earnestly of those things,” another gentleman said, speaking quickly, as if he realized that he must hasten or lose his chance.

“Pray for everyone of my class. I want them all.” And at this Ester actually started, for the petition came from the lips of the blue-ribboned Fanny in the corner. A lady actually taking part in a prayer meeting when gentlemen were present! How very improper. She glanced around her nervously, but no one else seemed in the least surprised or disturbed; and, indeed, another young lady immediately followed her with a similar request.

Illustration of a young woman going to her seat in church, with the yes of several members of the congregation following her.
An American Girl in Church
by Howard Chandler Christy


In Ruth Erskine’s Crosses, Isabella described the reaction when Ruth’s half-sister spoke up at the weeknight prayer meeting:

The words she uttered were these: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now, if it is your fortune to be a regular attendant at a prayer-meeting where a woman’s voice is never heard, you can appreciate the fact that the mere recitation of a Bible verse, by a “sister” in the church, was a startling, almost a bewildering innovation. Only a few months before, I am not sure but some of the good people would have been utterly overwhelmed by such a proceeding. But they had received many shocks of late. The Spirit of God coming into their midst had swept away many of their former ideas, and therefore they bore this better.

A Happy Ending:

Not long after that Wednesday night prayer meeting when Isabella spoke out in front of her parents, her father became very ill and she traveled to his home to be with him in his final days. One evening she was alone with her father when he said, unexpectedly:

“Thus saith the Lord who created thee.”

He explained to Isabella that he well remembered that Wednesday night prayer meeting and the verse she recited.

“The first time I ever heard it, your beloved voice gave it to me,” he said. “I can’t begin to tell you what [those words] are to me now, lying here. ‘Fear not; for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.’”

That was the last private talk Isabella had with her father and she cherished the memory of it.

“I thank the dear Lord,” she later wrote, “that one night He gave me courage to repeat words which brought joy to Father’s heart.”

Click on the “Isabella’s Books” tab at the top of this page to read more about the books mentioned in this post.