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Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old. - Luke 1:6-7 (NLT)
It’s officially Christmas time! Presents to buy, cookies to bake, and any child’s misbehavior can be addressed with a looming naughty or nice list. Many of us grew up with this framework as children -- from Santa or teachers or parents, good behavior is well-rewarded, and bad behavior is punished. It taught us making good choices were beneficial for our well-being and bad choices would have repercussions.
This, along with each of our life experiences, inevitably shapes the way we look at the Lord. We expect a similar cause-and-effect; we earn or barter or entitle ourselves. So, especially when we cry out to the Lord and He doesn’t respond as we expected or wanted, we are quick to question God or ourselves -- What have I done wrong? Why won’t God give me what I want? Maybe God isn’t good, or at least not to me.
I can imagine Zechariah and Elizabeth must have felt the same. They dedicated their lives to the Lord and never received what they desired so deeply. But their delayed gift wasn’t because of what they did or didn’t do, and wasn’t a reflection of any change in character of the God they spent their life serving. God was weaving a larger narrative than they could have imagined, that went far beyond their own lives.
In my own seasons of frustration, I tend to migrate back to a question of, “Am I seeking answers more than I’m seeking the Lord? Am I seeking the gifts more than the Giver?” Ultimately, it’s our relationship with the Father that gives the freedom to ask for things in confidence that God will hear us and He cares for our needs. Because of our relationship with Him, our requests can be a reflection of our dependence rather than our good behavior.
Where is it you don’t feel the Lord is hearing you? 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. Talk to God about your concerns, reflect on your relationship with Him, and ask Him about His heart for you and your needs.Share Tweet
But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” - Luke 1:13-14 (NLT)
We all have someone in our lives who is a terrible communicator: someone who can go days without responding to a message or never answer a call. Though it’s a petty and laughable issue most of the time, at its worst can feel frustrating or neglectful. We all want to feel heard by the ones we love. So how much more forgotten do we feel when the God who loves us so deeply has not answered our prayers?
An unanswered prayer can easily become a deterrent to faith, for both believers and nonbelievers. How can we believe in a good God when our circumstances are not good and He doesn’t seem to be responding?
What reassuring words in this passage - God has heard your prayer - a promise we all long to hear and know. Maybe you are in a season where you need these words (me too!). But perhaps the greatest comfort here is not that God has finally heard and answered Zechariah’s prayer; it’s that God heard all his prayers all along, and He hears yours.
I saw a quote the other day from speaker and singer Christina Black Gifford, which said, “If you are not anchored in the goodness of God, you will lower your theology to match your pain.” In the depths of our circumstances, we may be tempted to believe that God is not who He says He is, or He’s forgotten us. But what we can learn from this story, and through the entire narrative of Scripture, is that not only is God good and not only does He see us, but He’s better than we can understand. That’s where the great joy and gladness part of this passage comes in - God wants to be your greatest Comforter, Friend and Provider, but we will never experience the fullness of His goodness if we don’t first choose to trust it, with or without an answer to our prayer.
“And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” - Luke 1:16-18 (NLT)
The iPhone era means that you have access to any information you want in your back pocket. No more perpetuating questions about, “Who was that actress in that movie?” or, “What is the correct lyric?” or, “What is the conversion of ounces to cups?” The information age means mystery is scarce.
As a literal angel spells out a glorious prophecy for Zechariah’s child, Zechariah responds with doubt -- how can I be sure? -- and isn’t that so relatable? Most of my prayers are much more out of a desperation for assurance rather than a leaning into the hope and truth I’ve already been offered.
A sermon on prayer I return to often says, “In prayer, we cannot appeal to the mystery, we can only appeal to His goodness” (Bethany Allen, Ask Seek Knock). There is an unbelievable beauty in the fact that God is beyond what we can fathom and sees beyond what we can. But particularly in tension and desperation, all we want is what Zechariah also asks for -- how can I be sure? And the unfortunate reality is simple: we can’t.
What we can do is to turn our attention to what the voice of God has already spoken (like what the angel said here and Zechariah overlooked) and continue to come before Him with all that we have. The world has taught us that trust is built through assurances and certainties, but God gives us the freedom to trust first and abandon our need for control. We are best cared for when the One who has control is the One who actually has all the answers.
Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” - Luke 1:19-20 (NLT)
I took my grandma to my favorite coffee shop a few weeks ago, and it was packed. We worried about finding a seat, and I continually insisted, “It’ll be fine!” and, “The Lord will provide a table,” partially a joke, and partially a reflection of my optimism. (To be fair, we did get a table!)
But true belief is not the same as my insignificant optimism. Belief is the foundation of our faith, from something as broad as “Do I believe Jesus died for me?” to deep down how much we believe about who God says He is, and how true we believe those things to be our relationship specifically. Everything we do and think flows out of what we believe.
As Zechariah struggled to believe even in the presence of an angel, we often struggle to believe despite the goodness we can trace across our lives. And in the same way Zechariah was silent because of his unbelief, we can limit our own faith by our unwillingness to believe boldly. The Lord will accomplish His purposes with or without us, and He will work in us in spite of our struggle; but what a joy and an adventure to have faith that responds with a confident, “Yes!”
Aligning the belief of our hearts with the Word of God means we can be expectant and open to whatever God is doing. When we believe God loves us and hears us, we can also believe He’s working on our behalf and partner with Him in ushering in redemption -- in our lives and in the lives of others.
Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” - Luke 1:24-25 (NLT)
Anyone else terrible at asking for help? This is partially because I genuinely believe I can do things for myself, and partially because I’m stubborn or don’t want to be burdensome. It happens often at work that I’m trying to carry too much at once and someone is quick to step in (either because they see me struggling or I’ve already dropped something).
We are quick to do the same with our big, impossible struggles. I often hear people say, “That’s how it is,” or “I’ll struggle with this for the rest of my life,” in reference to their heaviest hurts -- depression, anxiety, addiction, chronic illness, and the list goes on. And I’m sure you could find yours in it; the thing the world has told you is impossible and will go forever untouched by the grace and redemption of a healing Father.
True, we live in a fallen world, and there are some things we won’t see the full restoration this side of heaven. But here is Elizabeth, pregnant with a child long after the time when it was any kind of humanly possible. And just as God heard her impossible prayer and responded, she responds with gratitude and praise; a reminder that He is kind.
If we know God hears us, and we know He’s kind, shouldn’t we also know He can do the impossible? Which means nothing is out of the question, and there’s nothing He doesn’t want to heal.
The reality of a broken world doesn’t mean the Lord’s heart isn’t for healing and wholeness, here and now. Throughout Scripture we see the impossible and we are told to ask (Matthew 7:7), so why wouldn’t we bring our most impossible prayers to Him? Both for our sake and that of the hurting around us, knowing God hears us ultimately means we can and should bring our impossible prayers before the Father -- not because our solution is guaranteed, but because we serve a God capable of doing the impossible and looking to bring Heaven to Earth.