Yesterday at my church, the Scripture reading was from Luke 1:5-17.
Something struck me in the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah that I never saw before.
Here’s part of the passage:
When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. 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. While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 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,15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord.”
A few things struck me.
1. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes … yet they did not have the desire of their hearts: a child. (We know that it was a big issue because of #3.)
2. They remained faithful to God despite their own personal disappointment.
3. The one thing they probably wanted most was a child, perhaps specifically a son. The angel said, “God has heard your prayer.” Not prayers, but prayer–singular. The one thing they wanted, that they prayed for for years, probably decades, it appeared they would never have. They were now “too old.”
4. God hears our prayers even when it does not seem like he does … even when he doesn’t answer them.
5. God answers our prayers according to his bigger plan. And that plan is far greater than we can ever think or imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9).
This reminds me of something else I studied recently, in the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. When Lazarus was sick, the sisters sent urgent word to Jesus to come quickly to heal Lazarus. They knew Jesus could heal him.
What did Jesus do? He stayed where he was until he knew Lazarus would be good and dead. And why? Because he loved them. “So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days” (John 11:5). He had something far greater in mind that preventing Lazarus’s death: “He told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe.'”
Jesus had a bigger purpose in mind that simple healing. He wanted to show people who he really was–the Resurrection and the Life! He wanted Martha and Mary (and his other disciples) to believe a much deeper truth, in a much deeper way, than that he could simply prevent Lazarus’s death. They needed to know he could conquer death! Raise someone from the dead!
What prayers are being delayed for you? Can you rest in faith that God hears you, and that he has a bigger, better plan in mind than you can ever imagine? Zechariah, Elizabeth, Marth, Mary, Lazarus, and countless others testify this is so.