With the entrance of a new year (2018) I wanted to share a fresh insight into those prayers you don’t pray anymore…those prayers that have long been pushed under the carpet because you’ve prayed them for so long without seeing any answer to them. We all have them, well, at least I do. We have certain subconscious time limits to most of our prayers (if we’re honest) and when time has expired, we don’t ask about it anymore. Who would keep on asking for something year after year if it’s gone unanswered? We start praying about some things full of faith that God can and will do what is impossible for us to accomplish. Time has a way of erasing our faith when there’s no answer, or, when things actually get worse and it seems like God has turned His back on our request, our desires, and our needs. Don’t run off now – just keep reading to see His grace in action…
The account of Zechariah in Luke one isn’t something that gets preached about very often. After Luke did all his research and wrote down everything he found out about Jesus’ life on earth, he began his account with an event in the life of a priest named Zechariah, who became the father of John the Baptist. Here is the first part of his story in Luke 1:5-17.
“During the reign of King Herod the Great over Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah who served in the temple as part of the priestly order of Abijah. His wife, Elizabeth, was also from a family of priests, being a direct descendant of Aaron. They were both lovers of God, living virtuously and following the commandments of the Lord fully. But they were childless since Elizabeth was barren, and now they both were quite old. One day, while Zechariah’s priestly order was on duty and he was serving as priest, it happened by the casting of lots (according to the custom of the priesthood) that the honor fell upon Zechariah to enter into the Holy Place and burn incense before the Lord. A large crowd of worshipers had gathered to pray outside the temple at the hour when incense was being offered. All at once an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing just to the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was startled and overwhelmed with fear. But the angel reassured him, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God is showing grace to you. For I have come to tell you that your prayer for a child has been answered. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son and you are to name him John. His birth will bring you much joy and gladness. Many will rejoice because of him. He will be one of the great ones in the sight of God. He will drink no wine or strong drink, but he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even while still in his mother’s womb. And he will persuade many in Israel to convert and turn back to the Lord their God. He will go before the Lord as a forerunner, with the same power and anointing as Elijah the prophet. He will be instrumental in turning the hearts of the fathers in tenderness back to their children and the hearts of the disobedient back to the wisdom of their righteous fathers. And he will prepare a united people who are ready for the Lord’s appearing.”
Without going into all the background of the temple and what the priests did in the temple (which would make for a very long post) I want to highlight that Elizabeth and Zechariah were “quite old” and most likely past the childbearing age. Of course, that should remind you of Abraham and Sarah. God has a way of making things very impossible so that the miracle is nothing of our own doing, but totally His grace in action on our behalf! But here’s the sentence that spoke to me: “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God is showing grace to you. For I have come to tell you that your prayer for a child has been answered.” And the footnote to the word “prayer” is amazing: The Greek verb allows for a possible translation of “prayer you don’t even pray anymore.” Here were Zechariah and Elizabeth, too old to have children, and I would venture to say, had not prayed for a child in a long time. But here is Gabriel, sent right from God Himself, to tell them their prayer – that they had not prayed in a long time – was answered! It wasn’t “going to be answered” but it “was answered!” In God’s mind it was already done and it was done long after this couple had ceased asking for it. In fact, maybe God answered it the very first time they had prayed for a child. That is exactly what I call “God is showing grace to you.”
Of course there is a lot that happens in this story after Zechariah doubts Gabriel’s word, but even in the midst of his doubts (and come on, who wouldn’t doubt after their prayers had not been answered for a long time!) God still fulfilled the word that his prayer had been answered. We might conclude that God punished Zechariah for his doubts, but even though he couldn’t speak for a year, it might have been a gift from God in the long run. That way there could be no boasting that he made it happen. I’m sure God spoke to him a lot during the silent 9 months. Anyhow, that’s not the main point of what I share.
The focus is, that God never turns us away. God never throws our prayers out the window of heaven. He is faithful to His word. And, it’s ok to stop praying for some things after a long time has gone by. God isn’t out to test us beyond our limits. He knows we’re dust. He understands that time has a way of wearing us down. Besides, if we believe He hears us, then we don’t need to pray the same thing year after year. It can be a huge sign of trusting the Lord to just leave it with Him for safe keeping and leave the time frame for the answer with Him as well. 1 John 5:14-15 says it this way: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”
So trust Him with all of your heart in those matters that you have given up asking for. Allow Him room into those unanswered prayers and believe that sometime, He certainly, surely, will answer them! And when the answer comes, it’s ok if you are surprised by it. He knows our frame and our weaknesses. When it does arrive, receive it gratefully, with open arms, knowing that He heard you way back when you first asked Him about your desire. He never forgets and He is always faithful!