11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
I want to focus on the angel’s announcement to Zechariah that his prayer has been heard. From what the angel says next, we know that he was referring to the prayer for a child.
What is striking in this announcement is God’s sense of timing. We’ve already been told that Zechariah and Elizabeth were old. When did they start praying for a child? How many years had it been? Had they given up and stopped praying, deciding that because of their age, there wasn’t going to be a positive answer?
God has promised to hear our prayers and to answer them. But He doesn’t promise when or how. Our prayer relationship is built on faith in the Lord’s promises and this is the chief promise regarding prayer, that the Lord will indeed answer. What’s hard is keeping the faith when His answer seems delayed or not forthcoming at all.
I like the quote from pastor and author Tim Keller: “We can be sure our prayers are answered precisely in the way we would want them to be answered if we knew everything God knows.” The truth is that we cannot see our lives and the lives our life touches from God’s perspective. But He calls us to trust that He is always acting for His glory and our good.
We see that here. The answer to Zechariah’s prayer certainly came many years after Zechariah wanted it to be answered. But the answer when it came was beyond anything Zechariah could have imagined. The angel points out that the son, John (which means “The Lord has shown favor”), would be set apart even before birth for the task of preparing for the Messiah. The comment about coming in “the spirit and power of Elijah” was a clear signal that John was to be the Messiah’s forbearer.
God does not promise that all of the answers to our prayers will be so extravagantly beyond what we can imagine. But He does promise to answer, and He has provided in Jesus Christ the promise of the resurrection and the New Creation where all the longings of this present broken world will be answered and healed.
So what does this mean for us today? Continue to pray, trusting that the Lord is hearing and in His time and wisdom, He will answer.
Lord, bless me with faith and patience in my prayer life, that I may trust in your goodness while I wait for your answer.
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