Once in a lifetime.
We say it often, but Zechariah experienced it for real.
By tradition and because there were so many Levitical priests, many priests never had a chance to go into the Temple to serve. If they did get the chance…it was the chance of a lifetime. Such a great honor and rare privilege. (Luke 1:8-10)
Here was Zechariah’s chance.
His one opportunity in life to go into the holy place and make offering to God for the people. I imagine he was so very excited and more than a little scared.
But I have always wondered…did Zechariah have any lingering doubts or nagging disappointments when he stood at The Curtain?
You see, he was about to go into the immediate presence of the God to whom he had prayed one prayer all of his adult life.
He would be face-to-face with the God who had never answered that prayer.
A lifelong, passionate prayer for the single thing he and his wife Elizabeth wanted most in all the world.
It had been such a long time. They certainly had a myriad of painful questions.
- Does God hear us?
- What are we doing wrong?
- Why no answer when we want this so much?
- Who will carry on our legacy?
- Is this all there is after all these years?
I don’t know, perhaps he had settled all this in his heart. But I doubt it. Remember, he had given up hope of that dream ever coming true even to the extent of not being able to believe an angel.
So he went into the greatest day of his life, living the most significant moment he would ever experience with a very heavy heart. A sadness of soul.
The sorrow was deep. Elizabeth wore the pitiable moniker “barren”. Zechariah himself had no one to carry on his family name.
And their biggest doubts came as this realization set it: they were incapable of being the answer to their own prayers.
It had become a God-sized problem.
Over the years discouragement had given way to despair and disillusionment. They simply could no longer hope for the answer to their deepest prayer. (Luke 1:7)
But one thing they did not do was stop asking. Expecting may have been too difficult…but asking was not.
And then it happened. The angel of God interrupted his prayers at the altar of incense and Zechariah heard something he could never have anticipated.
After all these years God’s answer to that prayer was going to be beyond their wildest dreams.
They would have a son even at their advanced years. They would name him John. He would be their “joy and delight”. But he would be so much more than that.
The Angel told them John would be a world-changer; a precedent-setter; a destiny-shaper; a hope-restorer. His impact and influence would literally tune the ears of a nation to hear the voice of God.
The Forerunner getting the world ready for the Son of God. The voice in the desert making a path for Messiah. A pioneer blazing a trail for the Savior. (Luke 1:13-17)
Jesus later called him “the friend of the bridegroom” and said that “none greater than John” had ever lived before him (John 3:29; Matthew 11:11). In the pantheon of Jewish heroes, John the Baptizer would take the highest seat.
All Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for was a child. What they got was exponentially more than they had prayed for.
An epic answer to a simple prayer.
Part of the Message of Advent is that God is full of surprises and radically enjoys dumping them in the laps of those who least expect it.
Old priests. Isolated shepherds. Weary stargazers. And simple teenage lovers who never knew history would bend around their baby.
Here is the hope.
First, when we pray we are heard. Period. The answer may seem so slow to come as to make us think we are being ignored.
But God never misses a prayer. Not one.
Second, when we pray for things to happen in our lives that will extend the Kingdom and increase His work, we will see answers that exceed our prayers. These answers will even span coming generations.
Sometimes it may feel like the prayers we pray are too small or so personal that they matter only to us. But they are much bigger than we know.
When God answers those prayers, He does so with compassion for what you prayed but with vision that exceeds your expectations.
- You are praying for your wayward son because you want him home. God wants more–He wants to bring Him home a history-maker.
- You are praying for a new job or promotion because you really need a little more money at home. God wants more–He wants to put you in a place of influence where you can impact the homes of many families.
- You are praying to get into that university because they have the best program for your major. God wants more–to place you in a circumstance that will set the rest of your life on a course you couldn’t have dreamed up.
- You are praying just to be free of that life-controlling addiction that has plagued you for years? God wants more–to empower you in freedom to become a freedom-fighter rescuing others even more desperately bound.
- You are praying for healing for that loved one battling disease that seems to be draining their very lives. God wants more–to bring that person out with a stronger faith and deeper character that carries more of the fragrance of Jesus.
Our prayers are good…sometimes great.
But those prayers are never big enough for the God who always does “Immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
Just because it has seemed too long doesn’t mean you are asking too much.
In fact, the waiting may make you ready for the answer that will be bigger than your dream.
With God’s bigger idea waiting in the wings, the long era of silence when Elizabeth felt barren and Zechariah felt beaten turned out to be the season in which they were being prepared to handle an answer that was bigger than their prayers.
Our greatest obstacle to receiving God’s bigger answer to our prayers may well be our response to the season of delays. God really wants to use those to stretch and shape us to be able to handle the size and scope of His “Yes”.
Faithfulness to a dream is not wrong.
Even if you never see the answer to your prayer in your lifetime–and because of their ages Zechariah and Elizabeth likely never saw John come into his destiny–it doesn’t mean your prayers were in vain. They may be answered in future generations.
It was written of the nameless men and women in Hebrews’ hall of faith who were jeered, flogged, sawed in two and destitute, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” (Heb 11:39)
They held on. They never stopped praying. And they believed the promise would come. Maybe not in their day, but it would come.
And come it did.
So weary friend, pray on. Pray boldly. Pray wildly. Pray expectantly.
Know that every prayer is heard by God’s ear. The promise is real and the answer is on the way.
And that answer will be more than you ever prayed for.