And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. – Luke 1:6-7
Although they loved and served God, Zacharias and Elizabeth wrestled quietly with years of personal sorrow, grieving over their inability to have a child. Have you ever had this thought: “If God really loved me, then He should…”? Doubt is a dark seed that can bear the bitter fruit of disappointment. Do you struggle with doubts about God or His love for you?
Zacharias was a godly man who had desired a child for many years. In spite of the social disgrace associated with barrenness, he and his wife continued to walk faithfully with the Lord. I believe that he dealt with questions concerning the Lord’s care for him. He kept the rules and did all of the right things, but God did not grant him the privilege of parenthood. However, during a once-in-a-lifetime experience of leading prayer in the Jerusalem Temple, Zacharias had a stunning encounter with an angel. He was a key figure in the stories surrounding the birth of God’s Son in Bethlehem. The Christmas Revolution was coming!
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” – Luke 1:13-18
The angel told Zacharias that his prayer had been heard. What prayer? The prayer for a son. He was still praying for a child! Elizabeth was past the years of normal childbearing, so was he expressing faith and hope in a miracle? It doesn’t appear to be so. It seems more likely that over the years, the heart-felt petitions had become empty, unthinking, and routine repetitions. We can surmise this because Zacharias did not believe the angel’s birth announcement concerning John. Zacharias was a dedicated man going through the motions of faith.
It happens to many in church. In too many pews around the world, believers have allowed faith to become the sum of their religious activities and routines. Prayers become empty. Songs are sung without feeling. Activities are performed without the engagement of the heart. Jaded by life’s disappointments, those times when it seems God does not “come through,” there are Christians who become convinced that God is not listening. In too many pulpits, there are pastors who rarely exercise personal faith, preoccupied with a numbing staccato of religious activities and routines. Possessing little or no capacity to believe, these dear ones are saying the words… singing the songs… praying the prayers… living a life, but on the inside they are running on “empty.” Their hearts are disengaged.
Like Zacharias, they need a word from God. Sometimes in our efforts to hear God, we forget that God has already spoken to us in the Bible. In the face of disorienting questions, the Scripture alone will provide the emotional and intellectual handles to grasp all available truth about my experience. Although Scripture may not provide an answer to every question I have, it is in the Bible that I will find sufficient insight to calm the troubled waters of my soul. God speaks to us through the Scripture. It is not the only way He speaks, but it is an immediate source of truth and life that He wants you to explore. His written Word will help you discern and evaluate every other “Word” you will ever receive from God.
After the miraculous conception and birth of his son John (the Baptist), Zacharias became a mighty fountain of biblical truth! In a heartfelt eruption of realization and insight, he says God was acting in our lives “to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:74-75)
God had never stopped caring for Zacharias or His people. Zacharias came to see that God really does hear us when we cry out to Him. God will deliver us. Circumstances may be confusing and hurtful, but our experience in the midst of those circumstances doesn’t have to be that way. Zacharias learned to be fully engaged with the Father in every remaining moment of his life. Never again would he follow God out of habit or routine. He was going all the way for God! We are not called to a lifeless and joy-less existence. No enemy of the human soul will succeed. The Lord will rescue His people. We can truly “serve Him without fear.”
Disappointment grows in the gap that lies between my expectations of God and my experience of God. If you don’t see God acting on your timetable, it does not mean He has failed to act or hear you. Guard your heart! The angel’s announcement to Zacharias means that great blessing belongs to the person who does not trip over his unfulfilled expectations of how God is going to do something. Never let go of God’s promises—but hang loosely to your expectations… God’s fulfillment of His promises may be very different from what you expect! In the meantime, you can’t start rejoicing right now in the mighty acts of God on your behalf. There’s no need to wait.
Overcoming disappointment with an anticipatory joy and a patient faith… this is where each of us finds our own pathway into the Christmas Revolution!