Have you ever prayed for someone or something that you knew was God’s will but it didn’t seem like your prayers were being answered? Perhaps you prayed for weeks or months or even years and you saw no outward sign that your prayers were having any effect at all. How did you react to that situation? What’s the right answer, for a prayer than seems unanswered?
I believe that God answers all prayers that are prayed in His will. Sometimes we see the outcome, and if that happens, consider it a blessing and treasure it. But perhaps much more often God uses our prayers and answers them in ways that we will never see on this side of eternity. In this, it is our faithfulness that counts and our continued trust and reliance on God’s perfect will and perfect plan. Even when we can’t see His hand working, we must trust His heart and continue to pray and do what He has asked us to do.
And then there are times when we have all but given up on a prayer but God shows up and answers it in a way that is far above and beyond anything that we could have hoped for or imagined. In the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, Zechariah had such an experience.
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Luke 1:5-7 (NIV)
Luke is setting up the story here and he makes sure to let us know that Zechariah and Elizabeth were good, righteous people but that they were childless (which carried a social stigma and some degree of shame during this time period) and that they were very old. In other words, they were both well past the age at which conception and healthy child birth would have been possible.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 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. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. Luke 1:11-15 (NIV)
And then something amazing happens. As Zechariah is going about his priestly duties an angel appears to him and tells him that not only has his prayer been answered but that God is going to gift them with a son that “will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord”. As we know, Zechariah and Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus and eventually baptized Jesus. To say that God used John the Baptist in a mighty way would be putting it lightly!
But let’s back up for a moment. How long do you suppose that Zechariah had been praying for a child? I think it’s fair to say that this prayer began when he and Elizabeth were married and continued through what would have been the normal child bearing years and it is very likely that this prayer was at least 50 years old. I also believe that Zechariah, being human, had probably not prayed this particular prayer in quite sometime. Even as he never gave up on God he gave up on this particular prayer because he couldn’t imagine how God would answer it so many years later. But answer it, God did, because 50 years and physical limitations are no barriers at all to Him who loves us so!
And don’t you know that Elizabeth and Zechariah rejoiced to have their prayer answered after so many years and marveled at what God had done for them? I believe if you could ask them, they would tell you that it was worth the wait.
I hope you can see that there’s a strong lesson here for all believers. God’s not through yet and He’s not finished with us either. Keep on praying and keep on being faithful and get ready to be amazed. His answer to our prayers will be perfect and will come at exactly the right time.