If you haven’t watched the body of someone you love lowered into the ground while holding your breath and praying, praying, praying that somehow, some way this isn’t real then maybe you can’t imagine what it feels like not to be spared.
Me? It doesn’t take but a single breath to go from “everything is alright” to “my world is shattered”. I feel every. single. death. added to the tally coronavirus or mass shooting or tornado destruction leaves behind.
So what do we do if we aren’t rescued? What do we cling to if our family isn’t spared?
What if all the prayers lifted on behalf of ones I love don’t stop death from claiming them?
When Jesus entered Jerusalem He was hailed as a hero. But when He didn’t perform as expected He was cast aside.
Will I choose to believe even when it’s hard?
So what if I’m not rescued?
What if my family isn’t spared?
What if all the faithful prayers lifted on behalf of ones I love don’t stop death from claiming them?
Will I still believe?
Will I still trust that God is a loving Father who is in control and working all things together for His glory and my good?
If you have lived a blessed life where the greatest challenge to your faith has been disappointment and not destruction then I am so, so happy for you. Really.
Some of us have dragged our broken hearts through the church doors out of habit with little hope we might find the genuine comfort we need to survive inside.
Because experience taught us that while it is perfectly acceptable to raise a hand and ask for prayer one or two weeks in a row, it better not become a predictable pattern. Patience with unsolvable and messy ongoing situations runs thin as leaders turn the discussion toward “victory in Jesus”.
But that isn’t what Christ came for-not that we don’t have ultimate and even some temporal victory through Him.
He came for the broken and breathless. He came in the flesh because our flesh is weak and life is hard and bad things happen.
We’ve got to do a better job welcoming and ministering to hurting hearts.
We have to.
I am a shepherd. My goats and sheep depend on me for food, for guidance and for their security.
And every day I am reminded that a shepherd’s heart is revealed by the way he or she cares for the weakest and most vulnerable of the flock.
But most of us are far removed from the daily reminder of pastoral life that was commonly accessible to the authors and readers of the Bible thousands of years ago. So it’s no surprise that we tend to forget the connection between a shepherd’s life and a pastor’s calling.
When I received the news that Dominic would never walk through our door again, I let out an unearthly wail.
Then I had to make phone call after phone call.
And after that I ran out of words.
So while I realize Zechariah’s silence was imposed on him by God, I can imagine how it felt to hold a secret so deep and yet not be able to speak it aloud for others to hear and share.
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is too old to give me a child. What sign can you give me to prove this will happen?”
19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel.[I stand beside God himself. He has sent me to announce to you this good news. 20 But now, since you did not believe my words, you will be stricken silent and unable to speak[until the day my words have been fulfilled at their appointed time and a child is born to you. That will be your sign!”
21 Meanwhile, the crowds outside kept expecting him to come out. They were amazed over Zechariah’s delay, wondering what could have happened inside the sanctuary. 22 When he finally did come out, he tried to talk, but he couldn’t speak a word, and they realized from his gestures that he had seen a vision while in the Holy Place. 23 He remained mute as he finished his days of priestly ministry in the temple and then went back to his own home. 24 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for the next five months. 25 She said with joy, “See how kind it is of God to gaze upon me and take away the disgrace of my barrenness!”
Luke 1: 18-25 TPT
I feel Zechariah’s pain!
He and Elizabeth had undoubtedly prayed the same prayer for decades so maybe he not only questioned what Gabriel told him, he may have questioned his own senses and sanity. That’s not in the text, but I can imagine he might have.
Before he could stop himself he blurted out that the words were all well and good but a sign would be something he could hold onto for assurance.
Gabriel told him, in essence, that if his own presence was not enough to validate the promise, Zechariah wasn’t getting the sign he hoped for but he’d get another sign-one he wished he hadn’t asked for.
It’s natural for human hearts to long for something they can hold in their hands to act as guarantee of God’s promises. We are creatures of the earth and we live by our five senses.
Our Heavenly Father knows I am frail and made of dust. He doesn’t despise me. But He does insist that I walk by faith, trusting in His character, His love and His promises. He doesn’t supply me with signs and miracles as proof to soothe my doubts and fears.
But He doesn’t.
Instead I have the testimony of the Holy Spirit to my spirit. Leading me into all truth and helping me hold fast to hope.
If you are raising prayers or your heart to the Lord today, anxious for Him to show you that He’s listening, be still and let His Spirit speak to yours.
It won’t be an audible voice, but it will be unmistakable.
He’s still in the business of answering His children.
Have you ever prayed long for something? If your prayer was eventually answered did it shock you?
Sometimes silence seems the most holy response when I’ve spent time in God’s Presence. Can you remember a moment when what the Lord revealed to you felt too precious or too impossible to share with others?
What do you think Elizabeth’s response might have been when Zechariah came out and couldn’t speak? Do you think she had a clue what had happened?
Do you believe God answers prayer? Why or why not?
You are my Maker. You know I am frail and prone to doubt. It’s especially hard for my heart to trust when it feels like prayers I’ve prayed for nearly my whole life have gone unanswered-or answered in a most painful way instead of the way I wanted them to be.
I confess, it’d be wonderful to have some sort of sign I could see with my own eyes, turn over in my hand and tuck in my pocket as a reminder of Your sovereignty. But that’s not how You work in the world.
You have given me Your Spirit and Your Word and that is enough. Help me believe that it’s enough-more than enough-to guide my heart through this Valley. You hold me fast even when my grip loosens and threatens to give way.
Thank You for Your Presence. Thank You for your Promises. Thank You for the privilege of lifting my hands and heart to You in prayer.
We left Zechariah yesterday just stepping up to the Altar of Incense.
I like to put myself in the story and imagine him slightly trembling at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to creep closer than all but a handful of Israelites to the Holy Presence of God Almighty.
Perhaps he was already a little afraid.
Maybe his heart was racing and his palms sweaty. He most certainly recognized the privilege and responsibility as he offered the fragrant smoke and many prayers.
And how like a human heart to hand up its desires in the midst of corporate pleas for mercy, justice and grace!
But it seems Zechariah didn’t expect an answer. Certainly not the one he received.
11 All at once an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing just to the right of the altar of incense.
12 Zechariah was startled and overwhelmed with fear. 13 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[c] for a child has been answered. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son and you are to name him John. 14 His birth will bring you much joy and gladness. Many will rejoice because of him. 15 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. 16 And he will persuade many in Israel to convert and turn back to the Lord their God. 17 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[f] who are ready for the Lord’s appearing.”
Luke 1: 11-17 TPT
I can imagine the years and years Zechariah and Elizabeth fell asleep praying God would grant them a child. I can just picture Elizabeth outside in the Temple courtyard adding her longing and hoping, hoping, hoping Zechariah would dare to bring their personal plea before the Most Holy God.
The angel not only promised Zechariah a child, he promised him a childOFpromise-one whose birth had been foretold. This would be no ordinary son. He was to be the forerunner and path-maker for the Christ!
No wonder Zechariah had a few questions.
I’ve had questions too.
Prayer after child loss has been hard for me.
Before Dom ran ahead to Heaven, I was a seriously praying woman. I kept prayer journals, wrote individual prayer cards for people I loved and knew and was a fervent believer in God’s faithful answers-even if they were long in coming. I had personally experienced the power of earnest prayer to make way in the heavenlies.
I never asked for a life of ease, only life and the grace to greet each day.
So when one of my most oft-repeated and (what I felt was very basic) prayers went unanswered, it shook me to the core. Why was my son not kept safe?
It’s taken a long time for my heart to rest again in what seem like straightforward promises of Scripture and to venture tentatively toward the Throne of Grace expecting any favors.
God does answer.
But like Zechariah, long years of waiting and disappointment have made me more than a little surprised when He does.
Do you pray? Why or why not?
Do you expect God to answer when you pray? (Not audibly but through circumstances, people, His word.)
How has loss changed your prayer life (if it has changed it)?
How do you feel when it feels like God doesn’t hear your heart?
Have you ever waited long only to be surprised by God’s ultimate intervention or answer to your prayer?
What are you longing for that you need to bring before the Throne of Grace today?
Does Zechariah’s story encourage you?
Lord, You are the Most High God. You know the beginning from the end and hold time in Your hands.
It is so, so hard for me to wait patiently for answers. And, frankly, some of the answers are not blessings but heartache.
I’m wary about bringing my requests to You because while I know You have the power to grant them, You also have the power to delay or deny them. So I am sometimes surprised when You answer. I’m often amazed at how You weave together the ordinary with the extraordinary and how Your eternal plans are always being worked out.
Help my heart lean in and take hold of Your hand. Help me trust in Your unfailing love and abundant grace. And give me bold courage to step forward with open hands, bringing my requests to You, resting in the fact that whether the answer is “yes”, “no” or “wait” it is for my ultimate good and Your glory.
Today’s verses may seem an odd choice as a stand-alone source for an Advent devotional.
But when you dig a little deeper, they are a beautiful affirmation of how God used ordinary people to bring about His extraordinary purposes.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were two humble and obedient Jews living their lives according to the Law. As a priest, Zechariah was responsible to serve in the Temple two weeks of every year. He’d been faithfully doing his duty for years. Elizabeth had done hers too.
But they were fruitless. Elizabeth was barren. And barren women (in those days) were considered cursed.
And then something amazing happened.
Zechariah, chosen by lot, seemingly random, is given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn incense before the Lord. A sacred trust, a holy encounter representing the prayers of all Israel and especially those positioned outside in the temple courtyard.
“5 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. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.”
Luke 1: 5-10 NIV
We will stop here for today although I’m sure most of you know where our story is going.
I’m glad to take things a little slow. Because when I race through verses full of detail I tend to miss important insights. And there are several in these words that help my heart.
Doing my daily duty can be pretty boring.
Living a life of faithful obedience sometimes becomes a burden. And when obedience doesn’t lead to blessing but perhaps even to pain I can lose heart.
Luke reminds me that being precisely where God wants me to be doing exactly what He’s called me to do may lead to unimagined and unanticipated blessing.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had no idea that their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem would change everything.
But it did.
And that was just the beginning.
Do you ever tire of daily routine, regular responsibility? Does this passage challenge that attitude?
Scripture teaches that God is in control even when it seems like chance rules. Is that a comforting thought? Why or why not?
Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story echoes that of Abraham and Sarah. An old couple, past the age of childbearing whom God blesses with not just any child but a child of promise. How does their story once again that God is the God of the impossible and improbable?
Prayer is likened to incense throughout the Bible. I sometimes like to light a scented candle in the still dark early morning hours when I talk to God. Do you have any physical representations that help your heart connect with the Father?
I admit it-sometimes I’m just flat out tired of doing what’s expected of me. Dishes and laundry and ordinary work are dull and hardly rewarding. Obedience takes self-control. I’m not always interested in being who I ought to be especially when I feel like maybe there’s no upside to sacrificing fun for duty.
Even worse, I feel cheated when I’ve been a “good girl” and still not received the desire of my heart. In fact, the desire of my heart has been snatched away.
Help me feel Your Presence speaking courage and strength to my soul when I grow weary of doing well. Help me show up every time and everywhere You want me to be. Let the truth that there is no better place to be than in the center of Your will sink deep into my spirit.
You have a plan and You work through perfectly ordinary people to bring it to life. Who knows? It might be me doing my daily duty that impacts eternity. Thank You for inviting me to be part of the Eternal Story.
All words that can describe a heart once the dishes are washed and the celebration ended.
Some of y’all probably woke up thinking, “I did pretty good on Mother’s Day” only to be blindsided by the tears you managed to hide and the grief you managed to stuff.
That’s OK. It happens.
If you are struggling to open your eyes to a new day or face this week, I want to pray for you-I want to pray for us:
You have made me and I am yours.
Sometimes I don’t feel You but I trust You haven’t abandoned me. You care for me with the tender heart of a mother for her children so I know you are here. You are a good, good Father and Your loving kindness is eternal.
My heart wants to run and hide.
Tired of carrying this load, tired of pretending it’s not all that heavy, tired of trying to put the scattered pieces of a broken life back together.
Help me lean into the truth that I don’t have to do any of that alone. Help me let go of the things I have no control over and to place them into your hands. Help me adjust my expectations and my attitude.
Give me sufficient grace for this moment, this hour, this day. Pour your love into my spirit and strengthen me with your courage. Make me brave. Be my Light and my Life.
It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to take the mask off and let the feelings fall.