Posted by Danielle DuRant on April 1, 2006
There are stories that shape our lives for a season or, in hindsight, frame them for the future. They speak to us from where we are, or especially, from where we wish to be. The stories of Scripture are rooted in history and some come readily to mind: of Joseph, Daniel, Mary. Their lives provide perspective and their prayers nourish trust. They bespeak a sovereign God who does not forget his people: He is at work in us wherever we may be and everything that we have is a gift from Him. So then, as writer Robert Benson suggests regarding the journey of prayer, “Progress, if such a practical term can be used, is not measured by the amount of ground that is covered; it is measured by the amount of attention that is paid. We must pay attention to the seasons that surround us and we must live the season in which we find ourselves.” 1
Over the past couple of years I’ve found myself drawn to the story of Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, which Luke records in the first chapter of his Gospel. You will recall that Elizabeth was barren and they were both well advanced in years. However, unlike Abraham and Sarah—and even Simeon—as far as we know, Zechariah and Elizabeth had not been given any promise of a child. They were living in a period of silence, as some Bible scholars call it: It had been over 400 years since God had spoken of a coming Redeemer and his forerunner through the prophet Malachi.
Moreover, though year after year Zechariah served in the temple, the lots always fell to someone else to perform the evening offering of incense—a once in a lifetime privilege. Who knew how many times the lots overlooked him? Nevertheless, Zechariah and Elizabeth held onto God and did not forget his words; as Luke tells us, “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (1:6).
“God is the author and source of all the good that you have had already,” theologian J.I. Packer reminds us, “and all the good that you hope for in the future. This is the fundamental philosophy of Christian prayer. The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgement of helplessness and dependence. When we are on our knees, we know that it is not we who control the world; it is not in our power, therefore, to supply our needs by our own independent efforts; every good thing that we desire for ourselves and for others must be sought from God, and will come, if it comes at all, as a gift from His hands.” 2
“O LORD, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 141:1, 2
How many decadeshad the prayer been uttered? Only to be met with
silence. How many decadeshad the lots been cast? Only to fall to someone else.
“O LORD, assuage this longing.”
Did hope expire like hot breath, when passion dried, with the passing of time forgotten? Did prayer taste like ashes smoldering bringing tears to the eyes? Yet when one evening cast its shadows and lots, it did fall to you once to burn before the Lorda sweet aroma. Did the prayer rise up in your throat or fear descend like smoke choking you?
And how many moments before the angel appeared? Only to whisper into your startled silence.
“Do not be afraid. Your prayer has been heard.”
In a breatha fragrant offering descends:“Your wife will bear you a son.”
Suddenly,a rush of air—the weight of longing—burning your lungs.
Zechariah.In gaspingdid you believehe was speaking to
someone elseor had you forgottenyour name?
“The LORD remembers.”
Zechariah’s name means “The LORD remembers.” And He did.
Danielle DuRant is research assistant at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
1 J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 11.
2 Robert Benson, Living Prayer (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998), 59.