Long-Unanswered Prayer (Luke 1:5-25)
Some prayers are barely out of our lips and the answer comes. I remember perching atop our aged chestnut gelding one snowy day, thinking we’d go for a walk around the neighbourhood. We had hardly left the yard when old ‘Fair-O’ was spooked by something: perhaps it was a car speeding by, a dog barking, or a garbage can too close to the roadside. In any event, my mount was feeling skittish and began to sidestep toward the snow-covered ditch. In a flash I envisioned him slipping into the meter-deep trench crushing me beneath his heavy sides, flailing hooves bruising my soft tissues.
“O God, help…” I breathed. And like a frame on a filmstrip the danger was past. We were back on steady hooves and solid ground as if it had never happened.
Some prayers, though, seem to fall on deaf ears. They hound us for years, never fully leaving our conscious minds, pleas for help that seem to go unanswered. The story of the first Christmas begins with such a tale; a story of long-unanswered prayer.
The pungent aroma rising from incense tickles the nose of the grey-bearded priest. Lit by the centuries-old oil-burning lampstand, the enclosed space is pungent with the history of God’s presence. Beyond the cedar walls the old man hears the assembled worshipers beginning to pray that God would be present to accept the offering. Zechariah, lying prostrate on the ground in prayer, suddenly sees a pair of feet before him. He lifts his eyes in speechless wonder. This is no natural man standing before him. With a shudder he squeezes his eyes shut. Perhaps the stinging incense has caused him to see visions.
“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard” the angel explains. Yes, the Lord hears the corporate prayers of His people, thinks the old man; the incense is acceptable.
“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name Jochanan (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.”
What? His wife become pregnant? Her aged body finally bearing the fruit they had longed for all these many years? Impossible! And yet, Yahweh remembers. Zechariah’s own name, given to him by his father, is a testament to that. Yahweh is gracious. Could it be? Is the long-unanswered prayer finally becoming a reality?
Emerging from the Holy Place, Zechariah looks wonderingly at the assembly of praying people. They are awaiting the ritual blessing he, the priest, is to voice. But he is speechless. He has heard the pronouncement of God. The prayer of an old man is finally to be answered and it will be far greater than he ever imagined in his wildest dreams. God’s timing will dovetail the birth of this child with the birth of another Child, the Messiah. Jochanan will prepare these people for Immanuel.
Like Zechariah, we praying folk sometimes become jaded with certain of our prayers. We’ve prayed them so long we no longer imagine them answerable. Yet God’s ways take everything into account and bring answers at just the right time, in just the right way; His time, and His way. Let’s trust Him for that. Let’s receive what He plans for us with hearts open in wonder. The season of God’s answers always follow the season of our prayers.