If you read tales from the mission field you will hear of answered prayers again and again. Whether it’s a miraculous provision of food or supplies, protection from hostile inhabitants of the land, or dreams and visions for those the missionaries are trying to reach, God answers prayers and amazing things happen. Many of us could share stories of answered prayers – some of them small and insignificant to anyone but ourselves, others major answers to prayer that are life changing or even lifesaving. As followers of Christ, we have every reason to believe in the power of God and that God hears and answers our prayers.
We read of amazing answers to prayers for ancient Israel in the Bible. The people of Israel had every reason to believe in God’s power and that He heard and answered prayer. A member of the priestly class should surely believe in the power of prayer and a priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had been praying for a long time that she might bear a child. Perhaps by this stage in their lives, their prayers were more of a lament, wondering why God had never sent them a child, but they had prayed. Then, on a day when Zechariah was chosen to make the offering of incense to God, he got an answer when an angel came in and scared the daylights out of him. After the obligatory “don’t be afraid” comments, the angel spoke again. “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.” (Luke 1:13)
Answered prayer is always amazing, isn’t it? We know that God can answer, but when He actually does, we all seem a bit surprised. Zechariah was no exception – especially in light of both of their advanced ages and what would normally be physical impossibility. He let the angel know his feelings. To paraphrase, he looked at the angel and said, “Are you out of your mind? We’re both way too old for that!” The angel didn’t take to kindly to that kind of rebuke and Zechariah was struck mute until John was born. It was interesting that the neighbors and relatives wanted to call the boy “Zechariah.” I could be wrong, but I believe Jewish tradition was to name a child after a dead relative not something like Zechariah, Jr. Zechariah, however, responded in faith to the angel’s pronouncement and indicated that they should call the young lad “John.” He was immediately rewarded with the ability to speak again.
The problem with descriptions of God acting in life is that many people think that those actions are what’s normal for God. If God doesn’t react the same way when everyone shows disbelief, then it must not be that bad. Mary asked the angel the same question when she was told she would bear Jesus: “How can this be?” The different circumstances made the angel respond differently. (One circumstance being that Mary was not yet praying to have a child, being unmarried and all.) God deals with each of us and our prayers in different ways. Sometimes we don’t get the answer we want. Sometimes we get an answer that is exactly opposite to our desires. In all of these situations, God knows what He’s doing and He works in us to help us understand. Ultimately, our responsibility is to acknowledge God’s hand in the process and submit to His will. Mary responded by noting that she was the Lord’s servant, perhaps wondering if Joseph would carry through with the wedding. Zechariah ultimately responded with faith and received his voice back. As God answers our prayers, for better or (in our minds) for worse, may we always recognize that we are His servants to do His will.
O Lord, hear and answer our prayers. Even more, help us to be ready to accept Your answers with faith and live as Your servants.