Have you ever had God answer a prayer you prayed for a long time?
Have you ever had God answer a prayer in a surprising way?
My wife and I recently celebrated the birth of our second son, Jack. We named him after my grandfather. As I hold baby Jack and rock him to sleep, I find myself grateful for all of the family in my life. I’m part of a long history. So are you. And in that history, God answers prayer.
In Luke 1, you get a hint of it. After years of marriage, Elizabeth and Zechariah still had no children. For some mysterious and uncontrollable reason, they weren’t able to get pregnant. So they prayed.
Longing for New Life: An Old, Old Story
This was not a new situation in biblical history. In fact, it’s an old, old story. Hannah wanted to have a kid but couldn’t for many years. So did Rachel and Rebekah and Sarah.
Even further back in Scripture, in Genesis 3, we read that one consequence of sin breaking into our world is that women experience pain in childbearing. It’s painful to bring new life into the world.
I wonder sometimes if this pain doesn’t extend beyond the physical act of giving birth to a baby. There’s pain in moving to a new city and starting new relationships. There’s pain in starting a new ministry at your church.
But there’s another kind of pain, this pain that we see in Luke 1. Our hearts ache when we want to see new life but don’t.
Have you experienced this? You plant a church in a new town but the ground is hard and no one seems interested. You volunteer to lead a small group but no one shows up. You want to see a family member experience new life in Christ but they continue to live spiritually dead.
This is the pain in Luke 1. Elizabeth and Zechariah want to have a child but can’t. So they pray. So often, pain prompts us to pray.
I’m familiar with this pain. For years, my wife and I wanted to have a child. As year after year passed and friend after friend had kids, we felt like we were being left behind. We felt longing. We felt confusion.
And God answered our prayers, even as he answered the prayers of Rachel and Rebekah and Sarah and Hannah, and the prayers of Elizabeth and Zechariah. New life entered the world.
Zechariah and Elizabeth named their son John. Over the years, he would become a prophet, a voice in the desert crying out “Prepare the way for the Lord.”
God heard their prayer and answered. But he went even further.
Answered Prayer and Then Some
Soon after he sent a child to Elizabeth, who deeply wanted one, he also sent a child to Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, who wasn’t looking to get pregnant. A single woman, engaged to be married, Mary probably didn’t consider her pregnancy to be an answer to prayer. I imagine Mary flipping through her journal, looking for the prayer that must have mistakenly given God the impression that she wanted a baby right then.
And yet, even as Elizabeth’s pregnancy was an answer to prayer, Mary’s pregnancy was too. The whole world, burdened by sin, groaned in pain, longing for salvation, longing for the Lord to rescue us, longing for the Lord to come for us. That longing and groaning rose to God as a prayer.
And God answered—in a surprising way. Mary found herself pregnant. And, in the fullness of time, Jesus—new life—entered our world.
I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, from the western Chicago suburbs six weeks ago based on a strong sense of God’s leading. I didn’t get an angel or nine months of planning like Mary did—both of which would have been nice.
In this month of Advent, our thoughts usually turn to Jesus and Mary. Yet lately I’ve found that I’m more drawn to Elizabeth. Perhaps it’s because I’m older. Or maybe it’s because I know what it’s like to yearn for something and then to see days, months, years pass without having that yearning fulfilled.