What can we learn from a spiritual leader who loses hope after fervent prayer?
More than we can even imagine.
When I began to plan for this short blog series, my aim was to highlight examples of prayer provided by Jesus while He walked the earth. We will get to that. But in the initial verses of the book of Luke prayer is emphasized in the events leading to our Savior’s birth. We’d be wise to examine the fervent prayer of spiritual giants like Zechariah and Mary. We can also learn much from commoners who sought the Lord for miracles and healing.
Hope in God – on Display
Let’s begin with a look at Zechariah and Elizabeth – a barren couple who spent their lives in service to God. Zachariah and Elizabeth, both born from a priestly lineage, lived righteously and blameless before God. They weren’t barren because of something they did or didn’t do. They were barren so that God could display His work through them. (Please see John 9:1-3 and the example of the blind man.)
This is an important point. Our trials are not punishment, and they’re not rejection. They’re part of God’s perfect plan and He will use them for good.
We know this couple had prayed for children – and I’d venture to guess they offered frequent, fervent prayer. With a daughter of my own who struggles with infertility, I know well the fervency and frequency of prayers for children. It’s not a “one and done” sort of prayer, but one that pours forth without ceasing.
Gabriel, the angel who appeared to Zechariah stated words we’ve desperately wished to hear: “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you will name him John.”
Zechariah and Elizabeth were “well along in years” (Luke 1:7 HCSB) and when Zechariah heard the glorious news from Gabriel, he jumped with joy, rushed out and purchased a new car seat and crib for the baby.
No – that’s not how the story goes at all.
When Hope Runs Cold
The fact is, Zechariah doubted and questioned, “How can I know this?”
Gabriel replied (in Cathy’s paraphrase) “Open your eyes! There is an angel standing before you with a Word from God! THAT’s how you can know this, Zechariah.”
The priest and his wife spent years praying to conceive until their days of childbearing had passed. And then, apparently, they gave up.
I can honestly see myself doing the same thing. Zechariah and Elizabeth allowed their hope to run cold, forgetting what God had done for Abraham and Sarah by bringing children in their 90s.
As Pastor Warren Wiesrbe states, “Faith is blessed, but unbelief is judged.”  Indeed, the angel Gabriel decreed a sentence upon Zechariah for his unbelief. (Luke 1:20).
Lessons of Hope
Here are 5 points to ponder as we strive to hold fast to hope:
- God’s timing is perfect, while ours is selfish. He has the full plan in view, while we can only see our own circumstance. The Lord’s ways and thoughts are far above our own. (See Isaiah 55:8-9)
- When we pray, we can trust that God always answers – sometimes yes, sometimes no (especially when we’ve prayed something contrary to His will or character), sometimes wait (even beyond our own lifetimes). Waiting can feel like denial but we must never forget that all things are possible with God. All. Things.
- God’s plan is good. His aim is always for our good and His glory. (See Romans 8:28).
- God wants to display His work. Refer back to John 9:1-3 and also see Jeremiah 29:11-14.
- Like the father who recognized his lack of faith, we too can cry out, “Lord, help my unbelief!” (See Mark 9:14-24).
As we move into a discussion (and I hope there is a lot of engagement in this, especially on our Lord, Teach Us to Pray Facebook Group), please consider the following:
- What prayer(s) do you feel are “unanswered” by the Lord?
- Have you stopped hoping for the answer you seek?
- What is the largest obstacle you face in receiving your answer?
- If you’re honest with yourself before the Lord, are you in a season of unbelief?
- What can you learn from Zechariah and Elizabeth?
- How will this affect your prayer life today?
I heard a true story on the radio several weeks ago. There was a man who was fervent in prayer. Someone asked him, “Is there a prayer for which you still await an answer?”
“Yes,” the man replied. “One. Friends of mind have a wayward son and I’ve prayed for his salvation. But I’m still praying, and God will answer.”
It was later reported that at the funeral for the prayerful man, the wayward son accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.”
Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful – Hebrews 10:23 (HCSB).
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 171). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.