The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.” Luke 1:13
Have you prayed for something for so long that you finally gave up? I confess that I have, but I’m so thankful that God remembers, long after my hope has faded. We learn from the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth that God indeed hears our prayers and answers – but not always in the way or the time that we expect. Their story is found in Luke 1:5-15 – take a few minutes to read this, I’ll wait right here for you.
This godly couple were said to be “upright in the sight of God” (v. 6), they were faithful and obedient in every way. Why, then, did God withhold the one thing that they desired – a child? Children were one of God’s greatest blessing to a Jewish family. Psalm 127:5 says “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of [children].” Shouldn’t they, who were upright before God, have more blessings than anyone else? We look at this from our human perspective and say “This is not fair,” but God has another perspective, a perfect and purposeful vantage point to this whole situation – one that would fulfill prophecy and bring Him glory.
I am sure that Zechariah, like Isaac may years before “prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren” (Genesis 25:21). Doubtless they both prayed, and their families likely prayed, but to no avail. After many, many prayers over many, many years, it seems they accepted reality and adjusted their expectations to what would never be. They ceased praying for a child, because after all, “they were both well along in years” (Luke 1:7). I mean, logically, isn’t there a time to give up on wishes and get on with life as it is?
Ah, but God had heard those prayers, and He was about to turn their lives joyfully upside down! Zechariah was about the have the wildest meeting of his life.
In accordance to the Lord’s command, incense was offered morning and evening and the priestly ranks was so large that a priest could only make this offering once in his lifetime. Lots were cast to determine who would be so privileged, but most priests never got the chance. On this particular day, Zechariah “was chosen by lot”. But he was not there by “chance.” Consider what Provers 16:33 says: “The lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” His presence in the temple was less about the incense and more about what God wanted to do for him. The old priest was there because, in His perfect order of time, God had answered an old, forgotten prayer for a child.
I wonder if, when the angel spoke the words of our key verse, Zechariah thought, “What prayer?” It had been so long, and they were “well along in years,” “surely,” he might have said to himself, “he can’t mean that prayer.” But that was indeed the prayer that the Lord had set in motion. At this one moment in time, on the cusp of the greatest event in history, God was saying “Yes!” to this simple couple’s heartfelt prayer – their lives – and the world would never be the same.
My friend, God hears your prayers. He hears with the heart of a Father who loves you deeply, and He hears with the power of a God who can move heaven and earth to answer you. Does that mean that every prayer we utter is a “Yes” from God? No – and that is a hard thing to hear when your heart aches before Him. For reasons we are not always privy to, God sometimes says “No,” or “Not yet.” But it is always spoken from that Father-heart that wants only the best for His child. God does not withhold from us anything that is for our good according to His purpose in our lives, He is more than generous in His good gifts. But when He must say “No,” He reveals that to us, so we do not have to pine and agonize over that which cannot be. I know this to be true from very personal experience.
Is there something for which you have prayed for a very long time? Is there a prayer that you once presented fervently in daily petition to God? If you do not have a clear word from Him to lay that prayer down, then do not give up. Don’t assume that God has forgotten about you and that prayer. Keep your hope and trust in Him alive and remember that He is faithful and loving and always working for your good and His glory. Who knows when an angel of the Lord will greet you and say, “Your prayer has been heard!”
Holy, faithful, loving Father – You have heard the prayers of your children, and You keep them before you, to answer in Your perfect time, according to Your perfect plan. In fact, the only thing about your children that You ever forget is our sin. Help us keep our eyes on You and wait for Your “Yes.” Amen.
 Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2012), 1061-2.