Earlier this week I started reading the Gospel of Luke again. Chapter one describes how the birth of John the Baptist came about. John’s parents were Zechariah and Elizabeth. However, as the scene opens, Zechariah and Elizabeth are “very old” and childless “because Elizabeth was not able to conceive.” (Luke 1:7)
One day, Zechariah was fulfilling his priestly duties in the temple when an angel appeared to him. What struck me about this story is what 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)
You probably know the rest of this story, how Zechariah balked at the angel’s announcement in view of their old age. I’m sure Zechariah thought, “You’re a little late in answering our prayers!” The context gives every indication that for many years Zechariah and Elizabeth had longed for children, and so they had prayed probably daily for many years. But why is this prayer being answered just now when it seems so late in life?
The answer to that question reveals the amazing sovereign working of God and should encourage each of us as we too pray for God’s working in our lives.
Galatians 4:4 explains, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” (NKJV) “When the fullness of the time had come,” or, “when the set time had fully come, God sent forth His Son.” Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son John would be the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah. John’s birth and ministry had been foretold by the prophets Isaiah and Malachi.
But there was so much more to God’s intricate plan. He waited for Mary this young virgin who would willingly submit herself to bear the shame of pregnancy out of wedlock and give birth to Jesus the Messiah. Then, there was her betrothed, Joseph, who was willing to obey God and take Mary as his wife despite what others might say or think.
But there was more… “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register.” (Luke 2:1, 3) God used Caesar to help bring about His sovereign plan. And because Joseph and Mary were both descendants of King David, they left Nazareth and traveled to Bethlehem (the city of David), where Jesus was born. This too had been foretold by the prophet Micah.
I could go on and on citing all the elements of the amazing details surrounding the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, but I want to come back to the angel’s pronouncement to Zachariah, “Your prayers have been heard.”
I can imagine that over the years while Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed so often and so faithfully for a child, they probably often wondered, “Lord, why don’t You answer us? Why don’t You give us a child?” Such a response is only human.
I can also imagine that most of us have prayed for someone or something—a request that is good and honorable and unselfish—but God has not yet answered our prayer. About 25 years ago, my wife Linda and I experienced such an occurrence in the small group we were leading.
One of the couples in our small group, Randy and Debbie, had been praying for a child for the past seven years just like Zechariah and Elizabeth had been doing. Randy and Debbie had been to various doctors and had tried many remedies, but to no avail. When they had joined our group about a year before, they shared their request with us and week after week we too joined in prayer as a group for this couple that God would give them a child. But there was still no pregnancy and no child.
A year later, we had just finished studying another book of the Bible and decided to study the Gospel of Luke. I’ll never forget that first night together as we read Luke chapter 1. I had just read the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah, “Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” And I distinctly heard the Holy Spirit say to me, “I want to do this for Randy and Debbie as well.”
This prompting from the Holy Spirit was so vivid, so real, that I stopped reading and looked up startled. But when I looked into the eyes of everyone else in the group, I knew that the Spirit had told them the same thing. I confirmed that with our group and said, “Let’s pray right now for Randy and Debbie.”
So, with the confirmation of the Holy Spirit, we bowed in prayer asking God to fulfill in them what He had done so long ago for Zechariah and Elizabeth. A few weeks later, Randy and Debbie came to our small group beaming with joy and told us she was pregnant! They now have two lovely daughters.
I had often wondered back then why the Lord had delayed in answering their prayers for seven long years. But I realized that because of the way He answered prayer that night, there was absolutely no doubt in any of our minds that this was the hand of God. God did this. He answered their prayer “in the fullness of time.” To God be the glory!
Over a year ago, the Lord put it on my heart to pray that He would help me mobilize and equip one million disciple-makers through my little book, The Simplicity of Disciple-Making And 7 Ways We’ve Complicated It! To date, 4,851 have stepped up to disciple others—still a long way from a million. But I’m going to keep praying and believing every day that God is going to do this “in the fullness of time.”
What is it you are praying for? Don’t give up; keep praying and trusting God that “in the fulness of time,” He will bring it about. And by the way, God is never late!
“Pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)