I’ve been thinking a great deal about prayer lately. God has graciously answered many requests over the years. He has moved hearts, provided for needs, and heard cries that words could not express. Yes, God has been gracious and we are so thankful. And still we pray.
This past week my reading schedule brought me to the Gospel of Luke. In chapter one we are introduced to a man named Zechariah. He and his wife Elizabeth were said to be righteous before God, and yet Elizabeth was barren. She could not have children.
Zechariah was a priest. He was among those who would enter the Lord’s temple to burn incense. While he was performing his service to God one day within the temple, something remarkable took place. Luke 1:11-13 (ESV) records the event in this way:
There appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
The John spoken of came to be known as John the Baptist. Miraculously, John was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah in their old age. The account of his birth and ministry are important elements in the Gospel of Luke. I’ve read this account numerous times. What drew my attention the most this time was the Angel’s words when he said, “Your prayer has been heard.”
It seems evident that Elizabeth and Zechariah’s prayer lives were dominated by the fact that they could not have children. I say this because the Angel said, “Your prayer has been heard.” Certainly this righteous couple would have prayed for other needs over the years. And yet, the Angel did not sense the need to say, “Your prayer about having a child has been heard.” The Angel simply referred to “your prayer” and then stated what would happen as a result of this prayer. It seems clear that to have a child was the deepest cry from the hearts of Elizabeth and Zechariah for much of their adult lives. This is why Zechariah would immediately know the prayer to which the Angel was referring.
In Luke 3:1-6 John is identified as the one who fulfilled the prophetic words spoken by Isaiah hundreds of years before. This makes it clear that God had intended all along for Elizabeth and Zechariah to give birth to John. They may have sensed this deep within their spirits for many years and wondered how it could be that they did not have a child yet since they were now elderly. It’s of interest to note that God is not limited by our lack of understanding.
This encounter with God’s word made me think about the requests that I regularly bring to the Lord in prayer. If an Angel were to say to me, “Your prayer has been heard,” would I know the prayer to which he was referring? This is not difficult to answer. I would know immediately, just as Zechariah knew.
I bring many requests to the Lord in prayer. I do so with a heart full of thanks that through Jesus I am assured that God hears me and will answer. He may answer yes, no, or not at this time, yet I know that he will answer. Among my many requests, two have been dominant for years.
My primary prayer request concerns the first commandment. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:35-38 that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, etc. In other words, we are to love God with all that we are and above all else. My dominant prayer is for this to be the case for myself and for those I most dearly love. Nothing else could be more important. No need for security, resources, or anything else compares. This is the case because our eternity with God depends on this, as does our intimacy with God as we walk this earth.
My secondary prayer request focuses on the second commandment. In Matthew 22:39 Jesus says that the second great commandment is that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. To me this means placing the needs of others before our own, and wanting the best for them.
For several years I’ve sensed that the Lord has been developing a vision and burden within my heart. It concerns helping to prepare Christ followers for the very difficult times to come. It’s my sense that the Church, especially in the West, is not prepared for the persecution that I and others have witnessed in other nations. In His grace, God has shown us things and taught us lessons that I sense can benefit the Church today and for the coming challenges.
There is a small group of Christ followers with whom I have shared this vision and burden. As I did so, they have shared that the Lord has placed a very similar burden on their own hearts. The remarkable thing is that the gifts and experiences of these individuals complement my own for this vision. It is as if the Lord has been sharpening a group of Christ followers for decades to serve in this way.
My “second commandment” prayer, then, has focused on God providing the financial resources, land, facilities, and additional team members necessary for us to develop and operate a center for training, research, development, innovation, and support that will enable us to fulfill the vision we sense God has placed within our hearts. The fact is, since we don’t have the resources necessary, it will take a miracle for this to become a reality. This may seem impossible, and yet God opened the womb of Elizabeth in her advanced years in order for John to be born.
We know that if what we sense in our hearts is truly from God and represents his will, that he can provide all we need. My dominant “secondary” prayer for years has focused on God providing in his perfect timing.
What about you? If an Angel said to you, “Your prayer has been heard,” would you know the prayer to which he was referring? Is there something that has been dominant in your prayer life for years? If so, we pray with you that God would hear and grant your prayer if it is in his will to do so. And we pray that both you and we will have patience, trusting that God’s timing is far better than our own.
There’s little doubt that Elizabeth and Zechariah would have preferred to have given birth to John in their younger days. And yet, God knew the perfect moment. God knew that John would be born several months before Jesus, and that John would play a very important role in the ministry of our Lord and Savior. May God grant that we will have the faith to trust him in all things. After all, God loves the Church and all those we hold most dear even more than we do. Please hear our prayers, Oh Lord, and answer in the way and in the time that is pleasing to you. Amen.