Luke 1:5In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But 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. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
21Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
23When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25“The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
I learned recently that the phrase , “your prayer has been heard” (v 13) carries the sense of a prayer that has been let go for a very long time. This could probably read, That prayer you used to pray before you gave up on it…
I relate to that: There are things I have sought the Lord for; then given up on because they haven’t happened. I’m betting you have some of those as well.
In the light of this understanding, Zechariah’s reaction makes perfect sense. It is far too easy to allow doubt, discouragement and unbelief to move in.
The question is, what shall we do with prayers that don’t seem to get answered?
I only have a whisper of insight: Keep on keeping on. One thing Elizabeth and Zechariah did right was to continue in their lives and work. They “were righteous in the sight of God.” (v6) When the Lord’s timing came, he gave them their desire.
I understand with all heartache, quandary and “hope against hope” about fighting that sense that “It’s too late.” Zechariah and Elizabeth certainly struggled with that one. God’s answer: He gave them what they had asked for.
Is it ever too late for God?