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Believing God's Promises

The topic of intercession is as timely as ever. Praying for others is one of the basic expectations of followers of Christ.
When one stops and thinks of that expression, “followers of Christ,” perhaps there is an image of Jesus walking ahead of us, and we are to walk where He walked, and do what He did. Deviating from the path will only yield bad results. We need to walk as He walked. One of His behaviors when He walked the earth was intercession. The entire chapter of John 17 is devoted to His most famous prayers, and it just so happens that He is praying for His church, including you and Me. Even today, He has not stopped interceding, going to the Father on our behalf. Because Jesus was and is an intercessor, we are to be intercessors.

This study is not to make the case for being involved as an intercessor; the focus here is on the importance of believing God’s promises, and sometimes those promises come in the form of answers to our prayers. Perhaps you have been called to pray for the salvation of a loved one or neighbor, and after years of no results, you are tempted to give up. That temptation is a signal that your intercession for that person should increase, not decrease. It is easy, in such a situation, to lose heart and forget that God can answer your request. But to do that would be to doubt God’s ability to come through.

The first chapter of Luke provides for us a way to compare and contrast two people: one who received God’s promises happily and thankfully, and one who let his doubts about God’s ability to work a miracle keep him from experiencing the pure joy of being the recipient of God’s goodness. We’ll start with the latter:

Luke 1:5

In the days of Herod, the king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, And his wife(‘s) . . . name was Elizabeth. (6) And they were both righteous before God, walking blameless in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. (7)And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren. And both were advanced in their days.

(11)And an angel of the Lord appeared to him . . . (13) But the angel said to him, Do not fear, Zacharias. For your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (14) And you shall have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth. (15) For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall neither drink wine nor strong drink. And he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. (16) And he shall turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. (17) And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Here we see that Zacharias had been praying for a child at some point in his life, but now he and his wife were so old, that it is entirely possible that he had stopped doing so many years before. Still, the expectation was that he would be overjoyed at this news. However, he immediately began to question the truth of this word from the Angel sent by God:
(18) And Zacharias said to the angel, By what shall I know this? For I am old, and my wife is advanced in her days.

Looking for God to prove Himself

In asking “by what shall I know this?,” he was asking for a sign. One would think that seeing an angel was pretty uncommon, and that would be sign enough. Additionally, as a priest, Zacharias knew the Word of God enough to know that God had performed many miracles over the centuries, some much more impressive than this one. God's credentials were well established by this point, and He didn't owe it to Zacharias to perform some small miracle to prove that the larger miracle was to become reality.

What was the first thing the angel said to him? (After the standard “Do not fear,” or course) It was this: “For your prayer is heard.” What an awesome thing to hear from God! Wouldn’t we all want to hear an angel sent by God tell us that He had heard our prayers, and He was about to grant us our request? Each of us has something, or should have, something that we have been praying for for an extended period of time. Perhaps it is for the salvation of a loved one. Maybe the healing of a physical problem. Perhaps you are praying for revival in you church, community, or nation. Wouldn’t you want to hear “For your prayer is heard?”
Zacharias heard it, and asked for a sign. This is a classic example of the sin of unbelief, and that is always a result of a lack of trust in God. In this case, there were consequences: (19) And answering, the angel said to him, I am Gabriel, who stands before God. And I am sent to speak to you and to show you these glad tidings. (20) And behold, you shall be silent and not able to speak until the day that these things shall be performed, because you did not believe my words which shall be fulfilled in their time.

As it turns out, Zacharias does not speak again for 5 months. He is allowed to utter praise to God just after John’s birth.

On the other hand . . .

In contrast, there was a young girl named Mary, who also was told about a miracle birth. You know the story; it is spelled out for us just a few verses after the account of the birth of John. To summarize it, the same angel appears to Mary, and says “Blessed are you among women.” Let’s take it from there:

Luke 1:30-34

(30) And the angel said to her, Do not fear, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (31) And behold! You shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name JESUS. (32) He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God shall give Him the throne of His father David. (33) And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end. (34) Then Mary said to the angel, How shall this be, since I do not know a man?

This may look like she was arguing, but that was not the case. She most certainly was not asking for some sort of proof, like Zacharias did. She simply wanted to know how it was going to happen. In our intercession, there is nothing wrong with wondering how God will come through.

In contrast to Zacharias, Mary accepts the Word of God as told to her by Gabriel, and she proceeds to have the perfect reaction: a prayer that has rarely, if ever, been matched in its simple beauty.

(38) And Mary said, Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word. And the angel departed from her.
(46-55)
And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He looked on the humiliation of His slave woman. For, behold, from now on all generations shall count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has worked power with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.
He has put down rulers from their seats and exalted the lowly,
He has filled the hungry with good things, and He has sent away the rich empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.

The above passage, Mary’s prayer, encompasses the kind of praise, adoration, and reverence which is due God. With this as our model, is it not easy to see how pitiful it was of Zacharias to question God and ask for proof?

How does this apply to us?

Have you made requests known to the Lord? Is there something or someone for which you have interceded for a long time, with seemingly unsatisfactory results? It is entirely possible that God placed that burden on your heart to pray, but His answer has to come in His time, not ours. If Elizabeth and Zacharias had had John when they were younger, he would not have been the right age to prepare the way for the arrival of the ministry of Jesus. We have to trust Him.
The ultimate moral of this story, then, is that we are to trust in God, never doubting Him, and accept His answer to our prayers without losing faith in Him. His plan is always the best plan; His timing is always the best timing.

In your case, if you are not seeing the answers to prayer that you would like to see, I urge you to look into several possibilities:

1. Are you praying for something that is God’s will? We can’t always tell the answer to this question, but God does place burdens on our hearts, and we must be faithful to pray for these things.
2. Are you praying as God wants you to? Perhaps you are praying once a week for something for which daily prayer is required. Perhaps fasting is necessary. Remember that in Matthew 6:16 and 6:17, Jesus says “When you fast,” not “If you fast.”
3. Have you asked other Christians to share your prayer burden? This is as good an example for the need to get involved in a home group as one could need.

It is very possible, of course, that you are doing nothing wrong; that you need to just keep praying persistently and consistently. And when you have God's answer staring you in the face, be more like Mary than like Zacaharias!

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