Though Zechariah and Elizabeth were well along in years, the angel says his prayer had been heard. No doubt the couple prayed for a son when it made sense to pray for one—but all those years later?
A few years ago I prayed for a son. I’m not sure that it made sense praying to that end—I was 41. Emma Kate, the younger of our girls, was about 2 at the time, and I believed that we were “done.” We put in five hard years of miscarriages and indecision before God led us to adopt. Our family was indeed complete.
But I was not.
Still, I was in part unaware of my feelings about having a biological child until the doctor tossed out the word hysterectomy. He only meant to inform me of my options—I might endure endometriosis until I completed the change, but if not, I could always go under the knife and have my womanhood removed. No big deal.
I was not prepared to hear those words. At all. He left the room and I burst into tears. Where was this coming from?
I’d always held out the possibility of getting pregnant again. I just did my best to pretend it was something I didn’t need to do. The results of our genetic testing a few years before had shown that biological children were certainly possible; in fact, according to the genetics counselor, we should only miscarry one pregnancy in five.
So we prayed. Maybe we were praying when it no longer made sense to do so. I was labeled advanced maternal age, high risk, and I’d already lost six or seven babies at this point.
I prayed very specifically, very boldly, for a healthy son who would not carry the chromosome translocation that increased our chances of miscarriage.
But it didn’t make sense. It was unlikely that God would give me the answer I wanted.
Was this Zechariah’s prayer? Was he hoping that God would act on their behalf and take away his wife’s disgrace? If so, how strange that he doubts the angel’s news! Zechariah’s reaction to Gabriel begins a pattern that is repeated throughout the gospels. People will see something supernatural right before their very eyes but will not receive its message nor recognize the identity of the Christ. Ritual religion does not help you detect the movement of God. Looking eagerly for Him helps you recognize Him.
The answer to Zechariah’s prayer is unified with God’s purpose.
He will be a joy and delight to you . . . Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.” Luke 1:14, 17
That purpose is always to engage in meaningful relationships with people—not just in ritual religion–to turn them from their sin, to discover the value of eternal life in Christ Jesus.
And—for Zechariah—did this begin with a prayer that he never expected the Lord to answer?
When I prayed for a son, I miscarried, but that doesn’t mean the prayer wasn’t answered. Maybe, if I peel back the layers of the last few years, I’ll see clearly the Lord’s purpose. Maybe it was to engage in a more meaningful—less ritualistic—relationship with me. Maybe it was part of the greater work of preparing the Beasleys to be on mission–leaving what is comfortable and leaping into situations where we have to depend on HIm. Maybe it was simply to prompt me to pray more and more unlikely prayers—and ask boldly—so that I might better see that His purpose is for my good and His glory.
Always pray boldly, even the prayers we think He is unlikely to answer. His answers–the ones we hope for and the ones we don’t–are unified with His purpose.
When He speaks, it is so often not the words I want to hear, but I can always be sure that that they bear His purpose. He always draws me closer so that I am engaged more deeply in my relationship with Him. As He answers each prayer, He prompts me all the more to turn from my sin, to submit to His authority, and in doing those things I discover the value of the life I’ve found in Christ. He brings the supernatural right to my doorstep, and I look all the more eagerly for Him–not just for the answers to my prayers.
Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace. Luke 1:78-79