I expect too much of Zechariah, I suppose. Even though sometimes I struggle with prayer fatigue, I don’t want to give him that same benefit. He was a priest, after all—shouldn’t he have led the way in faith? When we meet him in Luke 1, he is in the Holy Place offering incense to God—a once-in-a-lifetime honor for any priest. If God were ever going to show up, wouldn’t it be here, wouldn’t it be now?
Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a son for years. They were righteous and blameless before God. So why was Zechariah so surprised when God broke in? When Gabriel announced the answer to Zechariah’s prayers, why was Zechariah skeptical?
The text doesn’t tell us why Zechariah struggled to believe, but I think I know. I think he assumed his prayers had passed their expiration date. He’d prayed for decades, yet month after month after month there was no answer. Elizabeth could not conceive. And now they were both old. There was no son to carry on his priestly line. Instead of joy and fullness, there were disappointment, shame, and myriad unanswered questions. Obviously (it seemed) God wasn’t going to answer. Those prayers must have passed their expiration date.
I’ve been there. I haven’t prayed nearly as long as Zechariah did—but repeated disappointment still has a way of wearing me down. There’s one prayer in particular that I’ve prayed for a few years now. I pray and pray and wait and wait, but nothing seems to be happening. Meanwhile, people around me give joyful accounts of how God is answering their prayers—the same kinds of prayers I’m praying without seeing results. I’m happy for them—truly I am—but I can’t help but wonder why God seems to respond to them but not to me.
The temptation for me, then, is to try to protect myself from being let down again. I don’t want to expect too much, only to be disappointed. So I pray with less passion, less faith, less anticipation. Eventually I just pray less—at least on that particular topic.
But you don’t have to read far in the Bible to see that God operates on a different time table than I do. Story after story shows Him answering prayers years, decades, sometimes even centuries after people expected He would. Some of those prayers will wait to be answered when Jesus returns. But just because the wait sometimes is long does not mean that the prayers have expired.
So, this Advent season, Zechariah encourages me to keep at it. God hears me. He is never late. My prayers have not expired. My job is to keep praying, watching, and hoping. When the time is right, He will come through.