Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear. But 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 give him the name John.’ Luke 1:11-13 NIV*
Four hundred. Four hundred years of silence. That’s how long it had been since Israel had heard from God. Now, there had been plenty of noise to fill that space. The noise of war, of political unrest, of static from the mundane gray of life. The rhythms of Jewish religion continued year after year, feast after feast, offering after burnt offering. But still…the quiet. It was in this context that Zechariah, an aging priest, enters the temple to offer incense and prayers to a seemingly silent God. I wonder what went through his mind. What would go through your mind? I would imagine Zechariah might have felt he was throwing out one more prayer into the dark. Sure, he believed in God, assumed that God would hear. But I wonder if He expected anything to happen that day. Do we?
It’s been 2000 years since Jesus Christ walked the earth. We’re surrounded by the noises of war, by political unrest, by static from the mundane gray of life. Many of us gather in churches week to week to sing songs and listen to sermons. Maybe we crack open our Bibles and say prayers when we hear of tragedy. But what do we expect? Do we honestly expect God to show up, or are we like Zechariah, throwing up prayers into a perceived silence? Does our relationship with God feel like an actual relationship or like tossing pennies into a wishing well?
But what if God talked back? How would we respond? Here’s what Zechariah said:
How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years. The angel answered, ‘I am Gabriel I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. And 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 proper time. Luke 1:18-20 NIV*
In the midst of priestly ritual, God talks back! God interrupts, Zechariah doubts. Ironically, God responds to Zechariah’s unbelief by making him silent.
Expectations affect our hearing. If we don’t expect anything from God, we’ll likely miss what He’s saying or respond with unbelief. It’s not that God won’t speak if our hearts aren’t in the right place; it’s that we won’t discern well. But if we believe God responds to those who seek Him, we’ll be listening for His still small voice in every situation and find it.
Why does God say, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart?”* I believe it takes our full attention to hear Him. This involves a sense of expectancy.
So what are you expecting from God this Christmas Season? What’s occupying your mind? What follows are several devotional activities designed to help you wrestle through the discipline of expectancy.
- Go to a drive thru restaurant. As you talk into the intercom, pay attention to the posture of your heart. Do you expect to hear back from the person taking your order? Do you expect to receive what you ask for? What does it feel like to have that kind of confidence in hearing? Do you feel the same way when you pray? Why or why not?
- Think back to a memory of a time you felt ignored or overlooked? How did it feel? How did you respond? Are there any coping mechanisms you have developed as a result of that experience?
- Have you ever felt ignored by God? How has that affected what you expect from Him in prayer? In a quiet place ask Him where He was in that time, paying attention to the thoughts/feelings that come to mind. Jot them down and share them with someone you trust.
- Ask God what He’s inviting you into this holiday season. Write it down! Ask Him for the ability to trust.
Check back tomorrow for my own creative reflection on this story. Ben
Written by Ben Sadler, © 2015 Benjamin Sadler, All Rights Reserved.
*THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.