A Hope Delayed Is Not A Prayer Denied
In 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. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:5-7)
Disappointments may rob us of our dreams, and even make us doubt that God hears our prayers. But He does hear you, and love you.
Luke described Zechariah and Elizabeth as “righteous”. He also elaborated that they observed “all the Lord’s commands and decrees” and for emphasis, added “blamelessly”. We would have gotten the point if he had simply stopped at “both of them were righteous”. But Luke drove his point home: Zechariah and Elizabeth were awesome!
It is very encouraging when we see great examples like them in church. Whether they’re couples like Zechariah and Elizabeth, or individuals like Paul, they are shining role models in their personal righteousness, devotion to God and sacrificial hearts. They bring joy to the people around them, but quite often, their own joy may be incomplete, missing that one element that would have completed an ideal picture. For Zechariah and Elizabeth, it was their childlessness. For others, it may be their financial situation, a sickness, a child who refuses Christ, or something else that affects them whenever they think about it. It doesn’t stop them from loving God, but it is a hope denied, a sore spot that still hurts a little whenever it is touched.
One day, Zechariah was “chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (Luke 1:9). There were many different kinds of priestly duties, and this was considered to be the greatest privilege. With an estimated 20,000 priests during the time of Jesus, the opportunity to do that was extremely rare. While Zechariah was performing his duty, an angel appeared before him. He was startled by the sight of the angel, and even more surprised by the message the angel brought, “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”. (Luke 1:13)
Zehariah’s reply to the angel showed his faithlessness, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18). The couple had prayed for a child for many years. It was something they had dearly wanted, but it was a hope they had long given up. Zechariah wasn’t about to have his expectations raised again and then see it get dashed.
Haven’t we all felt this way before? We’ve got hopes and dreams that we’ve given up. There are probably some worldly ones that we shouldn’t even have had in the first place. But there are some beautiful dreams we’ve extinguished because we’re afraid of getting let down again. Disappointment hurts, sometimes very badly.
There is a difference between surrendering to God’s will and giving up on a hope because we fear failure. Surrendering to Him brings peace to our hearts and makes us feel complete regardless of our circumstances. But denying a dream because we’re afraid leaves that lingering sore spot that comes back to bug us sometimes. Life goes on, and we can even be pretty awesome, but we live life feeling a little unfulfilled.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had given up hoping for a child, but God had not forgotten their many passionate prayers. A hope delayed is not a prayer denied. In fact, a delay was necessary as God had planned something far greater – their son was to be the herald for the Messiah. A few decades or even just a few years earlier, and Mary the mother of Jesus wouldn’t have reached childbearing age. God had not simply planned to give them a child; He had planned for their son, John the Baptist, to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. That would have been the greatest honour for any devout Jew.
There are times we allow our disappointments to get to us, and we wonder if God hears our prayers. Yes, God hears every single prayer you’ve shyly whispered or desperately shouted. He may give you what you’ve prayed for, or He may in his wisdom grant you something else that is far better. Let’s be confident in the greater plans and blessings that God has in store for us. Never doubt His amazing love.
A hope delayed is not a prayer denied. And it is certainly not love withheld.