THE GOD WHO ANSWERS PRAYER
A Quaker, while preaching in the open air, was confronted by a man who mocked the reality of a God who heard and answered prayer. The Quaker paused and asked the troublemaker, "Friend, dost thou pray?" His response was, "No, of course not!" Quite candidly, the Quaker asked, "Then, what dost thou know about it?" To say the least, the scoffer was silenced.
The God of the Bible is "The God Who Answers Prayer!" His great promises concerning prayer throughout the Bible verify that He is definitely involved in this business. An example in the Old Testament is, "Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not" (Jer. 33:3). In the New Testament, Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you" (Matt. 7:7).
This chapter, Luke 1, illustrates the commitment of God to answer prayer. A "priest named Zacharias" (1:5) was ministering in the temple and "there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord" (1:11). Initially, he was very troubled to see the angel. But, the angel said unto him, "Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John" (1:13).
Using the phrase "thy prayer is heard" as our hub emphasis, let's wrap the chapter around this theme and observe the divine operation in this matter. First, we are made aware of:
1. The Guidelines God Sets In Answering Prayer
We know that God does not answer every prayer! And, we also know that we have been blessed that some of our petitions have not been answered. Yet, if our prayer is made within the divine perimeters, or according to the Lord's guidelines, and we do not pray or "ask amiss" (James 4:3), then He does hear and answer prayer.
Three guidelines are evident in the first division (Luke 1:5-17), one being that God answers prayers through:
A. His Own Channels
No doubt, many women in Israel had asked God to give them a baby. To be more specific, many of them had asked God to let them have boy babies to provide them heirs, and, at the same time, in hopes that the child would be the Messiah. Yet, while many remained childless, and many had daughters and no sons, we read that Zacharias was told, "Thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son" (1:13). God chose the channels of Zacharias and Elisabeth to answer prayer and bring forth a special son.
There are divine purposes, and also channels chosen of God as He carries out those purposes. Because God determines these channels, there are times when the believer prays for certain things, and God never grants his or her request. The fact is, God does what He wants to do, and what He pleases to do. He not only chooses the way He will answer prayer, but the people, the channels through which He is pleased to work.
Not only does God answer prayer through His own channels, but in:
B. His Own Time
The Holy Spirit explained that Zacharias and Elisabeth were very old now, being "well stricken in years" (1:7). Zacharias admitted to the angel that he was "an old man" (1:18). Certainly, then, the prayer made for a child was not prayed on that one particular day. But, apparently, in days and years gone by, he and his wife had poured out their souls to God. And, now, at this time in their lives, God was pleased to answer their prayer.
When we are under heavy burdens, we always want God to quickly come to our aid. But, the God of heaven does not work according to our earthly time tables! In His perfect knowledge, He knows what is best! If God chooses to wait to give an answer, so be it! As the great commentator observed, "Prayers of faith are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten, though the thing prayed for is not presently given" (Matthew Henry). Let us never think that our petitions have been in vain. The Lord answers prayer in His own time.
Another guideline in prayer that is divinely established is that the Lord answers prayer according to:
C. His Own Will
Before Zacharias and Elisabeth had ever prayed for a son, God had given him the name "John" (1:13). John's greatness, lifestyle, and enduement had been determined. "For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink, and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb" (1:14, 15). Even the success of his ministry was planned. Not only are we told, "And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God," but we are reminded that it was prophesied that he would come "in the spirit and power of Elias" (1:17).
Behind the ministry of prayer is the great will of God. Long before we pray, His will has been planned. Yet, the Bible teaches that "If we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us" (1 John 5:14). Prayer is not bringing God into our will, but God bringing us into His will! When we really pray in the Holy Ghost, according to the will of God, our will merges with His will in the divine purposes.
2. The Grace God Shows In Answering Prayer
All the operations of God are operations of grace. Every pre-conversion work is of grace! The work of regeneration is by grace! The entire Christian life is a testimony to His grace! When God answers prayer, then, it is not that we have squeezed something out of God, but that God is being gracious and revealing favor to His people.
We see His grace in that He answers our prayers:
A. In Spite Of The Hesitancies
Zacharias was characterized as being "righteous" and "blameless" (1:6). And, God told him his prayer had been heard and would be answered (see 1:13). Yet, Zacharias asked, "Whereby shall I know this?" (1:18). He was hesitant to believe God would answer his prayer. Even after the angel appeared to him, after the prophecies were shared with him, and after the boy's name was revealed to him, Zacharias was doubtful. The Lord answered his prayer in grace and love.
Like Zacharias, many of us are plagued with unbelief even after we receive a word from God. I am persuaded that if God only answered prayers of faith, some of us would never hear from heaven. Thank God that He answers prayers in spite of our hesitancies and unbelief. No! He doesn't answer prayer because of us! He answers prayer in spite of us! May we cry with another desperate soul, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24).
God also shows grace in answering prayers:
B. In Spite Of The Hindrances
The record informs us that Elisabeth was "barren" (1:6), or childless. And, at this point, she was past her child-bearing years. Not only that, but Zacharias was an old man. For them to have a child at this time was beyond human abilities. However, there were no limitations on God. He revealed His grace and supernaturally opened Elisabeth's dead womb, enlivened the couple, and "Elisabeth conceived" (1:24).
Many things seem impossible with man. But with God, "all things are possible" (Mark 10:27). We are limited in so many ways, but God is "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Eph 3:20). In spite of the seemingly insurmountable odds, when we pray according to His will, God will show grace in hearing and answering that prayer.
The grace of God is also displayed in answering prayer:
C. In Spite Of The Hour
In the Old Testament, it was prophesied, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Isa 9:2 ). Of course, this was in reference to the coming of Christ. But, John the Baptist was to be the forerunner of Christ. Because the Light had not yet come, spiritual darkness and deadness prevailed in the hour of John's conception and birth. In spite of the dark hour, the Lord was gracious in answering prayer.
Do we not live in a dark hour? Right is viewed as wrong, and wrong is celebrated as right! Holy matters are mocked and biblical truths are ridiculed. Even in the religious scene, many are bogged down by selfish and worldly endeavors. We certainly do not merit divine blessing, do we? But, thank God, He shows His grace and answers prayer in spite of the dark hour and in spite of the unbecoming circumstances.
Finally, let us look at:
3. The Glory God Shares In Answering Prayer
Grace always leads to glory! This is true in the entire Christian experience. As the notable puritan put it, "The Kingdom of grace is nothing but . . . the beginning of the Kingdom of glory" (Thomas Watson). Another wrote, "Grace and glory differ very little; the one is the seed, the other is the flower" (Thomas Brooks). In this matter of God answering prayer, then, the principles are the same.
In the next division of this chapter, we see the glory of God manifested:
A. In The Family
When Elisabeth gave birth to John, "her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her" (1:58). The family knew that the birth of this child was the fruit of mercy and grace. And, since grace precedes glory, at this time, all the relatives and friends began to praise God for what He had done!
Not only did the family of kin folks rejoice, but when Zacharias confirmed that the boy's name was "John" (1:64), the fear of God "came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea" (1:65). Of course, when God answers prayer, it has an effect on those around us. As He comes to one member's aid, the entire family of faith is encouraged.
The next verses show how all the glory was returned:
B. To The Father
When Zacharias' "mouth was opened . . . he spake, and praised God" (1:64). Then, he was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people" (1:68). The message of the prophecy was really a message of praise (see 1:68-75). Zacharias glorified God for His intervening grace! Unbelief had caused him to be silent for nine months, but now, in faith, He gave God glory!
Thank God for the privilege to experience His glory. However, the primary reason the glory of God is revealed is that God, Himself, may be glorified! The glory comes from God and goes back to Him! "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Thus, the ultimate purpose in the matter of prayer is that God be exalted and praised.
The last few verses indicate that the glory is also:
C. For The Future
Every aspect of God's glory was not revealed in this scene. Included in Zacharias' prophecy was God's plan for the future. For sure, the purposes of God connected back to Abraham's day (see 1:72, 73). But, another day was coming! The glory of God, which would be embodied in Jesus, would be further revealed in the future. John's mission would be to "go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways" (1:76).
What God is doing in His people didn't start yesterday! And, it will not end today! All the eternal God does today is associated with what He did in the past, and what He is doing today is associated with what He has in mind for the future! He works from eternity to eternity, and, in answering prayer, He privileges us to be brought into His purposes!
Recently, during a visit with a dear elderly friend of ours, we were told of the conversion of a seventy-year old man in a Sunday morning worship service in one of the local churches. That, in itself, was a special blessing. But, she also informed us that God allowed that man's ninety-year old mother to be in the service to witness that great event. That dear old mother shouted and rejoiced in what God had done. Our dear friend responded, "Isn't that something, Brother Tom! The Lord let that woman live long enough to see her prayers answered."
While it is true that you and I may not live long enough to see God answer all our prayers, the fact remains the same: God hears and answers prayer! Oh, may we keep on praying! May we continue to seek His face! Somewhere, He will merge our will with His will, and "The God Who Answers Prayer" will be pleased to work in our lives for His glory and His honor. Amen.