Ushering in a new thing is hard work. Immense amounts of character and integrity are required to steward well the advent of anything worthwhile—especially if it doesn’t take off right away or according to our expectations and/or hopes. There is a certain painful grind we struggle with in our feelings and thoughts whenever we end up having to hang out in the day or decades of small beginnings.
When Christ was born the world was changed, but His Advent was not easy for some of the people involved. Take Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, for example. She gave birth to John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord. Elizabeth was sort of a forerunner to the forerunner. Yet for most of her life she was just a lady who wanted to have kids, but couldn’t; now she was beyond child bearing years. In her day, this was a REALLY BIG DEAL. Without kids, you literally felt as though part of your purpose in life had been missed, and that you and your family would be forgotten. On top of this, childlessness was a major social stigma, and Elizabeth lived out this reality daily for decades.
Her life’s dreams were crushed dead, hopeless, forever gone, and this happened to her in spite of living faithfully, even blamelessly (1) before God as the wife of a priest. To avoid bitterness and depression or even coldness toward God would be a challenge to say the least, and few hearts sustain such a grueling trial.
Then you have Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, in worse shape that his wife. From the Scripture narrative, it appears his hope was so far gone he couldn’t believe a miracle even when it was happening in front of his eyes.
The day of his visitation, Zechariah was performing his ordinary duty in the temple. There was nothing unusual or extraordinary about the circumstances that would have made him expect a significant encounter with an emissary of Heaven that day: he’d been doing this work for a long time. Zechariah had gone inside to burn incense (symbolic of prayer) and to offer prayers. Outside, people were gathered for prayer. Sometimes prayers go on like this for many years without apparent answers, or any sign that anyone is listening. But this detail was included for a reason: God Himself is listening, and He hears the persistent ones who cry out to Him.
As a result, the archangel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah. Though this man had been praying and serving God his whole life, he was still terrified at the sight of this tremendous, holy figure before him. The angel told Zechariah to not be afraid and that his prayers had not only been heard, but that they were finally going to be answered. In fact, not only were they going to be answered, they were going to be answered in incredible fashion! Zechariah and Elizabeth were going to have a son who was going to help the nation get ready for the coming Lord. They were the forerunners to the forerunner of the Messiah! As a priestly family wanting kids, this was like a double whammy—a twofer! This should have been moment where Zechariah leapt for joy.
But sometimes it can be hard to maintain belief in what God is going to do, especially after years and years and YEARS of waiting on Him, and this is what happened to Zechariah. After being told he was going to have a kid, and about all the wonderful things his kid, John the Baptist, was going to do, Zechariah’s response was “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (2)
It pains me to read those words. Zechariah had a glorious angel standing RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF HIM, but his heart still couldn’t bear to deal with any more disappointment. Somewhere along the road he had closed off his heart to ever hoping again he could have kids, and now there was this angel, challenging Zechariah’s beliefs about his own life and what was possible through his God.
Thankfully the story ends happily. Zechariah and Elizabeth welcomed John the Baptist into the world, and he would go on to fulfill his purpose in life, making “ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (3)
With all my heart I want to be used as powerfully as Zechariah and Elizabeth were—to change the world (even if the outcome of my life, on paper, looks like something as “unremarkable” as doing a good job with my kids). I want to be part of a move of God Himself: not of marketing or hype, not of a flash-in-the-pan ministry, but a move of God. If God moves through those other things so be it, but the bottom line is, I want God and not some semblance of Him to affect the lives of those around me for generations to come.
Belief in God therefore, and sustaining it, is of the utmost importance for this—if we’ve lost it or are losing it, we must ask God to restore it and preserve it even while doing all in our power to fight for it and regain it. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the streams of life.” (4)
If you and I are blessed to be at the front end of the front end of a new thing God is doing, should we not consider ourselves highly favored to be in the vanguard of His mighty army? We must not let fruitlessness now sink our hope or belief in God; our current situation is in no way a prophecy of where we will go or what we will become. “Indeed, none who wait for You shall be put to shame…” (5) “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving,” (6) trusting that the Lord will raise us up, renew our strength and work the wonders for our sake and His glory.