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Faithful Failures?

Luke 1:5-7
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. (NIVUK)

If God is on our side, why is life littered by unwanted challenges and broken dreams?  Luke introduces Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth as a godly, devout, faithful couple who obeyed the Jewish rules.  They were both descended from Aaron - Zechariah was a priest who served in the temple and any male children would automatically have become priests.  But there was no child. This was not only a great personal sadness for the couple, but also a significant spiritual problem.  This was because God’s creation promise included the birth of children (Genesis 1:27-28).  If there was no child, couples wrongly assumed that God must be displeased and had withheld His blessing.  So, this couple tried as hard as possible to please God, to make up for their apparent spiritual failure.

They did not seem to have faith that Elizabeth might be like Abraham's wife, Sarah, who was also well past the menopause when God gave her a child (Hebrews 11:11).  Or like Isaac who prayed for his barren wife Rebecca and God gave her twins (Genesis 25:21-23).  Or like Jacob’s wife Rachel whose prayers were answered in the birth of Joseph and Benjamin (Genesis 30:22-24); or Hannah whose prayers were answered by the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:9-20).  Or Sampson’s mother who conceived at God’s command (Judges 13:2-3).  

Despite the clear Biblical evidence of God’s intervention in the past, Zechariah and Elizabeth just plodded on with their religious routine but with that constant underlying sadness of disappointed hope.  They were faithful, but failures in their own eyes.  However, the story will turn out very differently as we shall see (Luke 1:57-58).  But for now, the stage is set with 'hopelessness' written all over it.  

There is no doubt that childlessness is a huge personal grief, and for too many there is no miracle to ease the pain - only the enveloping comfort that God gives (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).   When God does miraculously intervene, we may understand His purpose of painful years in preparation.  But during our distress, the unhelpful attitudes of other people and the weariness of internal doubts makes the future look like fog.  Yet for many of us God has not allowed us the luxury of knowing how today's confusion will be resolved, or when His solution will arrive to disarm the fear of impending disaster.  In the following verses we shall see how God led Zechariah and Elizabeth through a roller-coaster experience to a glorious outcome, rather like Paul's praise to God in Ephesians 3:20-21, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."  So even if you cannot see it, or dare not even imagine it, God is powerfully at work behind the scenes.  His plans are always greater than ours, and His power is more than enough to achieve what He plans.  Ask God to help you to trust Him in the crisis you face today, or in the lingering sadness that has dulled you for many years.

Sovereign Lord. Thank You for loving me and knowing how You will lead me into the future so that I will be able to praise You. Forgive me for the times I have either resented the hardships and painful mysteries You have led me through or become dutifully joyless and weak in faith. Please help me to believe that You can fulfil all that You choose to do in me, and through me. Help me to grow in confidence that Your Will shall be done, and that it will be good for me as well as for the glory of Your eternal Kingdom. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams