And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time. – Luke 1:18-20
Zechariah had been going about his ordinary priestly duties when a heavenly being interrupted his tasks with unbelievable news: Zechariah’s elderly wife would bear a son! This child would grow up to be John the Baptist, the unusual prophet God used to prepare hearts and minds for the message and person of Jesus Christ. Father Wael recently presented this story to an attentive group of Christ-followers in Iraq.
What Zechariah Teaches Us about God’s Voice
First, Father Wael explained that fear can affect our ability to recognize and interpret God’s voice in our lives.
Zechariah was understandably terrified at the appearance of an angel. He needed the reassurance of “do not fear”. It is not wrong to be afraid. However, our fears can sometimes cause us to suppress God’s voice.
We might think to ourselves . . .
God couldn’t really be asking me to invite my grumpy neighbor over for Christmas dinner. He already said that he likes to be left alone.
God doesn’t really want me to be a foster parent. I have my own kids to take care of. It would be too much.
God can’t be wanting me to move. I just got settled in this city! I have a good job and a stable income.
But God has a long track record of calling His people towards the impossible; even the undesirable. Consider Abraham, who left home and family forever towards an unknown promised land (Genesis 12:1). Or the Apostle Peter, who had to lay aside his judgments and pride to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10). We forget that God is a Father who wants to give us good gifts, and that everything He asks us to do, He will equip us for. His strength, after all, is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). That does not mean our lives will be filled with ease and comfort. Just ask any of our persecuted siblings in Christ we serve in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, or Egypt! Still, the reward for listening to and following God’s voice in spite of our fears is worth it.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. – Philippians 3:8
Second, Father Wael noted that even though we may have doubts, we can still choose to be obedient to God’s voice.
It can be tempting to let doubts interfere with our actions in detrimental ways. The negative impact of doubt is not always obvious. When we doubt God will provide us with the right words to others to proclaim His faithfulness in our lives, we don’t get struck by a bolt of lightning. Our doubts perhaps most of all, rob us of joy. We may not understand how God will provide or equip us, but we can still choose to trust in His power and compassion, knowing the joy set before us (Hebrews 12:2).
Finally, Father Wael encouraged the people in attendance that God often accomplishes His purposes in ways we couldn’t have imagined.
Why did God not open Elizabeth’s womb when she was a much younger woman with more energy to care for and raise a child? God threatens to stretch our imaginations to the breaking point at times as He asks us to trust Him. Sometimes what we hope for comes much later than we expect. Sometimes, what we always dreamed never comes to fruition. Sometimes even basic needs are not met in this life. Living amongst such brokenness and pain is often more than we can bear. Even so, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:3).
How We can Respond
This third week of Advent, consider what God may be asking of you. Maybe he wants you to stop amid all the busyness of the season to rest in His unconditional love for you. Maybe He’s asking you to pray with the next homeless person you see. Perhaps He is inviting you to grieve a disappointment in your life and to receive comfort from our Mighty Counselor. May we all learn from Zechariah to stop fear from impacting our discernment of God’s voice, to be obedient in the midst of doubts, and to trust that God is accomplishing His purposes in and through us, even if they may not be in ways we had imagined.