Our reading for December 12, 2018 is Luke 1. 5-20.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” – NIV
We often hear regarding prayer “be careful what you ask God for because you might get what you ask for.” On first glance this advice does not make sense. To get what we ask of God is answered prayer which is great confirmation of our trust but also wonderful because what we desired has come true. Well, that depends upon what our specific request was.
I remember a movie entitled Trading Places where a parent and child got their wish of being in the others shoes. It literally happened and they each did gain some understanding and respect for challenges the other faced. Of course that isn’t going to happen, but when we ask that people get what we think they deserve out of anger we may be as unjust as the person who harmed us. Some prayers if answered will also present us with new challenges and responsibilities we did not anticipate.
The Israelites asked for deliverance from slavery to Egypt only to find they had to contend with the challenges of wandering in the wilderness. They complained about the hardships they now faced. With each answered prayer comes a corresponding responsibility.
In today’s reading we find how Zechariah got what he had for a long time prayed for, that he and his wife would have a child. Of course Zechariah’s answered prayer would be of little concern had it been answered at an earlier time in their lives when they were younger. At my stage in life I love being a grandparent but would not want to be a parent again.
Zechariah’s fear may have been a result of seeing an angel and rightly so because it is an unusual occurrence. The visitation should also invoke some fear because from the history of angelic visitations they come with their own unique challenges. God is doing something which requires us to do something in return which we might be difficult for us.
This all comes to the point of accepting that when God answers prayer it is not just for our benefit, but for the blessing of others. If I pray for the resolution of conflict I see others are having I then by my prayer accept responsibility for doing what God might ask to make a difference in the circumstance I am concerned about. If I pray for God to feed the homeless then I must accept personally the challenge of feeding the homeless in some way.
Zechariah’s job at the time was to pray for the needs of the people of that time and inadvertently was thrust into God’s plan to meet their needs. He would have a son who would be the messenger promised in Malachi 4. 5 and 6 to prepare for the Lord’s coming which was something we all need. He would have to prepare his son for his divine purpose and the unusual life of sacrifice which John lived. Zechariah would have to accept the fate that awaited his only son. Zechariah’s life and that of his son would not be what any parent would expect.
What we pray for must be considered in light of whether it is just and right and what consequence it would cause if answered. We must accept the responsibilities and challenges our answered prayer would pose upon us and be willing no matter the circumstance to be faithful to God’s purpose to bless others. Prayers can be selfish and shallow. Dare to ask but be mindful over what God would have you ask for. You just might get what you asked for.