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Our Prayers Have No Expiration Date

Lori Hatcher encourages readers to trust God not only to hear our prayers, but to answer them. by Lori Hatcher

When was the last time you found treasure in an unexpected place? I found some today, and like reaching into my pocket and finding a $20 bill, this unexpected discovery made my heart happy.

I reached into the book of Luke, and there it was, nestled in the folds of the Christmas story. Zechariah, the elderly priest, had drawn a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to burn incense in the temple of the Lord. He was a just man, observing the Lord’s commandments and serving blamelessly.

“But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years” (Luke 1:7, BSB). As Zechariah prepared to offer the fragrant incense to God, an angel appeared. An angel.

Angels appear frequently in the narrative of the Christmas story. Familiarity often causes us to breeze right past them. But they weren’t common in the first century. 700 years of silence had echoed in the space between the final promise of Malachi and the first whisper of Matthew, and now the silence was over. 

God picked up the conversation right where he left off—by heralding the forerunner of the Messiah. He sent an unexpected message through an otherworldly messenger. I wonder, did the angel’s clothes shimmer with ethereal light from God’s presence? Did he shake space dust from his mighty wings? Did his feet shine with the reflection of golden pavement? 

I’ve no doubt his appearance was awe-inspiring because Scripture tells us Zechariah was “gripped with fear.” Maybe he reached for his nitroglycerine pills or leaned, trembling on his staff. Perhaps he blinked his cataract-clouded eyes more than once.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel said (v 13). 

“Zechariah, your prayer has been heard.”

My prayer? What prayer? Zechariah blinked again, this time in confusion.

“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” 

God heard my prayer for a son. I prayed that prayer every day. I cried. I begged. I fasted. 

But that was decades ago. And when Elizabeth’s womb remained empty and her fruitful years passed, I stopped praying. That dream died.

“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth” (v 13-14).

A joy and a delight. The angel’s words to Zechariah were a gift. They are a gift to us as well.

They remind us that there is no expiration date on our prayers. They go ahead of us into eternity. They continue to accomplish God’s purposes long after the words leave our lips. In the fullness of time, according to His good plan, God moves.

Zechariah saw his prayer answered decades after he had uttered it. But he didn’t get what he asked for. He got so much more. Instead of giving him an ordinary little boy who lived an ordinary little life, God gave Zechariah John the Baptist, the one who would come “‘in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’” (v 17).

Because we are human, our understanding is limited and short-sighted. We ask for things that seem right and reasonable. But God has greater plans. His understanding is boundless and his purposes eternal. We take the short view of today, tomorrow, and next week. He takes the long view and sees into the end of time. 

His plan of redemption and grace march on, unaltered by human frailty and failure. God will rescue His people (Deuteronomy 32:36). He will complete the good work He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6).  And He will answer our prayers. Perhaps not in the way we think. But in the way He knows is best. Perhaps this is why Jesus encouraged us to “always pray and never give up.” (Luke 18:1).

What are you praying for today? What have you prayed for in the past and failed to receive? Zechariah’s story reminds us that we can trust God not only to hear our prayers but to answer them—in ways we could never have imagined. Those unanswered prayers that make your heart hurt with longing? You can trust Him to answer them in time. Ask Zechariah.