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Watch 2022 online sermons » Craig Smith » Craig Smith - The Secret Life Of Forgotten Prayers

Craig Smith - The Secret Life Of Forgotten Prayers

Craig Smith - The Secret Life Of Forgotten Prayers
TOPICS: Joy To The World, Christmas, Prayer

Good morning. Hey, welcome to Mission Hills, including those of you joining us from Church Online. So glad you are with us for our December series “Joy to the World,” which is not just a line from one of the very familiar, famous Christmas songs, but really, it’s a line from the Word of God. When the angel was announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, he said, do not be afraid. I bring good news that will cause great joy for all of the people. So we recognize that joy, it’s at the heart of the Christmas story, but it’s also at the heart of the Christian life. To be a Christian, to be a follower of Jesus really is to be people of joy, but joy is not always an easy thing, right? I think part of that is we often misunderstand what joy is. We often confuse joy with happiness. Happiness is circumstantial. Happiness is how we feel about circumstances. A good thing happens to us. We feel happy.

Joy isn’t rooted in circumstances, though. Joy transcends circumstances. It’s not so much a feeling as it is a decision. Joy isn’t rooted in circumstances. Joy is rooted in a relationship with God that changes the way that we see circumstances even when they are hard. What we are going to be doing in this series is pushing into what we might equal “joy management.” How is it that we can be people of joy? How can we grow joy? How is it that we can rejoice even when things are not always easy? Because we know that God is good even when life is not, right? But how do we live that way? That’s really what this series is all about.

We’ll be taking a look at a couple whose circumstances were very difficult yet still managed to be people of joy. Why don’t you grab your Bible and make your way to the Gospel of Luke. We are going to be starting at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke 1:5 where Luke says, in the time of Herod, king of Judea, and I’ll just pause there for a second and let you catch up to me. What Luke is doing is he’s setting the stage for the rest of the Christmas story. What he’s saying is, during a really difficult period of history, during a hard time. It was a hard time for the Jewish people because at this point they had been under occupations by foreign governments for 600 years or so, and the latest kind of tragedy was that they had a king installed by the Roman Empire. Rome owned Israel at this point. Rome had installed King Herod as the ruler, and Herod was a terrible man. He really didn’t belong on the Jewish throne. He wasn’t from the line of David. He wasn’t even fully Jewish by his dissent, but he had convinced the Roman Empire that he should be put in charge, and so they did that, and he made life very difficult for the Jewish people.

He taxed them heavily. He used the taxes to build extravagant palaces for himself. He controlled not only the politics, he controlled the temple. He would install a high priest in particular. The Jews hated this. He would put a high priest in charge of the temple who was basically one of his kind of lackeys. Somebody who had bribed him or convinced him that he would be on Herod’s side, and so he controlled also the religious institutions, so things are just difficult for the Jewish people as a whole. What Luke is doing, he’s setting a stage saying these are not good times for the nation. Then he says this, 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. And here’s our couple.

And what he tells us about them — they are kind of good. They are good people living in hard times. They have the right pedigree. Zechariah came from the line of Abijah. Everybody goes, oh, yeah, Abijah, right? And if you don’t know who Abijah is, that’s okay. Even if you are brand new to church, don’t feel leave out because almost everybody who grew up in church is like, am I supposed to know that name? You know, Abijah was the son of Aaron. That’s clear now, right? Maybe you don’t know Aaron. Aaron was the younger brother of a guy you probably do know. His name was Moses. Anybody heard of Moses? Yeah, okay. Moses had a little brother named Aaron, and after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, God basically made Aaron his priest. He was kind of in charge of the religious things.

All of the proper priests in Israel were descended from Aaron. Abijah was Aaron’s son. So what Luke’s telling us, Zechariah was a proper priest. He was descended from the line of Aaron, he was also — he was married to a woman who was also descended from the line of Aaron. Don’t worry, it’s been centuries, so it’s not icky. They are like 84th cousins twice removed, okay? But what he’s kind of saying, they are kind of a priestly power couple, all right? They have the right line of dissent. They are the proper priestly family is what it’s going on, and I think there’s probably a little bit of a hint of tension because Herod was installing improper priests. This is a proper group, but they wouldn’t be able to rise to that point, Zechariah wouldn’t be able to be a high priest because he was not necessarily Herod’s right hand guy kind of guy.

There’s a little bit of tension that Zechariah could have been a high priest except that he was living during times where that wasn’t an option. There is sort of a sense of maybe injustice. These are hard times. He says this about them. He says Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all of the Lord’s command and decrees blamelessly. What he says is, in spite of the fact that the times were hard, they hadn’t grown bitter. They had not grown angry with God. They hadn’t abandoned their faith. They hadn’t drawn away from Him. They were continuing to serve Him. They were righteous. I love the way Luke says this, they were righteous in the sight of God. That’s interesting because understand at this point, Israel has been oppressed. They have been owned by foreign governments for about 600 years.

You know the people have been praying for God to step in, for God to change that, but God hasn’t done it yet. I don’t know if any of you have ever prayed for something and gotten back what felt like silence, anybody? So here’s the thing, when that silence drags on, and for the Jewish people, it had dragged on for 600 years, it’s easy to start to think, well, maybe God’s not paying attention. Maybe God doesn’t see me anymore, but Luke says, oh, He does. He says, they were righteous — what? In the sight of God. There is a little reminder there that even though it may feels like God is silent, maybe you can’t see God working, God still sees you. God is still paying attention.

He says, but, verse 7, But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Luke’s blunt. Like, it’s not — they were well along in years. Like they are getting up. He’s like, they are old. Very old. They were way past the years of childbearing. He says, they were childless. That was a big deal. Some of you have struggled with infertility. Some of you have struggled with miscarriage. You know personally the pain of being childless. Well, in the ancient world it was even worse. Ta was their safety net. There was no Medicare. There were no assisted living facilities. There were no nursing homes. Your kids were your safety net when you got old, so without kids, they are facing a sort of bleak future as they continue to age. What’s interesting is that Luke sandwiches the statement that they were blameless, they were righteous. They continued to draw near to God even in what felt like silence nationally, but know even personally.

Even personally God has not answered that prayer for a child, and yet, he says, he sandwiched that statement, righteous and blameless that sandwiched between statements of political pain, national pain but also their personal pain. This is a personal thing. They are still righteous. They are still faithful in the midst of that. That’s so important. They hadn’t allowed their circumstances to drive them from God, and that’s so, so important because God is the only one who can ultimately change our circumstances. He says, Once, when Zechariah’s division was on duty, and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of The Lord and burn incense.

Now to be chosen by lot, we don’t know exactly how it does, and we have a couple of different options. One is they may have had all of the names of the possible priests written on a little stone and one was drawn out. But more commonly, to avoid the sense that favoritism was being paid or cheating was happening, they would often throw them into a priest’s lap, and a lot of them would fall off, and they would take the ones that were left, and they would throw those on until only one was left, and that was the one that was chosen, and so that’s how it happened. Zechariah was chosen by lot. I think what Luke is telling us here is Zechariah was chosen by what looked like chance. It looked random. It looked like there was no purpose or plan. It was chosen by lot, but it’s interesting, the Bible, back in Proverbs 16:13, the Proverbs says this, the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

You understand what he’s saying, and what Luke is trying to help us understand is it looked like random chance. It looked like there was no purpose or plan, but the reality is that God is behind a lot of those things that to us look random. I think that’s really important because life sometimes looks random, doesn’t it? Things happen to us. Things take place. We look at them like, God, why would you allow this to happen? God, why did you allow this? God, why did you do this? It looks purposeless, it looks plan less, it looks random. It looks chaotic. That’s because we are looking at it from the wrong perspective. My grandma used to do this thing called “latch hook art.” There we go. Latch hook art. I was always fascinated. You know, she would push these pieces of yarn through a plastic grid and pull it back, this little tool, it would bring — and on the back, the ends would hang out. I would look at it and think, Grandma, what are you doing? That’s not art unless it’s modern art, and Grandma wasn’t into modern art.

It looks chaotic. It looks random. That’s from the backside. When you flip it around, this pattern emerges and you begin to realize that what looked random from the wrong side is full of planning and purpose and what Luke is telling us here that something like that’s going on. It looked like Zechariah was chosen by lot, but God is often behind things that look to us random and purposeless. From our perspective, it looks like there is no plan, but the reality is that’s because we are looking at it from the wrong side. He says, Zechariah was chosen by lot, but there’s purpose in that. Verse 10 says, now when the time for burning of incense came, all of the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled. No he wasn’t.

Startled is not the right word there. I know he’s a priest, but he said a bad word there. I’m sure he did. When you are in a dark place and an angel shows up. I don’t know how angels show up. I don’t know if it’s like Star Trek, they like materialize — wrwrwrwr — or if they are just suddenly there going, hey. Like either way, that’s terrifying, right? Yes, yes, he was startled at least. The next part I think is a little more accurate. He was startled and he was gripped with fear. The angel said to him, do not be afraid. I’m always like, it’s too late. Like we are so far past that at this point, right? Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard.

Oh, that’s great, right? God has heard my prayer? If I’m Zechariah I’m going, what prayer is that? Because I have a bunch of them, right? I got a bunch. Which one came up in the lottery? Which one has God heard? He’s old — very old, sorry. My hands are hurting a lot these days. My knees, every time I get up, it’s hard to get out of bed. I have been praying for relief. Maybe God has heard that prayer, or maybe it’s the big one, right? Maybe it’s what the people outside are praying for, because the dominant prayer in Israel, the big one for Israel at this point is that God would destroy the Romans. He would set the people of Israel free. He put a king from the line of David on the throne and Israel would be a sovereign nation again.

That’s probably what they were praying for outside, so maybe it’s some of his personal prayers? Maybe it’s the big one that he’s been joining and praying for, but which one is it, God? Which one have you heard? And the angel said this in verse 14 — verse 13 — he says, your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. Wait, what? A son? What are you talking about? I haven’t been praying for a son for a long time. Oh, I used to. I wanted a son so bad when Lizzie and I were young, the idea of having a kid. That was just — that was what burned in our hearts. We were passionate about that prayer. We were laying that before God many, many, many times every day, and we did that for years, but God you didn’t do anything. God, you were silent.

And the thing is, when God is silent — and I think we all have these prayers, don’t we? We start off. We are passionate. We are fervent about them. We pray them so, so deeply, but when silence is what comes back, over time those prayers move from fresh to faded and eventually we begin to go, I guess silence is the answer. I guess no is the answer, right? So they move from fresh to faded to forgotten. Enough time passes, we kind of forget we were ever asking for that thing. We settle into that despair in that area of our lives. That’s the prayer the angel is talking about. It’s a forgotten prayer, and Zechariah’s going, I haven’t prayed that in years. We are old. It’s way too late. God, you waited too — that’s the prayer?

Understand, this is so incredible. What the angel is telling Zechariah is that God’s still listening to the prayers that we’ve stopped praying. Do you hear me? The prayers that you and I have given up on because we thought God didn’t listen, God didn’t engage because we got back silence for so long, the prayers we have stopped praying, God still listened to. They are still echoing in heaven. They are still reverberating around the throne, and God is still paying attention to them. God is still listening to the prayers that you and I have stopped praying. That’s incredible. Some of us say, praise God and amen. Some of us go, yeah, I’ve got a problem with that. If he’s still listening, why is he still taking so long, right? Why still so much silence, and what the angel says next opens up an incredible, possible answer for why you have gotten silence for so long.

He says this child, verse 14, he — he will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth. What the angel says is basically, God is still listening to the prayer you are still praying. The reason He hasn’t answered yet is because He’s brewing something so much bigger than you were asking for. He says, this child, he’s going to be a joy to you. And that’s what they were praying for, right? God, would you give us a child. We want a child to care for in our old age. We want a child to love. We want a child to be part of our family. He would be a joy to us, and the angel says, he would be a joy to you, but God’s not done. He will cause rejoicing from many, he well bring many to the point of joy.

In other words, God is brewing a much bigger blessing, and what’s kind of behind the scenes here is this idea that God couldn’t deliver that yet because the time wasn’t right. There were things that He had to orchestrate in history and in circumstances and all kinds of things to bring to this moment where this child would be able to do this much, much bigger thing, and what the angel is teaching us here — something I have seen time and time again in my life, and yet it’s amazing how often I forget it. When I’m praying for something and I’m experiencing silence, I forget this truth, but I know that it’s truth. God never delivers an undersized joy. Good enough is good enough for us. Good enough is never good enough for God. He will never deliver joy that is undersized, joy that’s less than it could be, but sometimes delivering a God-sized joy takes time to orchestrate, to bring everything in history and the circumstances of our lives, and the course of things to that point where He is able to pour this God-sized joy. God never delivers an undersized joy.

The angel says, yeah, he’s going to be a joy to you, but it’s so much bigger than that. He’s gong to be a joy to so many, for he — this child — he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink. He’s going to be what we call a Nazarene, a Nazarite. That’s a class of people from the Old Testament that are specially set apart for the Lord God. He’s going to do great things through him. He says, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born, which is a bit of an intimidating thing if you think about it. Like how do you parent a toddler who is filled with the Holy Spirit? That is intimidating right there. Sometimes the joys God delivers come with their own challenges.

He says, he will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. At this point, many had turned their backs on God because they had been praying for deliverance. They had been praying for God to show up, and they had been getting silence for centuries. They were like, if God’s not going to pay attention to us, then I’m done with Him, but this child is going to bring back many to the Lord their God, and he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and the power of Elijah. The Israelites haven’t had a prophet like Elijah in a long, long time. He hasn’t given scripture in a long, long time through prophets. The angel says your kid’s going to be the return of that kind of prophet that the Lord raises up. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

He says, Zechariah, you don’t understand. You just wanted a child that would be a joy to you, but God is going to give a child that will bring rejoicing to many. He’s going to be the Herald, the announcer. He’s going to get things ready for God himself to show up. You wanted a king on David’s throne? How about a king who is your God? Your son is going to make things ready for that coming King. Here’s the thing. I think had Zechariah and Elizabeth known back when they were young that, that was the joy that God was brewing, I don’t think they would have been all that impatient at how long it took. I think that’s true for so many of us, listen, if we could see the size of the blessing that God is brewing, we would be ashamed of our impatience.

We get impatient with God. We go, He’s going to be silent, I’m going to check out because He doesn’t care. But the reality is that God all along is brewing so much bigger joys than we ever dream. We would have never thought to ask for them. We are like — this is kind of a silly thing, but I think it’s true. It’s like the little kid that just love, love, loves puppy dogs, right? So he’s begging for a coloring book of puppies for Christmas. He just wants that coloring book. I would love it if I could just color it. And he doesn’t get it. And the reason he doesn’t get it is because his dad got a puppy for him — the best kind of puppy — golden retriever. But the litter is not ready to be released yet, and so he can’t put the puppy under the tree. Besides that, that’s weird, right? When your presents are shaking and doing things like that, that makes Christmas morning awkward.

The puppy’s not ready yet, so he doesn’t give him the comic book and the son pitches a temper tantrum because he didn’t get that one thing he was looking for, right? That’s us, right? God, I was asking for this. Where were you? God, I just wanted this. Why didn’t you show up? God, I was asking, and I just got silence. But I think if we could see the size of the blessing God is brewing, we would be ashamed — ashamed of our impatience. The angel says, oh, you are going to get something so incredible. Zechariah responds in an interesting way. Zechariah asks the angel, how can I be sure about this? In other words, how about a sign? How about some proof? I’m an old man, and my wife — he knows how to say it. She’s well along in years. You don’t ever call your wife old. Husbands, hear me on that. She’s never old. She’s just getting well along in years.

He says, God, it’s too late. There’s been silence for too long. The window of opportunity is passed. I’m going to need a sign before I get my hopes up. You are like, an angel showing up in the temple of God, that’s not enough of a sign? No. No, it’s not — which is really interesting because Zechariah has to know that God is capable of this. He knows that God has the power. He flung the stars across the heavens. He can do this. There’s precedence. The Jewish people only exist because their ultimate ancestor Abraham was given a similar miracle. God gave him a child in his old age. His wife was old. She was very well along in years, so much so that when God said I’m going to give you a child, she laughed at God.

But God did that, so we have power, and we have precedence, so why on Earth is Zechariah going, I’m going to need a little bit more proof? Because he didn’t want to get his hopes up. The reality is that hope can be scary, can’t it? When we have these places in our lives where we have kind of settled into despair. It doesn’t mean that everything about our lives is bleak and dark, but we have these places where we wanted God to do something, and He hasn’t. He’s been silent for so long. Our prayers went from fresh to faded to forgotten. We stopped praying. We have forgotten. We have settled in. This is just the way it is here, and hope can be scary. What if we allow our hopes to start to get up and maybe despair is not our destiny? Maybe in this little place in our lives where we settled into maybe just maybe despair is not my destiny, but what if we let our hopes get up and it turns out to be a mirage.

See hope is scary, but the problem — the problem is that hope is what moves us forward in faith, do you hear me? The problem is that hope allows us to move from where we are to where God is going to meet us and deliver a God-sized joy. And because of that, I have come to understand that one of the greatest obstacles to true joy is the fear of hope. I can’t let my hopes get up. I can’t allow myself to start thinking that maybe God is on the move. We can’t allow ourselves to do that because what if it turns out — I’m just going to stay here. But hope is what moves us, and so the fear of hope is a tremendous obstacle to true joy. And the angel said to him — I love this. What the angel basically says is, no you didn’t? Seriously? The angel said to him, I’m Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. He goes, do you know who you’re talking to? Let me help you out. I’m Gabriel. Remember Gabriel? Gabriel is the one who went to Daniel.

That’s the last time we saw him. 600 years before this, he went to Daniel when Daniel and his people were praying for God’s deliverance and wondering why God had been silent for so long, Gabriel’s the one who came and said, here’s what God’s going to do. So he says to Zechariah, I’m Gabriel! You understand, I’m not the guy God sends out for milk and eggs, right? The last time I was sent on an errand, it was to freaking Daniel. That’s who you are talking to. I stand in the friends of God. I got this directly from the Almighty Himself. There is a little bit of an attitude here — I have been sent to you. Who are you? That’s what I want to know. You want proof? I have been sent to you. I have been sent to bring good news to you. You want proof? Let’s play.

Now, you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens because you did not believe my words which will come true at their appointed time. You want proof? Let’s play. You know, Zechariah’s asking is proof. What he gets feels like punishment, right? I’m sure there is a little bit of that. When an angel shows up and delivers a message from God, your proper response is not — prove it, okay? But the punishment is a very interesting kind of a thing. What you need to understand, the Jews were living in a period of time they called the Silent Years. They said there are no prophets like Elijah. God hasn’t given Scripture. The Silent Years ran from the close of the Old Testament to this period. They didn’t know it was coming in. They thought they were still in the middle of it.

They didn’t know when it was going to stop. They didn’t know if God checked out and left them alone. During the Silent Years between Maliki and Matthew, God’s been silent. So the angel says to him, you’re going to be silent. That’s tough, right? Because he has some pretty exciting stuff to share. He says you are going to have to join God in this secret. You are not going to be able to talk. Not until this child is born. Now, verse 21 says meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and they were wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple because he kept making signs to them and he remained unable to speak. This is like super charades, right?

What is the universal charade sign for “I’ve seen an angel,” right? Like I have no idea. Somehow he got it across. He had to signal to them that an angel showed up and spoke to me. When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. That’s interesting. I mean five months, that’s a very specific number. Why five months? Well, here’s what I think, the human gestation period for a baby to grow until time of delivery, that’s how long? It’s nine months. When Coletta was pregnant with our girls, Rochelle and Lynae, it was four months before we saw any external sign of that. For most women, four months is about when you begin to see the baby bump which means all during that other team there’s stuff happening. There’s stuff brewing. It’s growing, but you can’t really see it from the outside. That’s four months.

Nine months minus four months gives you five months. In other words, the moment she began to show, the moment it was possible for other people to see what was actually happening, she went into seclusion. She joined her husband in silence. Silence is such an interesting thing. You see we have this tendency to take silence as a sign of inactivity, right? If God’s silent, it must mean he’s not doing anything, right? No. Anyone that has little kids knows that silence doesn’t equal inactivity. The minute there’s silence, you need to see what’s going on, right? They are up to something. It might not be good. They have gone silent because they are trying to get the cat into the dryer and they don’t want you to find out until they have time to conduct their little scientific experiment, right? Or it can be really good. My girls would have these times where it got really quiet and what it turned out, they were going to make me a card or draw me a picture or something like that, and they didn’t want me to spoil the surprise, right?

Silence doesn’t equal inactivity. Sometimes silence is the long, slow, deep, inhaling before a shout. God’s been inhaling, and He’s about to do something unbelievable in this thing called the Christmas story, something nobody would have dreamed to pray for. Not just God, would you give us a king, but would you come to us yourself? Would you be our King? Would you give us the Holy Spirit that would live inside us so we are never disconnected? But we don’t need a temple anymore because God is in us. Nobody ever thought to ask for that, but that’s what God is about to shout, and He’s been inhaling for this.

Now, Zechariah and Elizabeth are joining Him in silence for that moment when the shout begins and Elizabeth, verse 25, Elizabeth said, the Lord has done this for me. In these days He has — and I have tweaked translation a little bit. The NIV says in these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people. I tweaked translation a little bit to “in these days He has seen me with favor” because the Greek words mean that literally. It’s not just that He’s done something for me. It means that He’s looked at me with favor. He’s looked at me with kindness. He’s looked at me with love. He’s looked at me with interest. It’s a Greek word that doesn’t get used much in Scripture. It’s only been used a handful of times. One of them, interestingly enough is in the Old Testament in the Greek translation of the Old Testament back in Genesis 16, a woman that God had just announced He was going to do this incredible thing for.

A woman gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her. She said You are the God who sees me. Same Greek word. I have now seen the One who sees me. Not just observed. Not just noticed. There they are. There she is, but seen with favor, stared intently and with kindness, so Elizabeth says, the Lord has done this for me. In these days He has looked on me with favor. He has seen me. See God’s been seeing all along. He saw that they were righteous in His– sight. They have been praying, and they have been getting silence, but that’s not because God has been inactive. He’s been brewing something big, and He’s continued to see them, and now she understands that and she says, He has — He has seen me. What this means, and what we have to come to grips with is that the only source of true joy is the God who sees us. Do you hear me?

When we get silence, when we don’t get what were asking for, when it feels like God has checked out, when we forget that silence doesn’t equal inactivity, when that happens, we often find ourselves settling for substitutes. Well, maybe I could do this or this or have this, and we settle for things that don’t bring true joy. They might make us happy for a little while, but once the circumstances change, the happiness goes away. That’s not joy. The only source of true joy is the God who sees us. My guess is that many of us are struggling at this moment with prayers that we have been praying for a long time, and we have been getting back silence. We all have these little areas where we have settled into despair because it feels like God isn’t listening.

My family has one of these. I got permission from my daughter to share this. My youngest daughter is struggling with a chronic thing. It causes a lot of daily pain. We have been praying for God to take it away or give the doctors — if you want to work through the doctors, figure out a way to take it away. There have been moments of light in that, but the reality is, this is still something we are struggling through. I know what it’s like to pray and feel like we are just not getting the answers we are looking for, and I think you probably are too. Almost all of us have these places. What does the story teach us? I’ll tell you what it’s teaching me. Three things that have to do with managing the joy that God calls us to have in the midst of circumstances that are not what we would want. Three things, the first one is this — know that you are seen — with kindness, with favor. Know that you are seen and that your prayers are never forgotten. Even when you have given up praying them, they are still in God’s ears. He’s still listening, even to our forgotten prayers. They have a secret life long after we thought they have died. Know that you are seen and your prayers are never forgotten.

Number two, remember, God never delivers undersized joy. Sometimes it takes form we wouldn’t have expected. Sometimes the answer is not yet, because it’s not fully developed. I haven’t finished brewing the big thing I want to deliver. Sometimes it’s, no, no, no. I’m going to do something different. You would never have even thought to look for this, so sometimes it looks different, but God never delivers an undersized joy. I just remembered — it’s terrible that I remember this, probably, but when I was a kid, you know how commercials stick in your head — something about he never delivers a wine before its time. Remember that old commercial? God’s like that. His joy is like a fine wine — we are a Baptist church. We can’t talk about alcohol. I’m sorry. But he never delivers an undersized joy. Remember that.

Number three, remember the key to experiencing God-sized joy is sticking close to the God who sees us. You see if Zechariah and Elizabeth had given up, if they had abandoned their faith, if they had turned from God, they wouldn’t have been in that place where they could be pulled into the temple by what seemed like random chance, but was actually God’s design, and they wouldn’t have heard about this joy that wasn’t just for them, but was for all of us. The key to experiencing God’s joy is sticking close to the God who sees us. Let’s go to the God who sees us.

God, thank You for Your sight. Thank You that we are seen, and we are looked upon with kindness. We know this because Your Son came. He died in our place. He died for our sin. The stuff that should have turned Your eyes from us, our sin, You took care of in the blood of Your own Son, so we know that You look upon us with kindness. Thank You. We lift up all of those places of despair in our lives. We are like Elizabeth and like Zechariah, maybe we have settled into despair, and the very thought that maybe, despair is not our destiny is a dangerous thought because hope is scary, and yet we know hope is what moves us from where we are to where we need to be to experience the God-sized joy that You have been brewing, so Lord, we just come before You as people who acknowledge our need of You, our desperation for You, and Lord, we thank You that Your Word teaches us that You are looking, that You are listening, even to those prayers that we have given up on, that we have stopped praying. Lord, we come and we bow before You, the God who sees us with favor, because You are the only source of true, lasting joy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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