The Prayer You’ve Given Up On

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,[a] of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years

How many times had Zechariah come home from his priestly work to be greeted yet again with a familiar question from his young son?

“Daddy, did you see Gabriel today?”

John wasn’t really seeking information when he asked this. He wasn’t interested in a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer from his father. The question really wasn’t a question at all. It was an invitation to tell a story. A story that John had heard before but never grew weary of hearing again. A story that defined the man he would become. A story that Zechariah never grew tired of telling.  

The Hiding Place of the Holy

With every telling the moment was as real and stunning as the day it happened. Zechariah would tell about the once in a lifetime chance to offer incense on behalf of the people; he would vividly describe the startling appearance of an angel next to the altar; he recount the angel’s announcement that Elizabeth would bear a child; he would confess again his reluctance to believe that such a thing was possible; he would remember the sudden absence of sound from his throat and lips, and the nine months of quiet watching that followed.

John relished every detail. Zechariah was the storyteller, but John always glanced toward his mother when it came to the part about how she had never been able to have a child. There was something about the way his mother smiled at that part. Her face was very old, but her delight in that piece of the drama made her seem so much younger than her age, almost girlish again.

With every telling of the story, John learned something about his parents. But most importantly, John learned something about God.  The story of his birth taught John that God shows up in unexpected ways in the most unexpected places. He learned that barren places are often the hiding place of the Holy, that wilderness places are the stage for divine drama.

And John learned something about prayer. He heard how there had been a time when his mom and dad prayed fervently for a baby. But with the passing of years the fervency of that prayer had waned until it eventually gave way to a quiet resignation to a child-less life.

No Wasted Prayers

Until that day in the temple. “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard” (Lk. 1:13).  

With God there is no statute of limitations on a prayer.

God is perfectly willing to answer the prayer you’ve given up on.

Perhaps today there’s a prayer you’ve stopped praying.

We do that. We learn to move on and focus on more positive and promising aspects of our lives. Our prayers from time to time will wander back to that hardscrabble place, but the fervency and expectancy has leaked out of those prayers. They’ve become occasional reminders to God, nothing more. We learn to live with a certain amount of desolation: desolate career, desolate relationships, desolate dreams, desolate health. We are afraid to believe that the slightest sprig of life will ever emerge from those places.

But Zechariah’s story teaches us exactly what it taught John. No prayer is wasted, and God is at work in the barren places of our lives. What we need is courage to go to the desert. What desolate place in your life have you learned to ignore or tolerate?

God has a way of showing up in the places we’ve given up on. Grace Church folk, If you have your Luke journal (a Bible works too!) underline Luke 1:13. Make a note about a prayer that you’ve stopped praying or name the place where you’re asking to show up in a surprising way.

Where is that place for you today?


Once again, O Lord, I bring the barren places of my life before you.  Give me courage to wait on you there knowing that you delight to show up in surprising ways in the places I’ve given up on. Meet me in those places during this Advent season, I pray. Amen.

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