Sometimes I’m stuck between wanting to believe God and wondering how he’ll ever work something out. Have you been there?
There are lots of times where I’m trying to figure out how God is going to make something happen, and I’m even trying to put the puzzle pieces together in my mind to make sure the plan comes out just right. I’m trying in my own strength and mind to make it work.
And then there are other times where I’m not trying to put it all together, I’m just choosing to trust that what God said He’ll complete. Cause it’s who He is – the author and perfecter of our faith – working it all out for our good and His glory. (Heb 12:2; Rom 8:28)
I was reading this morning in Luke chapter one about two people who were given very clear plans from the Lord, yet each responded very differently.
First, there’s Zechariah. He and his wife have been wanting a child for quite some time – they’re old. Everything looks as though that dream is shut down and hoping for a change is a lost cause. So, Zechariah is just going about his every day life, working in the temple. It’s his turn to go and burn the incense in the Holy of Holies, so he gears up and goes on in. It’s a sacred place, in case you didn’t know that. There are lots of rituals and special cleansing that need to occur before one can step foot in this most holy place. So, no one else but the assigned priest should be inside that curtain.
Except today, Zechariah isn’t the only one inside. Just to the right of where he’s supposed to burn the incense, there is an angel. An angel. A holy being. Something he’s never seen before. Also, something that’s not really supposed to be in the room with him. Only one man goes in, only one man goes out. But there he stands, an angel. And Zechariah is startled, rightfully.
The angel says 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. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
Can you imagine? A plan is set before Zechariah. His first task is to not be afraid. What a tender statement. “I know you’re freaked out, but there’s nothing to fear; in fact, God’s heard your prayer and he’s chosen to answer it! You’re gonna have a son!”
Everything is laid out right in front of him. Don’t fear. Prayers are answered. You’re gonna have a son AND he’s going to be a joy and delight to everyone.
Are you kidding – its clear and exciting and everything he’s ever wanted. Wouldn’t you respond with excitement and joy and praise and maybe even some happy tears and appreciation?
Well, unfortunately, that’s not how he responds. Let’s read on and see Zechariah’s first reaction:
How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.
Now, I’m sure I’ve done this MANY times, but as I read this I think, “Seriously? How can I be sure? Dude, there’s an ANGEL in the Holy of Holies with you – no one else should be in that room? You’re really second guessing an angel who appeared out of nowhere in a room where no one should be? A messenger from God is there telling you the future and you’re asking how you can be sure?”
But really – how many times do we do this? We read God’s Word and we question it, just like the snake in the garden, “Did God really say…” We wonder how God’s Word can really be true. Doubt is strong. It’s all-encompassing. And in our finite minds, we can’t seem to comprehend God’s plans and we want a guarantee.
But God’s Word says this about Him,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
We want a guarantee. But God says no. It’s not our place to understand and “be sure,” it’s our job to trust that God’s Word is true – we don’t need to analyze it and figure it out, we just need to believe.
Then we meet Mary. She is just a teenager. She likely hasn’t even kissed a boy. She’s engaged to be married to a man named Joseph and we can be sure that they weren’t messing around – that was not cool back in those days. They were waiting til their wedding night and probably looking forward to it with anticipation and trepidation.
One night, while she’s sleeping, she’s awakened by that same angel, Gabriel. He’s got a similarly impossible story for her future too. She’s freaked out by his presence and wondering what he might say to her.
Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
Again, the angel greets her with a calming statement, states the seemingly impossible, tells her that the baby she’ll carry will be great and be God’s son.
Similar story. Completely different response.
How will this be, since I am a virgin?
Zechariah’s question was, “How can I be sure…” while Mary’s was, “How will this be?” Mary doesn’t doubt the message only questions the how. Zechariah doubts the message itself. Zechariah’s question puts him in the driver seat while Mary’s asks how she can come along for the ride.
And because Mary chose to believe the message, but was just trying to understand the how the angel responds with the details and assures her, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
So. Two similar proclamations from an angel. Two bewildered humans. Two seemingly impossible situations. And two different responses: Driver seat and passenger.
I often find myself more like Zechariah. I want to know the whole plan so I can ensure it all works out. I want to get all my ducks in a row, figure out all possible contingency plans, make sure that God’s plans are actually the best plans, and be absolutely sure it’s all gonna work out.
But that’s actually not faith. That’s taking the driver seat. Making all the decisions for God will never actually get you what your heart desires.
I’m finding myself slowing down a bit more. Desiring to be more like Mary. Taking stock of what is happening all around me. Just after Jesus was born, in Luke 2:19, it says of Mary, “[She] treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I want to ponder the things of God. I want to treasure them. I want to be aware of how God is working out all those seemingly impossible plans and credit their workings out back to Him.
I don’t want to be in the driver seat, because I can’t see far enough ahead the way God can. And my plans for me pale in comparison to His plans for me. I don’t want to miss out on all that God has because I’m trying to “be sure” of what God spoke. I want to know it and trust it.
And that comes with knowing God. Remaining in Him and His Word. I wonder if Zechariah, though he spent much time in the temple, didn’t really know God or just kind of kept going through the motions of service. Maybe he was just having a weak moment. Maybe he was a pragmatic guy, like I can be at times. Maybe he had an analytical mind and was trying to put all the pieces together. Any way you look at it though, he was made mute and couldn’t rejoice or talk for 10 months until his son was born because he was trying to “be sure.”
I don’t want to be stuck, unable to glorify God, and rejoice through the season, because I want to “be sure.”
Probably one of the hardest places that I’m trying to be sure right now is with the seemingly impossible ability to purchase a home for our family. And I guess, not even purchase a home, but have a house, with a yard, where we can host people and let our kids put down roots. In our area, the cost of living is just so high, and our income allows us to be renters, but not much more. From my earthly perspective it just all seems impossible. And I find myself, more often than I’d care to admit, not believing that it will ever happen – and even more so, trying to put all the pieces together myself, forcing mis-shaped pieces together in the wrong time and place.
I want so badly for it to be true, that God gives us the desires of our hearts, and a home is one of my all-time greatest desires. And I try so hard to be sure of what God says. But I’m very much like Zechariah – I just don’t. I want to understand and I want assurances.
You know what I find amazing? Even though Zechariah’s response wasn’t the most humble and believing, God didn’t reverse his plans. He still gave Zechariah a son – he just removed his ability to question it all verbally. Zechariah had to be quiet and just watch what the Lord would do, not postulate all of the ways it could come to be.
I’m so grateful that even though my heart’s first response isn’t always like Mary’s, and more often like Zechariah’s, God’s plans aren’t thwarted. We may not be able to walk them out in the same way, giving glory and praise to God as things come to pass, unaware of the ways God is working it out in secret, but those plans aren’t gone. They aren’t tossed away because we struggle with belief. God knows that His thoughts are higher and His ways greater. He knows that we can’t comprehend what He’s going to do. And he doesn’t fault us for being human. He still works it all out for our good and His glory.
So, what is it for you? What seemingly impossible situation has God declared over your life, but you’re struggling to be sure of it or the how?
In what ways today can you begin to shift your questions from earthly-assurance (be sure) to trusting-acceptance (how will this be)?
I want to be found like Mary, “…highly favored! (Luke 1:28)” Trusting God and responding,
I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.