Little, seemingly unimportant spiritual activities stir up heaven. Their effects change lives and alter history, likely more often than Christians expect. Small, personal prayers lie among those easily underestimated undertakings.
Luke's New Testament Gospel narrative recounts the touching story of the priest Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, becoming parents in their later years. He candidly admits, "I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years" (Luke 1:18). Their story is miraculous.
During Zechariah's routine service in the Jerusalem temple, he saw and talked with an angel; then, he became mute. His wife conceived and gave birth. Then, when naming the child, Zechariah suddenly regained his speech. Each event happened just like the angel Gabriel proclaimed.
Some people fault Zechariah for not believing the angel. But, considering that no prophets or angels had appeared for roughly 400 years, Zechariah's hesitation could be reasonable. And, he was not young, like most new fathers. But, debating his response is not my intent.
Zechariah did something that set the whole story in motion. The angel specifically mentions it. Not everyone catches the small detail in Gabriel's words to Zechariah. "Your prayer has been heard," the angel says.
The list of things Bible scholars do not know is lengthy. They do not know how recently Zechariah had prayed or the details of his prayer. They do not know how long he had been praying his prayer or how often he prayed it.
But, Christians do know that God heard him pray and answered his prayer. God also sent an angel to announce His answer. That means Zechariah prayed a specific, tangible request - one with a recognizable solution.
Zechariah's prayer, placed in context, stands out. Luke wrote that they "were righteous in God's sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord." But, those commands did not require personal prayer by anyone. His prayer arose from his inner longings before God. He believed that God could hear and that God cared. His prayer indicated a personal relationship with God beyond religion and ritual.
Prayer does not appear as a personal practice until Samuel and David in the Old Testament. Outside of terrible national crises or widespread desperation, prayers were rare. In those times, prayer appears corporate, not personal. Cries rise from God's people as pleas for help. Sometimes they asked God's judges, prophets or kings to intercede on their behalf, people like Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel and King David.
Astonishingly, God used Zechariah's heartfelt, unrequired prayer to launch an eternity-changing narrative. God wove it into His will and orchestrated miracles and theophanies around it. Like a switch activates a bulb and floods a room with light, God used Zechariah's prayer to launch the Savior's arrival, shining light into spiritual darkness.
I am glad Zechariah prayed. His belief in God matters to me. Because he ventured to talk with God, Jesus came to earth.
Numerous times in the Bible, God incorporates human spiritual activities, like prayer, into His divine plans. Zechariah's holy and obedient life led to his prayer. His prayer reached God's ears and attracted His attention. Having heard, God took action to answer. That is how prayer works. That is also how the first Christmas began.
Zechariah prayed and set Christmas in motion. So, pray this Christmas and keep on praying. It matters.