The Ten Days Between: Betrayal and Belonging

The remaining eleven must have felt betrayed. Judas had walked alongside the disciples, slept on the ground near them, shared big bowls of soup with them, and so much more. Then he turned his back on them—not just on Jesus and the other eleven, but on the 120 who had followed Jesus for most of the last three years. He betrayed them all.

How long had Judas deceived them? How long had he plotted, snuck off, smiled through his hate? (That scene where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet comes to mind.) Not only was Jesus gone, but this band of brothers had a missing link…a powder keg in their midst that had exploded, almost destroying them all. Continue reading

Not Your Dad’s Fishing Trip

Jesus had told them to go to Galilee. Just after He rose from the tomb, Jesus instructed the faithful women, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (Matthew 28:10). It took them awhile to get there. Even a week later, they were still meeting in the house where He had first appeared (John 20:26).

Eventually, the disciples trekked to Galilee, just as Jesus had told them to do. But Jesus didn’t tell them what to do when they got there.

John 21:1-14. Continue reading

The Weight of Waiting

Imagine Hannah’s heart (1 Samuel 1) as she trudged up the hill to the temple yet again without a child. Imagine her inner struggle as to whether she should continue to believe God.

We’ve all been there: times when we were ready to go but God was ready for us to wait. It’s a unique kind of burden.

It usually requires years of experience in petitionary prayer to get the perspective necessary to see some of the reasons for God’s timing. In some cases we realize that we needed to change before we were able to receive the request rightly or without harming ourselves. In other cases it becomes clear that the waiting brought us the thing we wanted and also developed in us a far more patient, calm, and strong temperament. There are other nuances and beauties to God’s wise schedule that we can just barely glimpse.  -Tim Keller Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (2014, pg. 236)

This month on Pastor’s Wives, I reflect on waiting and how God expects us to act in the meantime. Continue reading

Watching and Waiting

The guard stands in the tower, eyes cast downward, searching through the thick night for any change, ears tuned for any out-of-the-ordinary noise. He raises his eyes to the distant mountains, their peaks muted by the sameness of the sky. He leans against the edge of the window for a moment, but he cannot relax. He will not descend until the sun ascends.

sandstone tower
watchmen’s tower in the Middle East (c) Carole Sparks

Even in the deepest, loneliest part of the night, the guard never doubts the rising of the sun. With absolute confidence, he glances to the east for a moment, eager to catch the first graying of the dark sky, the first dimming of the stars. Continue reading

The Cast of Christmas: Zechariah and Elizabeth

For us adults, it’s easy to breeze through the spiritual side of Christmas. After all, you memorized half of Luke 2 that one year for the Christmas pageant at church. At other times, especially if the holiday marks a milestone (first Christmas after your wedding, first with a baby, first without an important person), you latch onto the emotional apron strings of holiday tradition such that you start crying when they flip the switch for the star hanging above the manger during the pageant at church.

The fact that the story and the traditions are so familiar shouldn’t stop us from examining them again. During different Christmas seasons of my adult life, the Lord has brought different personalities to the forefront of the Christmas story. As I ponder that person’s experience, He shows me more of Himself: His love, His sovereignty, His grace.  Over the next few weeks, let’s take a look at some of those people and see what fresh thing God has for us.

Zechariah and Elizabeth

Luke 1:5-17

Righteous, but…

Both Elizabeth and her husband were righteous in the sight of God (1:6). Luke went so far as to call them blameless. And yet they had no children.

Imagine how many times they asked God for a baby, how often they cried.

Imagine how hard they tried in those first years.

Imagine the regular visits to family gatherings where their siblings had children…then grandchildren.

With early marriages and no reliable birth control, most women had many children. Having no children was disgraceful. It meant something was wrong with you, God was punishing you, or you were rarely intimate with your husband for some reason.

I lived in a place with a similar mindset (yes, in the 21st century). I watched young women pray desperately, take medicine, visit witchdoctors, and try everything possible to get pregnant. The pressure from their in-laws was suffocating; they faced divorce if they didn’t produce a child—preferably a boy. The loving husband wouldn’t divorce his wife; he would simply take a second one. (To be fair, there were a few exceptional husbands.) I learned how to read the disappointment on these women’s faces every month. Some even got physically sick. After a couple of years, the shame became almost tangible. That’s very similar to what Elizabeth experienced.

They asked “Why?” from
a place of faith.

Don’t discount this part of Elizabeth’s story just because you haven’t struggled with fertility issues. My point is that we all suffer, often secretly, and that God expects many of us to wade through that suffering for a long time before He answers. Did Elizabeth and Zechariah try to put on a happy face? Did they pretend everything was okay? I don’t know. I do know they didn’t turn away from God. Maybe they asked, “Why?” but they asked from a place of faith, not judgment or selfishness. I can imagine that they leaned on Scripture like Psalm 119:75-76 ESV, I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.

God hears

Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old (1:7). I think they had given up on having children, releasing that prayer. Have you ever given up on praying for something only to have your prayer answered years later? God always hears. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us (1 John 5:14). How and when God responds is up to Him—and the possibilities are innumerable!—but He does hear. Look at what the angel says to Zechariah: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard” (1:13), and remember James 5:16, The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

When it comes to God, don’t take His silence to mean he is ignoring you or refusing you. Perhaps the time isn’t right. Perhaps He has a better alternative. Perhaps He’s waiting for you to learn something or be obedient in a certain matter or come to a certain place in your spiritual walk. Perhaps…well, you get the picture. God has given us many lines of encouragement for those times—verses like Psalm 27:14, Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Know that when God asks us to wait, it’s worth it.

His Will is worth the wait.

Not Alone

Elizabeth joined an all-star line-up of barren women: Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, Hannah… In every situation, the long-awaited child grew up to be important in the story of God’s people. Same thing here. The angel says as much right there in the temple with Zechariah: “He will be great in the sight of the Lord” (1:15). Think about the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:9) or the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Perseverance, endurance, patience…these things are easier in groups. Like a roof doesn’t stand on one pillar, sharing our burden with others will help all of us to wait patiently. There are stories in the Bible to encourage you and stories in the lives of your Christian family to do the same.

As usual, we’re only getting started on all the Lord has for us just in the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth! The remainder of Luke 1 reveals much more about their character, their story, and God’s sovereignty. If there’s something that’s significant to you about these two, please share it in the comments below.