By Jason Bowman
Have you ever said something really dumb? Maybe, even as you were saying it, the words seemed to tumble out in slow motion, and you immediately wished there was some way of snagging them out of the air before they reached anyone.
Zechariah did just that. After decades of praying for a child and God not granting that request, the archangel Gabriel appears and proclaims good news. Elizabeth would bear him a son. I can only imagine the joy and wonder those words might have brought him. Yet, he does not celebrate. Rather, he questions the angel. He says, “How can I know?” Those are words I Zechariah might have wanted to take back if he could.
The archangel then reminds Zechariah that only one of the two of them routinely stands in the presence of God himself and that God had sent Gabriel to make this special announcement. The priest’s lack of faith does not lead to losing the child, but God does discipline Zechariah. For 9 months, the priest will be unable to speak because he did not believe.
Belief matters. The bedrock of Christianity is faith. In the next story that Luke records, we see an incredible expression of faith by Mary. Unlike Zechariah, Mary responds to the angel by saying: “May your word to me be fulfilled” (1:38). The author of Hebrews states the importance of faith like this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (11:6). God wants faith in his people, and Zechariah did not have that faith.
I find hope in this. Why? In plenty of circumstances, I do not have the faith I wish I had. I find myself being more like Zechariah than Mary. What I find hope in is what God does with Zechariah. God does not reject him, nor take away his blessing. Zechariah and Elizabeth will still have a child. Rather God creates conditions that allow for his faith to grow. I find hope in this because I believe in my own moments where I lack faith, God still wants to cultivate faith in me, not give up on me.
This however means we must make a choice. Like Zechariah, we must decide if we will cooperate with God so that our faith flourishes. Over the 9 months of his silence, rather than grumbling and blaming God or others, Zechariah looked to God, accepted what God had brought into his life and grew because of it.
I know this because at the end of these 9 months of silence, Zechariah is prepared to take part in God’s plan in a way that he was not when the angel first appeared to him. He went from doubting to steadfast submission. We see this when it came time to name his child. Zechariah is in a terribly awkward situation. He is unable to talk, and women were not allowed to talk, so the male relatives try to name the child in accordance with long accepted tradition. Elizabeth interrupts to overrule this, but everyone just turns to Zechariah. In that moment, he is prepared to respond in faith like he was not before. He affirms his wife’s words and in doing so sacrifices the essential tradition of naming his son after his family. The impact is immediate as it causes “wonder” among them all (1:63)
Zechariah failed. His faith failed, but God did not fail Zechariah. He gave the priest the chance to grow, and instead of spending 9 months fighting God’s discipline in his life, Zechariah accepted it, which lead to spiritual growth in his faith. The same can be true for us when we accept what God brings or allows in our lives and look for the ways God might use it to grow a thriving faith in us.
Think about struggles you’ve gone through that have prepared you to be a better person, a better friend or better in your vocation. Think of a struggle you have right now and how God might be using it to prepare you. Do you sense that there is something God is wanting to teach you? Pray about that struggle and ask God to use it in your life to grow your faith.