The people I love most in the Bible are those, like Zechariah, who wrestle with doubt.
Zechariah actually starts off on the right foot. When Gabriel visits him in the temple, the priest is properly awed, trembling in amazement as he stands at the incense altar before the angel of the Lord. But when Gabriel prophecies that a baby — a son filled with the Holy Spirit, a son who will lead the Israelites to the Lord — will be born to the aged Zechariah and Elizabeth, the priest’s faith wavers. Skepticism begins to surface.
“How can I be sure this will happen?” Zechariah asks the angel. “I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” (Luke 1:18) Zechariah doesn’t buy it. He wants proof.
Suddenly, this holy man who minutes before had stood trembling in awe and fear before the angel of the Lord now doubts what the angel tells him. Zechariah is only willing to go so far in faith. He’s willing to believe in God, but he’s not willing to believe in the possibility of God’s miracle.
I get this.
When the doctors told my mother-in-law that there was nothing more they could do, that her cancer had spread too far, I didn’t pray for a miracle. I prayed for hope, strength and peace. I prayed that Janice would find solace and comfort in her last weeks. I prayed that Brad and his father and brother would find the strength they needed to endure the loss. I prayed that my children would somehow survive the aching absence of their beloved grandmother. But I didn’t pray for healing. I didn’t pray for a miracle.
Looking back, I think I was afraid to pray for the miracle because I didn’t want God to disappoint me. I figured if I didn’t ask, if I didn’t allow myself the expectation, the hope, I would avoid the crush of disappointment if it didn’t turn out as I so desperately wished. Ironically, I didn’t have faith that my faith could withstand God’s no, so I didn’t even bother to ask. I didn’t allow myself to pray the big, bold prayer because I was afraid my faith would collapse in the absence of a miracle. I kept my distance from God; I held him at arm’s length.
I didn’t allow God to be God.
I wish this story had a happy ending. I wish I could tell you I learned my lesson and that my faith is now rock-solid, unwavering, complete. But I can’t, because it’s not. In many ways I am still Zechariah, my voice hesitant and skeptical, my prayers strained with disbelief. Doubt still unfurls its tenacious tentacles, squeezing into the cracks, lodging itself firmly in my faith. More often than not, my prayer is still, “Lord, I do believe, but help my overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23-25)
Questions for Reflection:
Have you ever held back in your prayers, unwilling to pray bold and big? What do you think was your reason for doing that? Do you think doubt and faith can co-exist?
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