When disillusionment distracts. The story of Zechariah.
Day 1: Read Luke 1:5-25. Have you ever noticed how many of our stories begin with waiting? Abraham and Sarah. The Israelites in Egypt. Elizabeth and Zechariah. Where in your story have you had to wait? Do you know anyone who is really good at waiting? Someone recently said, “Waiting feels too much like wasting time.” to which another person suggested it feels more like lament or grief. As we begin the second week of Advent, this definition seems entirely appropriate. As I reflect on Zechariah and Elizabeth’s years of childless disillusionment and consider the theme of Advent’s prophetic lament where we wait expectantly for the Lord’s return, I find the cry, “O Lord, how long?” a deeply meaningful refrain. We see it over and over in scripture—and find it close the surface in the story of the childless priest Zechariah: the Lord is about to act, but for now he waits. How might waiting on God appear to be an essential part of our spiritual journeys? What potential pitfalls do we face if we get tired of waiting on God?
Day 2: Zechariah was a faithful man. He was upright, obedient and disillusioned. Scripture frequently reveals the depth of meaning and pain associated with childlessness in ancient times (remember Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah?). Zechariah must have had great faith to remain obedient to God despite this childless sign that was generally seen as an indication of God’s disfavor. Yet he had clearly given up hope that God would provide the desire of his heart. When Zechariah was chosen to carry the incense into the temple, it was a once in a lifetime honor to be undertaken with holy fear. With this mindset and in the place where the presence of God dwelt, he encounters an angel who tells him he would have a child. Think about where Zechariah was when he finally heard God’s voice, and yet he couldn’t believe. Disillusionment does that. It takes away our hope and expectancy and deprives us of our ability to believe. Describe a time when you have been disappointed and even disillusioned by life’s circumstances. What did that do to your ability to hear God?
Day 3: Not long ago we studied 1 Kings 19: 11-12 where Elijah stood on a mountain while wind, fire, and earthquake broke the mountain in pieces, but he discovered that the Lord was not in those things. Instead He was in a whisper. It is not unique to our culture that we tend to think important things are found in the big and loud rather than the small and quiet. Humans are impressed by large productions, but God is not. Part of human expectation is speed—part of the big production is that we want things to happen quickly. But God’s timing is hardly ever our timing. In the case of Zechariah, why might it have been necessary for the Lord to wait until he and Elizabeth were old before they became pregnant with John the Baptist? Where in your story have you seen God respond slower than you wanted? Are you willing to wait on God and His timing? Or do you find yourself orchestrating things for God?
Day 4: The most common question for God has to be “Why?” Over time the realities of our lives can sap our strength and ability to believe. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. But let his story remind us that scripture is our story—God’s apparent silence should not dissuade us from seeking him. Though we cannot know his ways or his timing, we can trust that he knows and cares about our needs. Is there an issue or area of life in which God has seemed silent? Have you experienced a loss that has resulted in reluctance to believe and trust in God again? What would it look like to be honest with him about your disappointment? What would it look like to return to seeking God? To return to Him with expectancy and hope?
Day 5: So how do we invite God to join us in the midst of our difficulty? The first step is to be honest with Him. Tell God what you are feeling, pour out your heart. Journaling is a great way to do this. By doing so we invite Him in to our hurt and allow Him to speak to us in the midst of it. Consider praying the Psalms, many of which are laments written for just this purpose. Of course following your prayers, make time to listen to God’s response through mentors, friends, and circumstances. Consider picking up a copy of Henri Nouwen’s book, “Turn My Mourning into Dance: Finding Hope in Hard Times (available at the LSCC Next Steps Center). Or get a copy of “Disappointment with God” by Phillip Yancey. If you are not in a small group, join one. Group life is about walking with one another through life: the good stuff and the disappointing stuff. Contact the church office and ask about available small groups or ask how to start one.