And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. – Luke 1:8-13
The burning of incense was a symbol of the prayers of the Israelites ascending up to God. This is confirmed for us in Revelation 5:8-
And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.
There were many jobs that the course of Abia performed when they came to the Temple. The most prestigious position was to actually burn the incense on the altar. This person was chosen by lot from the group of Levites assembled to serve. By the providence of God, I believe that lot fell on Zacharias at just the right time.
Many prayers for mercy, forgiveness, healing, and various other blessings were made during this time by the multitude on the outside. Zacharias and Elisabeth probably had many prayers they prayed as well, but there was one prayer that they repeated year after year – they prayed for a child.
We see now, that it was not because of sin that they had no child. God had a great blessing in store for them and was going to reveal it to them in a mighty way at just the right time! This faithful couple had hoped and prayed for possibly seventy years that they would have a child. They may have even given up in discouragement years before, but that does not matter. God had heard their prayer and was ready to answer it in a mighty way and in a very dramatic way. While Zacharias performs the ceremony symbolizing that God hears prayer, God answers his prayer!
A mighty angel of God appears in the position of honor before God on the right side of the altar. His powerful presence brings fear into Zacharias as do the appearance of angels among men every time (see Luke 1:29; Luke 2:9, and Matthew 28:1-4). Angels are not “precious moments” cupids. They are mighty warriors. This angel’s message was a simple one but most powerful: “they prayer is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son.” Wow, what a blessing! What a tremendous answer to prayer, and what a glorious way to answer it!
Prayer is a powerful tool given to us by God. But often we forget that God is not an ATM. We don’t just punch in our order and then God delivers up a blessing like fast food. The partner of prayer is patience. The key lesson in this portion of scripture is “keep praying.” Even if it has been a long time with no answer, keeping praying. Even if it looks hopeless from a natural stand point, keep praying. Even if you have doubted and stopped praying, start praying again and keep praying!
God does hear the prayers of His children.