Have you ever waited so long for a promise that you when it arrives you don’t believe it? Perhaps your boyfriend promised to propose when he felt “ready.” But half a decade later, you’d lost hope, and when he finally did get down on one knee you thought he was tying his shoe-lace.
I had such an experience some years ago. I had ordered a landline from our country’s only (monopolized) national telephone service provider. With no competition to rival it, this service provider was not known for its promptness or customer satisfaction. So, I ordered the line about three months before I was ready to move into my new house, thinking I was beating the system.
After moving in, early in March, and without any trace of a telephone connection, I began a weekly routine of calling to ask about the progress of my line. I was repeatedly assured that the line would be installed by August.
August came and went—twice.
Then, one fine day, out of the blue, I received a call on my cellphone from a lady who claimed to be an employee. She casually asked if I would be home the next day, because my landline was to be installed. There was an awkward pause as I considered which of my friends was playing a cruel joke on me. I decided to play along and assured her in a sardonic tone that I would be eagerly awaiting the workman the next day.
To my bemusement, the very next day—two and a half years after the order—a pleasant gentleman arrived wearing coveralls and an air of nonchalance. He effortlessly completed the job, which took all of twelve minutes. By this point I had cycled through all the normal stages—denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance—and so I expressed my genuine gratitude for a job well-done. He smiled knowingly and chided me for my doubt with a hackneyed line he’d proffered countless times, “We said we’d get to it, we just didn’t say when.”
That is why I have sympathy for Zechariah.
When God’s timetable to fulfill his promise differs from our expectations, we may grow skeptical and even cynical, rather than continue to trust and hope in our God who never lies. This impatience with God is a vile form of unbelief that can affect even faithful believers at times. Zechariah is the poster boy of a faithful man whose faith had waned. And for his doubt he suffered in silence.
Here are three aspects of doubt we need to remember at all times…
- Doubt besets godly believers
Luke 1:18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
Picture the scene: Zechariah is offering incense alone in the temple while thousands of people await him. He experiences a private audience with the angel Gabriel. After 400 years of God being silent, Zechariah is the first person since Malachi the prophet to receive direct revelation. Gabriel announces that Zechariah and his barren wife are going to have the joy of a newborn son, that God is naming the boy, that the kid will be a great prophet and will be the fulfillment of Malachi’s closing promise to Israel, and that he will be the one who comes like Elijah, to prepare for the Messiah’s arrival. Zechariah – the Messiah is coming and you will live to see his arrival!!
This is literally the best news anyone has ever received in the history of the world.
What is the appropriate response? Crying? Celebration? Thanks? Praise?
Luke 1:18 …And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this?
Zechariah is not an unbeliever, he is a godly man, a priest, waiting for the Messiah, serving God, learned in the Scriptures. Yet Zechariah is prone to doubt.
Unbelief is the worm which gnaws at the root of faith. The most fertile soil has worms, and the most faithful saint has doubts.
When you stop filling your mind with what God said, and you fill it with what others say, you will start to doubt.
- Doubt begets irrational behavior
Luke 1:18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”19And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news….
Zechariah sees his age as an insurmountable obstacle. He declares, “I myself am old.”
Gabriel retorts, “I myself am Gabriel.”
What more do you want? I’m sure Gabriel wasn’t used to people he spoke to questioning his credentials.
But isn’t this exactly what we do when we doubt God’s work in our lives? We get some news and say “I don’t believe this is good for me. I know God says he works all things for good for me, but how do I know he will?”
But God’s promises always come true. It’s just a matter of time.
- Doubt blocks opportunities to glorify God
Luke 1:20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.
Cynicism robs you of chances you have to glorify God. Zechariah had the most amazing news he had ever received and no ability to share it.
When the office gets bad news that some people will be retrenched, or that the interest rate is going up, or that another crazy person has killed civilians, do you react in cynical grumbling as if God doesn’t exist? Or do you respond as if you truly believe in him and his promises?
Let Zechariah be an example to us: when God fulfills a promise, don’t act so surprised. God never lies.