Read: Luke 1:5-20
I have been e-mailing my high school friend in South Carolina since she began her chemotherapy. Sadly, she is dealing with an aggressive cancer. She has undergone two out of the scheduled four infusion treatments. I am thankful for the technology that allows us to write quick messages and keep in touch, especially during this very difficult time for her. Yet, on Thanksgiving an e-mail wasn't enough. I wanted to hear her voice and know how she was truly doing. It was such a joy to hear her wonderful laughter and share the details concerning their day and hear about their plans. Thankfully, she is still able to enjoy food; so, we talked about their Thanksgiving menu. Besides the ham steaks that had been delivered, they were going to dine on fresh vegetables and fruit. Every two weeks, they receive a bushel basket filled with the best produce available from the farmers' markets in their area. The woman in charge chooses what will be in the baskets herself, and those who receive them are surprised each time, and it only costs $25 for each bountiful bushel. They received green beans, sweet potatoes, carrots and bananas, only a part of the produce that was in their basket this time. In two weeks, the produce will be different, and they look forward to the surprises that they will discover in their next basket.
Have you ever considered that when we pray, asking for the Lord's will in situations or that He will do what He has promised, that it is like waiting to see how He might fill our empty basket? If you are like me, you can think of ways the Lord might answer a prayer, but when His answer begins to be revealed, it often comes in a surprising way. Or it might look different than I could have ever imagined, Ephesians 3:20. For a picture of this truth, let's take a glimpse into Zechariah's life to see how the Lord filled his basket to overflowing.
In Luke 1:5-20, we first meet this priest. King David had organized the priests into 24 groups, even before the temple was built. Zechariah belonged to Abijah's division, the eighth group according to 1 Chronicles 24. Each year, the Mishnah tells us that five priests from each division would serve at the temple for two weeks; therefore, the odds of serving were small since there were approximately 350 priests in Zechariah's division. Lots were drawn to choose which priests would go to Jerusalem each year, and Luke records that Zechariah's name was drawn signifying that He was one of the five who was the Lord's choice for that time. Such a wondrous honor!
Zechariah had the beautiful privilege of offering incense at the small altar that was in the Holy Place right near the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Each morning and evening, Incense was burned, and the sweet fragrance poured out through the smoke, signifying that the prayers of God's people were rising to His throne, Psalm 141:2. Can you imagine Zechariah standing in the Holy Place which was lit only by the Golden lampstand. There were no windows. All of a sudden, the angel Gabriel was there with a message for this faithful priest. He was not to be afraid because his prayers had been heard by God. No doubt Zechariah thought of the priestly prayers he was praying on behalf of the people. However, Gabriel revealed an amazing surprise that God had in store for Zechariah and his wife. They would have a son who would bring great joy not only to them but many would rejoice at his birth. This promised child would also turn many of the people toward the Lord and would minister in the spirit and power of Elijah. In addition, he would prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. Zechariah was so surprised at all the promises Gabriel told him that he found his words hard to believe. His doubt caused him to be unable to speak until his promised son was born; however, all the promises that he was given were fulfilled. Surely, God filled his basket to overflowing. It would not be very long before Zechariah's wife Elizabeth would also be surprised at the gracious gifts that God had in store for her, Luke 1:23-25.
Back to my friend and her lavish baskets filled with good things. As good as they are, even though the produce is chosen for freshness, they aren't handpicked for each recipient. That couldn't be done. Yet, we serve a God Who does that for us. When we pray to Him, He provides what is best in every situation. He fills each basket according to the needs of its recipient. My friend receives her good produce every two weeks. However, I can lift up my empty basket to the Lord as often as I need His provision, and I can tell Him that I don't even know what would best fill my basket, Romans 8:26-27. Zechariah's life is a reminder that if God chooses to, He answers prayers that we have stopped praying. His timing is often very different than our own.
Charles Spurgeon said; “There are no loose threads in the providence of God … The great clock of the universe keeps good time."
Lord, fill our empty baskets with all that is good, James 1:17.