Doubts. We all have them. I know for me as a single, almost 36 year old woman, that word is one that often lingers in my mind. I am in a season of genuine contentment, paralleled by sincere longing. I love being able to live my life in such a carefree way. Cereal for dinner? Yes please. Sleep in on the weekends? Done. Spontaneous girls’ trips? Absolutely! I live in an amazing house of other 30-something single women and it is one of the sweetest seasons in my life. And, yet, if you asked each of us for our honest responses, I’m almost certain that you would get the same answer. We are ready for the next season to begin. And so, I’m sure you can imagine why that doubt word keeps popping up...a lot. On good days I wonder, “when will IT happen.” And on the not-so-good days I wonder “If IT will ever happen.” As I read through the scripture this week, I gained newfound insight into the areas of doubt, questioning and wondering, and it has provided me with a new, fresh and welcomed perspective.
In reading through the first chapter of Luke I was struck by something I had not thought about before. At first glance, my attention was focused on the difference in responses from Zechariah and Mary. Zechariah questioned the validity of the angel’s word about his elderly wife, Elizabeth, being pregnant, stating in Luke 1:18 “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Mary, on the other hand, was also given a word from an angel, revealing to her that she would become pregnant with Jesus, the son of God, and she responded with acceptance and honor, stating in Luke 1:38 “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
After digging deeper into the text, however, I was surprised to find a few similarities in their responses. In Luke 1:12 we see that “Zechariah was troubled when he saw him (the angel),” and in Luke 1:29 we read that Mary “was greatly troubled at the saying (from the angel).” And though, as stated above, Mary had a response of great faith, what the scripture reveals is that her response was preceded by questioning, just like Zechariah.
If at this point, you are confused, I’ll admit, so was I. Let me see if I can explain this more clearly.
Let’s start with Zechariah. First, when he sees the angel, the word states that “he was troubled” AND “that fear fell upon him.” Then, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, he encouraged him to not be afraid, and that his specific prayer had been heard and would be answered. That was a very personal message that Gabriel delivered Zechariah because he was essentially telling him that God would respond to his request. So, to break this down further, we have Zechariah crippled by fear, forgetfulness and unbelief.
Now, let’s move on to Mary. Though Mary absolutely had a heart of faith, she too had her questions. When Gabriel appeared to her, Mary was also “troubled” and “tries to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” And Gabriel also encouraged her to not be afraid.
And, so we see, they were both troubled, and they both questioned. So, why was the response to Zechariah and Mary so different, when beneath the surface, their responses to Gabriel were so similar.
Let’s keep digging.
Zechariah had actually prayed about the very word that Gabriel was presenting to him, yet in that moment, he was so overcome with fear that it seemed as though he had forgotten that it was even a request he had previously asked of the Lord. In Luke 1:18, Zechariah boldly asks “how can I be sure of this.” He wanted certainty and proof before he could accept what Gabriel was saying. Then, Zechariah began to focus on the fact that he and Elizabeth were elderly, and in his mind, not capable of having children, so his unbelief took over and he just couldn’t receive what Gabriel was saying as true-it didn’t make sense in the natural. His question was coming from a place of doubt and fear.
Mary questioned as well. But, her questioning came out of a genuine place of confusion, and so Gabriel responded to her by providing more clarity. She honestly was unsure of how she would conceive a baby as a virgin, but if you look back at the text, not once did she question whether, or not, it could happen. And once Gabriel provided more details, she responded by basically saying “oh okay, got it! Sign me up-I’m in.”
And so, what are we to take away from these two similar, but different responses? I encourage you to ask the Lord what He is saying to you through this first section of the book of Luke, as I know it’s not always a “one size fits all” revelation. Our God is both big, and personal. I believe He has a personal word just for you.
I can tell you that for myself, the Lord has brought to mind the many times I have prayed for something, watched Him respond (perhaps years later) then I start to doubt, because it just doesn’t look like I thought. I have often mirrored Zechariah much more than Mary in my life, and yet, the beautiful thing is that God continues to show up, and many times, He even provides the answer that I have been waiting on despite my doubt, my fear, and my unbelief. I wonder what would happen if I tried to have more of a Mary response. God doesn’t have to provide us with clarity, but if I had a posture of asking for that instead of trying to figure things out on my own all the time, maybe that shift in thinking would result in less doubt, less fear, less unbelief. What if I let go of the need for certainty and humbly asked the Lord for clarity? I find myself often asking others around me for clarity on things that I don’t understand, and I think most of the time that’s actually okay if they are wise counsel. But, how often do I start and stop with God? Not very often. So, that’s what I felt the Lord leading me to do. My takeaway from this scripture is to go to God, and only God, for clarity. And, my prayer is that my response will also be “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”