Luke 2:36 Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; 37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Others like Anna, whose lives are wrapped up in prayer
The two phrases in our passage that capture the heart and life of Anna are in verse 37. It says that she "did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day." You will have a hard time understanding how this could be true let alone identifying with Anna if you have never travailed in prayer, or if you have never been overwhelmed with a deep Spirit-driven burden of prayer, or if you have never been lost in wonder at being drawn into the presence of God.
Down through history there have been many men and women with the heart of Anna, whose testimony has made me weep before the Lord and to want to be more like them. Anna's work is one of the most important works anyone can do in the entire world - it is birthing the things of the Spirit by praying in the Spirit. Carnal Christians can’t appreciate that. They tend to look down on the Annas, Macrinas, Monicas, and other godly prayer warriors of the past as being so heavenly minded that they were of no earthly good, but these women and men have birthed great revivals, reformations, and movements through their prayers. Anna is a woman whom I greatly admire, and I wish I were more like her. But there are many down through history who have had the Spirit of God so heavily resting upon them that people thought of them as being like Anna. Even men - men like Thomas Haire, known as the praying plumber of Lisburn. Or Leonard Ravenhill, or Rex Andrews, or Edward Payson, or John "praying" Hyde.
David Brainerd was one such man. He was a Reformed missionary to the Indians of the Northeast in early America. And he saw a powerful move of God among the Indians. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 29. After his death, Jonathan Edwards found his journal and was so moved by it that he edited it and published it. And that diary has moved the hearts of many godly men and women in succeeding generations - men like William Carey, Jim Elliott, and other heroes of the faith. Those men could see that we are nothing in ourselves and God is everything, and that we are totally dependent on God. And their dependence was demonstrated by their prayer lives.
Every day Brainard would rise at 4 am and pray for six hours. Once a week he would pray through the night. His burdens for the lost and for the expansion of God's kingdom drove him to prayer; he could not help but pray. When God's Spirit fills you, you become grieved by what grieves the Spirit. Your heart is filled with the same joys that fill the Spirit. The Spirit's burdens of intercession become your burdens of intercession. I believe this kind of prayer is a special gifting and anointing that God puts upon a few and we need to treasure men and women like Anna, Monica, Brainard. Let me read a bit from his diary.
Wednesday, August 19, 1742. Spent much of the day in prayer and reading. I see so much of my own extreme vileness that I feel ashamed and guilty before God and man. I look to myself like the vilest fellow in the land. I wonder that God stirs up His people to be so kind to me.
He didn't write this for others. This was a private journal where he was writing down his own thoughts. And people who knew the power of Brainard's preaching and the way entire villages of Indians were converting under his ministry were astonished to later read his confessions and his sense of unworthiness. They saw Brainard as a saintly man who had the heart of God and whose preaching was anointed with the power of God. But he spent so much time in the light of God's presence that God's holiness made his own holiness seem vile.
Saturday, December 18, 1742. Spent much time in prayer in the woods; and seemed raised above the things of this world. My soul was strong in the Lord of hosts, but was sensible of great barrenness.
Thursday, November 3, 1743. Spent this day in secret fasting and prayer from morning until night. My soul was much moved observing the faith, zeal and power of that holy man Elijah, how he wrestled with God in prayer. My soul then cried with Elisha, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?!” Oh I longed for more faith. My soul breathed after God and pleaded with Him that a “double portion of that spirit” which was given to Elijah might rest on me. I was enabled to wrestle with God by prayer in a more affectionate, fervent, humble, intense and importunate manner than I have for many months.
Thursday, December 1, 1743. Both morning and evening I enjoyed some intenseness of soul in prayer, and longed for the enlargement of Christ’s kingdom.
And I am just giving tiny little excerpts here.
Tuesday, December 6, 1743. Was perplexed to see the vanity and levity of professed Christians.
Thursday, December 22, 1743. Spent this day alone in fasting and prayer and reading in God’s word the exercises and deliverances of his children.
Thursday, February 2, 1744. Spent this day in fasting and prayer, seeking the presence and assistance of God, that He would enable me to overcome all my corruptions and spiritual enemies.
You are beginning to see a pattern - entire days sometimes spent in prayer.
Monday, February 6, 1744. This morning was strengthened in God, and found some sweet repose in Him in prayer; longing especially for the complete mortification of sensuality and pride.
Thursday, February 9, 1744. Observed this day as a day of fasting and prayer, entreating of God to bestow upon me His blessing and grace; especially to enable me to live a life of mortification to the world, as well as of resignation and patience. Enjoyed some realizing sense of divine power and goodness in prayer several times, and was enabled to roll the burden of myself, friends and Zion upon the goodness and grace of God...
July 21, 1744, “Towards night my burden respecting my work among the Indians began to increase much…. I began to be in anguish…. I withdrew for prayer, hoping for strength from above. And in prayer I was exceedingly enlarged, and my soul was as much drawn out as ever I remember it to have been in my life…. I was in such anguish, and pleaded with so much earnestness and importunity, that when I rose from my knees I felt extremely weak and overcome, I could scarcely walk straight…the sweat ran down my face and body.”
One time Brainard was so lost in prayer that his sweat melted the snow where he was lying and warmed the ground. Brainard was a man with an amazingly anointed prayer life, and even when he wasn't praying, he never left God's temple (so to speak). He felt that he walked and talked and ministered before the throne of God. He had a constant sense of God's presence and power.
I have had friends with this gift of prayer - men who would start praying before me and continue praying after me, and I would come back a couple hours later and they were still praying, utterly unaware that anyone had left the room. They were like Anna. And their faces radiated the presence of the Lord while praying and when among men. I am no Anna. That's my confession - I am no Anna. I long to be more like her, but I am no Anna.
Is it even right to aspire to be more like Brainard, Monica, Macrina, and Anna? I believe so. Let's look at several things about this woman.
She was a prophetess (v. 36a)
First, she was a prophetess. Verse 36 says, "Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess..." This means that God's inspired revelation came through her to others. But this also means that you cannot criticize her prayer-life as being unbalanced, unbiblical, irrelevant, pietistic, or out of the will of God. As a prophetess she had the stamp of God's approval on what she was doing. It was God's Spirit Himself who spoke through her, prayed through her, and gave God's will through her.
She may have engaged in other ministries in the temple (and probably did for many years), but the passage highlights her prophetic messages and her prayers and fasting on behalf of others as being her most notable contributions to the kingdom. If God led her to this life of prayer, we cannot call a Brainard or a Monica unbalanced or ungodly. To do so is to slander these saints.
Of the tribe of Asher (v. 36b)
Second, she was real. She's not just an ideal, theoretical concept. It's easy to write off godly people as if they are from a different class and that we cannot achieve anything that they have achieved. But she didn't come from remarkable lineage. The text says that she was "the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher." We don't even know who Phanuel was. He wasn't a Levite. He was one from the tribe of Asher - a small tribe way up north that had mostly gone apostate after Solomon. But after Hezekiah sent missionaries to the northern territories in 2 Chronicles 30, a remnant of each of those tribes came to faith and moved to Judah. They were believers, but otherwise not particularly remarkable. Anna comes from an ordinary background, with an ordinary marriage, and experienced ordinary trials and heartaches (like losing a husband). But God moved her to the extraordinary through His Spirit. And it is by the power of the Holy Spirit alone that any human can do extraordinary things.
She was extremely old (v. 36c)
Third, she was old. It says, "She was of a great age." How old was she? Translations differ. An early edition of the NIV had it, "was a widow until she was eighty-four." So that would make her 84 years old in this story - old, but not of great age. The later edition of the NIV changed it to, "had been a widow for eighty–four years." So that second NIV translation would make her to be 106 years old if she got married at age 15. She would be even older if she got married at 18 or 20. Why the change in translation? Part of the difference is a textual variant and part of it is translation of that ambiguous variant. A tiny minority of Greek manuscripts (that the NIV, ESV, and NASB follow) have ἕως, which could be translated in either of two ways - that she was a widow for 84 years or that she was a widow until she was 84 years of age, at which time something happened - presumably death, not marriage. But as I. Howard Marshall and some other commentators point out, even with that minority Greek reading, it would be extremely odd for Luke to say she was a widow until 84 instead of until death. So most modern versions that follow that Greek reading make her older than 100.1
But for those of us who follow the Majority Text and who believe that every jot and tittle of the Scriptures have been perfectly preserved, it is slam dunk. The Majority Text uses ὡς, not ἕως. This means that she had been a widow for about 84 years. This does indeed make her of great age - probably well over 106 years old - unless you are one of those who think that she got married as a 12,13,14, or 15 year old - which I am not sure we have to assume.
OK, enough on the translation. What difference does this make?
First, there are seasons of life. She would not have been able to devote herself to non-stop prayer when she was married. She would have had too many responsibilities - cooking, sewing, cleaning, hospitality to strangers, etc. So don't feel that everyone needs to spend 10 hours a day in prayer. There are seasons of life. But certainly as we get older, prayer is a wonderful area of ministry to emphasize and to transition into. And God may call and gift some of you with the gift of intercession - a special ability given by the Spirit to a few. Of all giftings, I place this gifting right near the top of continuing gifts.
Second, it takes time to learn to pray like this. She probably didn't learn to pray like this overnight. This was something that was learned over a lifetime of praying and walking in the Spirit. The Spirit of God creates within us different subjective sensations that tune our hearts with His heart and help us to pray as we ought (as Romans 8 words it). And we will look at that inward work of the Holy Spirit in a bit. But we are looking now at who these descriptions pertained to. She was a woman like you and me - other than being a prophetess and older than any of us.
She had been married 7 years and a widow for 84 years (vv. 36d-37a)
These verses go on to say, "and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years." In 1 Timothy 5:14 Paul indicated that ordinarily widows should consider getting remarried. If she had married at age 15, she would have only been 22 years old when widowed. If she was poor, she would have fallen under Paul's command to get remarried.
But there are times when God calls women to a unique ministry that cannot be tied down by the home. Paul was in that category when he didn't get remarried. He said that he had the right to, but God had called him into one of the toughest jobs of evangelism and outreach ever, and it simply would not have been compatible with family life. And that was the case with Anna. It may be that with her husband's death, she was well-endowed with money. This is what happened to Monica and a few other women in church history. They had plenty of money to be able to devote their lives to study and prayer. Monica surrounded herself with women who had a similar calling. And here's the thing - the blessings that flowed from their ministry of prayer was phenomenal. Some people would have thought that they were in sin, but not Luke. Luke has praise and admiration for this woman who was devoted to prayer.
So I think this passage warns us not to put women into a box. They too can be led by the Holy Spirit into unique callings. Now, I will say that if God has called a woman to a specific ministry and to marriage, she needs to make sure she marries someone that will enable that calling to dovetail with his own calling. He is probably not going to call you to full time prayer if you are married with kids. But let's not judge women who have been called to do different things than you have been called to do. Obviously there are limits; there are things that Scripture absolutely prohibits - like women being elders or pastors. But I know some women who have this calling of Anna, and I am thankful for them.
She was permanently in the temple (v. 37b)
Moving on. Some have been puzzled by this next statement: "who did not depart from the temple." They don't think it would be possible for a woman to be permanently in the temple, so they treat it as hyperbole, and that it only means that she came whenever there was a service or whenever the temple was open - that she always hung around, with the "always" being a slight exaggeration.
But this doesn't just say that she was always there. It says that she did not depart from the temple. I don't think that wording can be construed as hyperbole. And there were numerous apartments all around the temple complex for priests and their families. And it very well may be that they gave her one of those apartments to live in and minister in. Or maybe she moved in with one of the priestly families. The temple complex was huge. It was ginormous. There is no problem with taking this literally.
But let's apply that phrase to ourselves. If the temple was God's throne room, then never leaving the temple also means that God's throne was at the center of her life. She constantly lived, and prayed, and ministered in the presence of God. And those of you who have read Brother Andrew's book, Practicing the Presence, or have read the Scottish Reformed writer, Hugh Martin's book, The Abiding Presence, know that all of us can learn to be in God's presence when peeling the potatoes, when conversing with others, when enjoying a game, and in every aspect of our lives. As Calvin worded it, we should be living Coram Deo, or before the face of God. It can be true of us that we never leave God's heavenly temple.
The apostacy of the temple did not stop her ministry ("but")
And I find it interesting that the apostasy of the leaders of the temple did not stop her ministry from going forward or her focus from being on God. There was a great deal of unbelief at the time of Christ's birth, and that unbelief only got worse as Christ grew up. So God did not reveal himself to very many leaders. He did reveal Himself to John the Baptist's dad, Zecharias, but in chapter 2 He revealed Himself to ordinary people like Joseph, Mary, Simeon, and Anna.
If the Spirit of God fills you and moves you, you don't live for the approval of man; you live for the approval of God. Nor do you take your cues for what is possible from the unbelief that is around you. You take your cues from God and His plans and His Bible promises. It is possible to live by faith in a culture of unbelief.
She was given to prayer and fasting (v. 37c)
But now we come to the heart of what it was that she did. It says that she "served God with fastings and prayers night and day." Notice the Godward direction. The priests may have felt that she served them all with her prayers. But ultimately she was serving God with her prayers. I find that to be remarkable. Prayer is a service to God. It ministers to His heart.
Note too the connection of her prayers with fasting. Fasting shows both the seriousness of her prayers and the sin-problems that she was praying against. And there was plenty to be burdened about in her society.
But thirdly, it appears that her life was absolutely staturated with prayer, night and day. What would motivate her to do this? Prayer and fasting can be uncomfortable and can be hard work. Did she just have great will power. I don't believe so. This kind of prayer is a sovereign work of God's Spirit. And to understand why we can take this literally, we need to understand the inward work of God's Spirit even today.
I mentioned earlier that the Spirit of God creates within us different subjective senses that tune our hearts with His heart and help us to pray as we ought. And there are six main Greek words in your outlines (and a couple of synonyms to the right of those) that speak of these inward motivations to prayer.
The first inward sensation that the Holy Spirit creates is captured by the Greek word ἀναστενάζω (anastenazo). It is used in Mark 8:12 for Jesus sighing deeply in the Spirit and also in Romans 8:23 for groaning in the Spirit. It's the same word. Romans 8 says, "but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves." This anastenazo sensation inside of us is an inward burden generated by the groaning of the Holy Spirit that motivates us to pray; it drives us to prayer; it burdens us for prayer. Verse 26 uses a virtual synonym when it says, "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." So the Spirit's groanings are communicated to our heart and move our heart to prayer - prayers that are not satisified with the way things are. We desire God's glory. This is the first of six ways in which God helps us to pray in Spirit. His groanings become our groanings; His burdens become our burdens. When that happens we automatically pray. Our flesh does not pray; the Holy Spirit enables us to pray. And such prayer touches heaven's throne.
The second inward sensation that the Holy Spirit produces is captured by the Greek word ἐμβριμάομαι (embrimaomai). This also has an urgency to speak and pray the Scriptures, but there is an aspect of authority in it - of authoritatively speaking those Scriptures to a situation - especially taking authority over the demonic in our prayers. If we are sensitive to the Spirit, we don't just ignore that uncomfortable feeling. It drives us to pray against the demonic.
The third inward sensation is captured by the Greek word ταράσσω (tarasso), which is translated as being troubled in the Spirit. Now, there may be an overlap of meaning in these words, but many people gifted in prayer say that they can sense quite a difference in these inward impulses, and I have experienced all six of these as well. I believe what is communicated by this word tarasso is an inward sensation of danger in someone's life that drives us to immediate intercession on their behalf. I have been woken up in the middle of the night many times with a deep sense of foreboding about a given person and of danger in that person's life, and I kept praying, and praying, and praying until this tarasso sense of trouble leaves and I have peace. It's a huge motivator to prayer. I wouldn't have thought to pray for that person without this inward tarasso sensation that the Spirit of God produced within me. So that is the third aspect of praying in the Spirit.
The fourth inward sensation is captured by the Greek word παροξύνω (paraxsuno), which is translated as moved or provoked or stirred up. Those are all legitimate translations. Paul was provoked in his spirit by all the idolatry in Athens and it made him upset; it moved him to pray, preach, reason, and deal with the problem. This is like a bubbling of the spirit to do something. But frequently it is a holy zeal almost akin to being upset that seizes us and drives us to pray against strongholds and people who stand against God's purposes. Many times (but not always) this Spirit-generated feeling moves me to pray the imprecatory Psalms against those people or strongholds. And often it is accompanied by a sense that I am seated with Christ in the heavenlies (as Ephesians 2:6 words it) and I am praying with His authority to back me up. I am sharing His rod of iron just as Revelation 2:26-27 says we can. Let me read that passage. It says,
Rev. 2:26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations— 27 “He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—as I also have received from My Father.
So Jesus is saying that just as the Father gave Him that rod of iron to smash nations who are in rebellion, Jesus will share this rod of iron with overcomers and give us the same power (or literally authority - ἐξουσίαν) over the nations. So the Spirit provokes us or stirs us up (παροξύνω) to pray against strongholds.
The fifth inward senation stirred up by the Holy Spirit is captured by the Greek word συνέχω (sunecho), and is translated as to be compelled in the spirit or driven in Spirit to pray. This keeps us praying when others would stop. We feel compelled to turn back to that subject matter over and over until we finally have peace. Kathy experienced this for weeks while praying for chaplain Perry. Almost every moment of the day she was praying for him and his wife, and one day she suddenly felt joyful release from it that resulted in lifting hands in praise - only to discover 15 minutes later that Perry had died at that very moment and been released into glory. But his release resulted in her release in prayer. It's an awesome thing to pray in the Holy Spirit, and though not all of you will be called to do so full time like Anna was, all of us can pray in the Holy Spirit. We are commanded to. Ephesians 6:18 says, "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." That's not praying in tongues; that's praying in these six ways. Those are the operative words: "in the Spirit." Our fleshly prayers count for nothing. What is wrought by the Spirit prevails. Jude 20 commands us to be "praying in the Holy Spirit." Those who have experienced these things know exactly what I am talking about, while others might think that we are getting weird and into the weeds here. But no, this is commanded.
And the more we spend time with God, the more we begin to sense the ways in which the Spirit of God is moving us to pray. And the more we respond appropriately to the Spirit's guidance that moves us to prayer, the more strongly entrenched this prayer life will be. It was obviously extremely entrenched in Anna by the time she was 106.
The sixth sensation that the Holy Spirit sometimes stirs up is called travailing prayer, with the Greek word for travailing meaning giving birth or laboring intensely. And there are also Hebrew terms for all of these six sensations. The first time this happened to me was many years after I had entered the ministry. The intense prayers started one night in my dreams, woke me up and continued so intensely and so involuntarily that I could not help but pray. Indeed, it was almost making me double over in agony. There were aspects that felt like wrestling in prayer, but there were other aspects that made it feel like there was something incredibly strong pushing prayers out from within. It came from within so powerfully that it made all the muscles in my body tense. I forget how many hours I was travailing in prayer before I finally felt that God had answered the prayers and it instantly ushered me into joyous praise and thanksgiving. The next day I checked in on the person I had been moved to pray for, and he was in extreme danger the whole time I was praying and was delivered from danger at the exact time that I felt release.
I will be honest with you, I was scared the first time that happened to me. The other five inward sensations were things I voluntarily used to move into prayer, but this was different - this was like birth pangs. I didn't know what on earth was happening. I talked to a pastor friend and he laughed and told me that it was travailing prayer. And that got me studying the bible. I don't know how I missed so many passages on travailing prayer, but it is all through the Bible.
Jeremiah uses the word for birth pangs in regards to his prayers. For example, in Jeremiah 4:19 he says, "O my soul, my soul! I am in birth pains in my very heart! My heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war." The Spirit was birthing something on behalf of the remnant as he prayed his heart out for them. But he likens it to crying out in labor pains.
Travailing in prayer is defined by one author as “Intense Intercession given by the Holy Spirit whereby an individual or group is gripped by something that grips God’s Heart. The individual or group labors with Him for an opening to be created so that the new life can come forth."
Daniel travailed in prayer in Daniel 7:15, saying, "I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body." He travailed in Daniel 9, pouring out repentance on behalf of the nation, petititions on behalf of the nation, and intensely interceding that God would birth something. Interestingly, that intense Spirit-wrought praying came immediately after discovering that the 70 years of exile that Jeremiah had predicted were up. That didn't leave him passive. The Spirit of God came upon him to ask for what was ordained.
Now, I want to be clear that this travailing prayer is not everyday prayer. It is sovereignly given as God is about to birth something new or when the Holy Spirit makes us weep and cry over something that He Himself is grieved about. As one person worded it,
It takes place when we experience the burden and grief of the Lord over a situation and allow the Holy Spirit to express His burden through us in prayer. Travail is yielding to the sorrow of God’s heart over a situation so as to partner with Him to see the solution come.
It can happen in a number of situations. Some people have travailing prayer come upon them when God is about to regenerate someone who is a rebel. Isaiah 66:8 says, “…for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” If Zion is the church, the church's travail births people in the Spirit. New life comes. This is how Paul travailed over the Galatians. He said, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). Paul had travailed for them to come to Christ and he was now travailing that the kingdom would be more consistently lived out in them.
Some believe that Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 1 was travailing prayer.
There were many who engaged in travailing prayer among the remnant in Ezekiel 9:4. It says,
And the LORD said unto him, 'Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men who groan and cry for all the abominations that are being done in the midst of it.'
Many believe that Romans 15:30 is a reference to travailing prayer when Paul uses a different word - a word that means to agonizingly wrestle in prayer. It is συναγωνίζομαι (sunagonizomai). You have the word "agony" in the middle of it. He says, "Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me [there's that word - wrestle together with me] in prayers to God for me..." Strive, wrestle, agonize.
My point in bringing up all of those six types of praying in the Spirit is not that we should all be like Anna and do nothing but pray and fast. The point is that she models to us what can be done whether part time or full time. Stretch your prayer life and ask God to teach you to pray in the Holy Spirit.
Her prayer was answered (v. v. 38a) - the anticipated Messiah had come (v. 38c)
In verse 38 we see that her prayers were answered. It says, "And coming in that instant..." What instant? The instant Simeon took Jesus in his arms and prophesied that everything Anna had been praying for had just been answered by God. God had just birthed the answer to her prayers. Reading verses 25-35 - this is what Anna heard.
Luke 2:25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: 29 “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation 31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, 32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of
Had Jesus been crucified yet? Obviously not, which means that redemption has not yet been accomplished. But Anna is able to move from groaning in the Spirit to giving thanks in the Spirit because the Person whom she had been praying about for so long had finally come.
Verse 38 says that she "spoke about Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." Why did she and so many others anticipate that the Messiah was about to come? We could say that she knew because she was a prophetess. And that would be true. But we could also say that it was because Zecharias had prophesied six months earlier that John would prepare the way for the Messiah. Third, because Daniel 9 had predicted the number of years that would happen before Messiah the Prince would be anointed. For these and other reasons, scholars point out that many in Israel anticipated the imminent coming of the promised Messiah.
And here's the point and application of that theology - God burdens people with prayer when He is about to do something great. It's just the way that He works. If there are no prayer movements, there will be no great things happening.
Her prayers were paired with thanks (v. 38b)
But as was already mentioned, prayer was paired with thanks. Whenever we pray in the Spirit, there does come a time of release and joy and thanksgiving by faith that God has indeed answered. I've had times when I have been fasting for days, and suddenly get a green light from the Lord that the prayer has been answered and I can now feast. I haven't seen the answer yet, but I know in my spirit something has changed in the heavenlies. You don't have to be charismatic or believe in ongoing prophecy to beleive any of these things. Many of the people who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith considered themselves cessationists on inspired revelation, but they spoke about exactly the same things I am telling you. In the olden days this was normal Reformed Christianity.
Her prayers spurred her to ministry - she spoke of Jesus to those anticipating redemption in Jerusalem (v. 38b)
The last thing we see in verse 38 is that her prayers spurred her to ministry - she spoke of Jesus to those anticipating redemption in Jerusalem. Prayer ushers us into ministry.
By prophetic insight she was able to tell who was elect and who was not. She did not waste her words on the apostate priests or those who would have opposed Jesus. She spoke to those whom the Spirit of God had prepared to receive Jesus.
And in a similar way, those who have been given this deep prayer life are often used by God in remarkable ways to advance the Gospel. Their prayers transform their ministry and the ministry of others.
I've got a book of stories of early women of the church that is very moving in this regard. It is so fun to see what God births through the prayers that He stirs up. But since I began with David Brainard, I will mention that his prayers were beautifully answered.
David Brainard was dying of TB, having been reduced to a 95 pound skeleton. But his prayers for the lost Indians were even more intense than ever. Here's what happened before God opened the floodgates of salvation for that Indian tribe. In his diary he wrote.
“I got up this morning and the Indians were still committing adultery and drinking and beating their tom-toms and shouting like hell itself. I prayed from a half hour after sunrise to a half hour before sunset. There was nowhere to pray in the Indian camp. I went into the woods and knelt in the snow. It was up to my chin. I wrestled in prayer until a half hour before sunset, and I could only touch the snow with the tips of my fingers. The heat of my body had melted the snow.”
‘God was with me of a truth.’ Oh, it was blessed company indeed! God enabled me so to agonize in prayer that I was quite wet with sweat, though in the shade and the cool wind. My soul was drawn out very much from the world; I grasped for multitudes of souls. I think I had more enlargement for sinners than for the children of God, though I felt as if I could spend my life in cries for both…I enjoyed great sweetness in communion with my dear Saviour. I think I never in my life felt such an entire weanedness from this world and so much resigned to God in everything. Oh, that I may always live [so]...
And God answered in remarkable ways. His story is a really cool story.
But I want to end by deducing four additional applications for today.
God delights to use nobodies to accomplish His will
The first additional application from this passage that I see is that God delights to use nobodies to accomplish His will. After all, its not about you. Sorry to break it to you, but it's not about you. You are unimportant in the big scheme of things. I am unimportant in the big scheme of things. What matters is Christ in you. And when your focus is on God's glory and you are indwelt by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, prayer will not be in the flesh. E. M. Bounds said, "The wrestling quality of importunate prayer does not spring from physical vehemence or fleshly energy. It is not an impulse of energy, nor a mere earnestness of soul. It is a wrought force, a faculty implanted and aroused by the Holy Spirit. Virtually, it is the intercession of the Holy Spirit in us."
Again, God loves to use nobodies to accomplish His will. That way He receives far greater glory. When you trace the history of evangelistic breakthroughs, revivals, and Reformations, they were all started by nobodies praying to the only Somebody in the Universe - God. I think of the stupendous revival in the Scottish island of Hebredes. The photograph in your outline is of pastor Duncan Campbell and two elderly ladies who prayed for revival. And for the first months that they began praying, nothing happened other than increasing intensity of the burden that the Spirit of God was instilling into these prayer warriors.
Peggy Smith was 84 years old and blind. Her sister Christine Smith was 82 years old and almost doubled over with arthritis. They were unable to attend regular church services, but for months they agonized in prayer for revival. They prayed for each person in their village by name that God would fulfill His inspired promise in Isaiah 44:3 - "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground." Unknown to the two sisters, across town God had stirred up seven young men who met three nights a week to pray for revival, and they made a covenant with each other (in the words of Isaiah 62:6-7) that they would give God no rest until He sent revival their way.
One night in particular as they fervently prayed Psalm 24:3-5 (and by the way - all of these prayer warriors prayed the Scriptures - that's what it means to pray according to God's will - but anyway, as they fervently prayed the Scriptures) the barn where they were praying filled with the glory of God so strongly and they fell prostrate to the ground, drenched in supernatural power. At the same time God gave the two sisters across town release that God had answered their prayer and that he would bring revival through a visiting preacher, Duncan Smith. And He did. God's Spirit swept up multitudes into God's arms. People crowded the church longing for God. For example, seven men were being driven to the meeting in a butcher's truck when the Spirit of God fell on them in such conviction that they were converted in the truck on the way to church. After one of the church services, someone hurried to the preacher and said very excitedly,
Come with me! There's a crowd of people outside the police station, they are weeping and in awful distress. We don't know what's wrong with them, but they are calling for someone to come and pray with them.
The minister went there and said,
I saw a sight I never thought was possible. Something I shall never forget. Under the starlit sky, men and women were kneeling everywhere, by the roadside, outside the cottages, even behind the peat stacks, crying for God to have mercy upon them.
In the ensuing days, over 90% of the Island was soundly converted. It was a spectacular move of God.
Now here's the thing - no one there was amazing. The sisters were not amazing. The pastor was not an amazing preacher at all. But they were connected heart-to-heart with the only amazing Being in the world - God. And when God moves us to prayer, amazing things happen.
Age is of no consequence to God
Second, age is of no consequence to God. He can use you. Anna was over 106. Peggy Smith was 84, Christine Smith was 82. The men on the other side of the village were barely men. They were too young to be of consequence. Some revivals began with young children praying. It moved my heart to see small youngsters gathering spontaneously for an hour of prayer in our own church. Age is no consequence to God. The question is, "Does He have your heart?" "Has His Spirit gripped your prayer life." Pray it be so.
God stirs up prayer when He is about to birth something new
The third application is that God stirs up prayer when He is about to birth something new. Matthew Henry once said, "When God intends to bless His people, the first thing he does is to set them apraying."2 Oh, brothers and sisters. Let us long for a new work of grace in our midst. Let us long that our young people know the reality of God's grace. Let us long that strongholds be broken in each life. Let us long for a fresh outpouring of God's Spirit in our midst. Let us long for the gift of repentance and faith. If God stirs up such longing, prayer will be sure to follow, and we can be confident that God will birth something new in our midst. May it be so Lord Jesus. May it be so.
God will give us reasons for thanksgiving
And finally, having stirred us up to wrestle with God in prayer, God will surely give us reasons for thanksgiving. He never stirs up anything that He does not finish. Praise God! Praise God! Anna was released from groanings in the Spirit to thanksgiving and joy in the Holy Spirit.
May God bless us with Annas in this congregation - Annas who will see us through to revival and great joy. Amen and Amen.
"It is less probable grammatically that the phrase means that she lived for a total of 84 years, pace Lagrange, 91; RSV; NEB t; JB; TNT t; NIV; Barclay." I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978), 123. ↩
As quoted in John MacArthur, Ephesians: Our Immeasurable Blessings in Christ, MacArthur Bible Studies (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000), 98. ↩