Do you expect God to answer prayer? Or do you, like me, struggle to maintain a prayerfully expectant heart?
For years, maybe even decades, Simeon had been waiting for God to fulfill a promise. Was he weary of waiting? I don’t think so. Simeon was a man of faith, “righteous and devout…eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel [and] the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25, NLT).
The Hebrew word often translated waiting in Luke 2:25 means “expectant.” The Message words the verse this way: “Simeon…lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel.” By the power of the Holy Spirit who rested on him, Simeon lived in confident hope because the Spirit had said Simeon “would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (v. 26, NIV).
So Simeon waited. He watched. He prayed.
One day, the Spirit told him to go to the temple. Maybe that was all the information Simeon received. Just go. And he went. What did he think when he saw the young couple among the temple crowd that day? Did the Spirit say, “That’s what you’ve been waiting for. Go to them”?
The prophet Isaiah wrote that there “was nothing beautiful or majestic” about Jesus’ appearance that would have drawn people to him (53:2, NLT). Perhaps that also applied to his earthly parents. Mary and Joseph were probably dressed in the drab, coarse garments of the lower class. They brought the offering of the impoverished to the temple that day—two birds (Leviticus 12:2-6; Luke 2:24).
And yet, when the Spirit told Simeon to approach the family of three, he obeyed. When he took the baby in his arms, Simeon knew he was the Messiah. This baby would bring salvation to both Jew and Gentile (Luke 2:32). This baby would bring “salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6, NIV).
Simeon’s story illustrates three principles of cultivating a prayerfully expectant heart—a heart that is content to wait in confidence for God to fulfill his promises—the kind of heart I want to cultivate, but struggle to nurture.
What Prayerful Expectancy Looks Like
First, Simeon was confident God would do what he promised. He didn’t grow discouraged and stop praying when God didn’t seem to be listening. His example prompts me to ask how patient I am when it comes to prayer. Do I continue to pray confidently when the answer is delayed?
Second, Simeon obeyed the Holy Spirit even when the reason may have seemed unclear. When the Holy Spirit nudges me to approach someone, do I? Or does fear silence me? Does doubt immobilize me?
Third, Simeon didn’t judge by appearance. If his heart’s desire was to see the Messiah, surely he had studied the Scriptures. He knew the Messiah was the heir to David’s throne. He knew the Messiah would bring deliverance. He knew the Messiah would be a mighty warrior.
I doubt Mary and Joseph looked like the parents of such a Messiah. But God continually does the unexpected. And Simeon looked beyond what the nation of Israel expected—perhaps what he himself expected—and accepted what the Holy Spirit said.
Cultivate a Prayerfully Expectant Heart
One of my goals is to cultivate a prayerfully expectant heart—a heart like Simeon’s. Here are three ways I’m going to pursue this:
Believe God’s promises.
First, I’ll focus more on the certainty of God’s promises and less on why the fulfillment of those promises might be delayed. Too often I’m exploring all the reasons God isn’t doing what I think he should do. What if I’m not obeying in some area? What if I’ve missed an opportunity that would have led to the answer?
Self-examination can be helpful. Paul told the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NLT). But when that examination causes me to doubt God’s Word, I’m headed down a dangerous path. To help combat unhealthy examination, I’ll cling to this truth: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24, NIV).
Obey God’s Spirit.
Second, I’m asking God to make me more sensitive to the Spirit’s nudges and less resistant to risk. I’m not a risk-taker. I’m much more likely to remain silent and inactive than to speak up and do something. So this year, I’m asking God to provide an opportunity each day for me to speak or act on his behalf. Part of my prayer goes like this: “Holy Spirit, shove me in the right direction. Shout at me if you need to.” I’ll keep these words of Paul in mind: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5, NIV).
Seek God’s heart.
Third, I’m asking God to free me from my expectations and increase the clarity of my spiritual vision. I usually move through my days expecting people—friends, family, coworkers, strangers—to act in certain ways. When they don’t, I sometimes allow disappointment or anger to dictate my responses. I may lash out with unkind words or actions. Or I may seethe in silence.
So part of my daily prayer will be “Lord, help me see others through your eyes—eyes of hope, love, and patience. You’re working in and through them. How can I respond to them in a way that pleases you and edifies them?” I’ll also pray-it-forward, thanking God for the work I know he is doing in others and in me. I’ll rely on the truth that God will complete the work he has begun in me and in others (Philippians 1:6). God is “able to keep [us] from falling away and will bring [us] with great joy into his glorious presences without a single fault” (Jude 1:24, NLT).
Through the power of the Holy Spirit we, like Simeon, can cultivate a prayerfully expectant heart. What steps will you take toward that goal?