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Faithful, but not Fruitful
- Junior deSouza
Ever felt like you were faithful...but not fruitful? Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, experienced this. He also tasted the
glories of moving beyond faithfulness into fruitfulness. Follow me with open Bible as we walk in Luke 1.
Luke 1:5-7 Faithful, but not fruitful
Zechariah was a priest, representing the people of Israel before God by ministering in the temple (v5). He and his wife
Elizabeth were faithful to God, "observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly" (v6). In spite of their
respectable resume, they were barren and unfruitful--they had no child (v7). In the Old Covenant system, the fruit of the
womb (children) was a reward from God (Deu 28:4,11, Ps 127:3-5). No fruit of the womb indicated some spiritual deficiency
(Deu 28:18, 2Sam 6:23, Isa 26:18). Couples who were childless, in that era, were considered disgraced and disfavored by
APPLICATION: It is possible for us, too, to be spiritually faithful and spiritually unfruitful at the same time. It is possible to run
a godly hamster wheel, but still not accomplish rewarding results! I have done this before, and boy is it disheartening.
Jesus not only said to be faithful ("obey my commands" Jn 15:10), He also said to be fruitful ("bear much fruit" Jn 15:8). The
first command given to the first man was, "Be fruitful" (Gen 1:28). God calls us to spiritually produce, accomplish, and leave
a distinct signature.
v8-11 Prayer brings visitation
The good news is, God cherishes faithfulness (Pr 20:6, Lk 16:10). However, He wants it to ripen into fruitfulness. So, He
schedules a visitation with faithful Zechariah (v9) with the intention of making him fruitful. This visitation manifested by
prayer, others' and his own (v10,13).
APPLICATION: God schedules visitations for those Christians who are faithful, but not necessarily fruitful. You may not
realize it, but your divine visitation was/is manifested by prayer, others' and your own. You may have long forgotten what you
prayed and why, but God doesn't forget. Make the connection! Cornelius is a great example (Ac 10:1-4). Up until his
visitation, he was faithful to what he knew of God--and he prayed. God visited him and brought him into an amazing
fruitfulness. Faithfulness schedules the visitation, prayer manifests it.
Zechariah's visitation came by way of an angel. Even so, we should not get hung up on the how of a visitation, but the reality
and meaning of it. God can visit us through a person or group bearing His word, a major providential life experience, an
usually timely book, a series of dreams, or anything else He may clothe Himself in to land in our life in a personal way.
v12 The visitation troubles
God's visitation to Zechariah troubled and scared him. This is because the visitation was different than what was familiar to
Zechariah and the priesthood. Angels did not appear to priests in the Old Testament, they appeared mainly to prophets
(Gen 32:1, Num 22:22-35, 1Ki 19:3-7, 2Ki 1:3,15, 1Chr 21:18, Eze 40:3,4, Dan 9:21, 10:4-7, Zec 1:8-20). This is important to
know. Zechariah was accustomed to experiencing God within his mundane temple duties. Angelic appearances were not at
all priestly, they were prophetly and warriorly. Zechariah certainly knew this, being an Old Testament teacher (Mal 2:7-9).
God's unusual, non-priestly, out-of-the-box, visit troubled Zechariah.
APPLICATION: When God visits and reveals Himself to us, He may do so in a way that is unfamiliar, unexpected, unusual,
un-Juniorly, un-whateveryournameis-ly. He may do it through an unlikely or unlikeable person (like Paul, an ex-murderer of
Christians, or Balaam, a pagan rent-a-prophet), a strange situation (like ditch-digging in a valley, 2Ki 3), an unexpected
phenomenon (like a burning bush), a certain denomination, or anything else outside of our backyard. The Lord does not
seek our permission or opinion when He shows up! He will never contradict Scripture, but He will certainly violate our
predictable protocol. Consequently, some Christians feel troubled and afraid, like Zechariah, when God visits them
unusually to transition them into fruitfulness and productivity.
v13-17 The visitation blueprints coming fruitfulness
The visit promises Zechariah fruitfulness, and gives him a specific blueprint/vision to focus on (v13-17). He calms his fears
by assuring him that his fruitfulness will bring him and others much happiness (v14). He builds him up by telling him his
fruitfulness will bring a certain greatness and importance to his life (v15-17). He challenges him by implying his coming
fruitfulness will require growth and adaptation to new things (v17); Zechariah is a priest, now being called to birth and raise
a prophet. These are two very different ministry personalities.
APPLICATION: In our visitation, God will promise us fruitfulness too, and give us a specific blueprint/vision to focus on. He
will calm our fears by assuring us that our coming fruitfulness will bring much joy and fulfillment. He will build us up by
affirming that our fruitfulness will bring a certain greatness and importance to our life. He will challenge us with a
requirement for growth and adaptation. This is because our coming fruitfulness is beyond our current maturity, ability, and
experience. New things must be learned--new attitudes, new behaviors, new choices, new skills, new goals, new
relationships, new environments, new resources, new paradigms, and so on.
v18 The visitation addresses God-image & self-image
In verse 18 we read of Zechariah's reply to the blueprint: "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well
along in years." This one verse holds volumes of insight into Zechariah and unfruitfulness. Zechariah had a small
God-image, which inevitably produces an even smaller self-image. He limited the I AM to his own am-nots, can-nots, and
APPLICATION: Divine visitations always address our deepest God-opinions and self-opinions. You know, one tricky thing
about faithfulness is that we can hide behind it. As valuable and necessary as it is, faithfulness doesn't entirely reveal our
true spiritual fabric. We, like the priest and Elizabeth, can memorize and practice biblical commands blamelessly. It is when
we are mocked by looming non-productivity that the floodlight comes on. If God is small to us, and we see ourselves as
grasshoppers, we will forever live in mundane Christianity...daily devotionals, faithfully attending church, giving money, doing
good to others, keeping appetites on a leash. These are all necessary, but they are only Step 1. Fruitfulness demands we
defy our small view of Jehovah, affirm ourselves as conqueror-kings, and navigate any challenges to learn productivity.
Moses had a low God- and self-image (Ex 4:1-17). Isaiah had a tremendous God- and self-image (Isa 6:8).
v19-22 The meaning of silence
After reassuring Zechariah that his coming fruitfulness is good news, a joyful hope and future, the angel removes his ability
to speak. God did this for two very important reasons.
First, it was disciplinary (v20). God suspended his speaking ability until he learned to use his mouth to praise and thank
Him, instead of sabotaging himself through self-defeating, self-absorbed talk. He learned the lesson well, for in verse 64
"his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God." The last words he spoke before
the silence were faithless and defeating (v18); the first words he spoke after the silence were God-praising and faith-filled
Secondly, the silence was a type of makeshift prophetic experience. Zechariah was not a prophet and did not need to be
prophetically adept. However, as John's father, he did need to understand personally a key facet of prophetic ministry to
understand his son: silence before proclamation. Prophets experience seasons of God-ordained silence before giving their
utterances (Eze 3:24-27, Lk 1:80, 3:2,3). This often includes extended times of solitude while the revelatory dew is
descending and saturating the prophet. During these times, the prophet is under orders to stay silent until he, the
messages, and the target environment are ripe.
As a priest, Zechariah would not fully understand this. God was giving him a taste of what his son would experience, and
therefore, be able affirm that in him. Otherwise, Zechariah might misinterpret his son's desert solitude as emotional
detachment or disturbance (Lk 1:80, 3:2). The crash-course on prophecy worked. At the end of Zechariah's silence, he, a
priest, prophesied the message that was settling on him for months (v67-79).
APPLICATION: God will silence our destructive and defeating speech. He will correct and train us to utter faith-filled worship,
praise, and thanksgiving at all times. He will also teach us the value of silence (Ecc 3:7, Pr 10:19); what it means to wait
silently on the Lord (Lam 3:26), to silently conceal knowledge when appropriate (Am 5:13), even to be silent before
persecutors (Mt 27:14).
v57,58 Fruitful at last
After many years of faithfulness, and a short period of sharp adjustment, Zechariah and Elizabeth finally produce fruit--John
is born. The difficulty, disgrace, and disappointment are quickly eclipsed by the beautiful, Spirit-filled baby boy.
We also will be fruitful as we endure and overcome as John's parents did. As we remain stubbornly faithful, pray for God to
continually visit us, recognize and embrace these visitations, develop in our God-image and self-image, and learn to
administrate both silence and speaking, we too will bear glorious and rewarding fruit.
Visit these websites to learn more about Junior deSouza.
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