Some events have a bigger bite than originally anticipated for example, a thief was startled to hear a quiet voice coming from a across a dark room saying, "Jesus is watching you." The thief shined his flashlight toward the voice and was relieved to see a parrot saying the words, "Jesus is watching you." The thief asked the parrot, "Is your name Jesus?" The parrot answered, "My name is Moses." "Who would name a parrot Moses," said the thief. The parrot said, "The same person who named that pit bull Jesus!"
The story of Anna is contained in just three small verses of Scripture, but contained in this brief account of her life are several significant principles to guide us in becoming a more effective messenger for Christ.
I. Practice purity
The first lesson revealed in the text is that Anna practiced purity. The text says she was a prophetess, she fasted and prayed, and she never left the temple. The KJV contains an additional phrase, "she lived with her husband seven years from her virginity." All these references reveal that Anna lived a separated or holy life. When God chose someone to offer a witness for His Son, He chose someone who practiced purity.
Anna's purity serves as a beautiful picture that an effective witness flows from a holy life. Many Christians are weak and ineffective because their lives are filled with ungodliness. These weak witnesses live with shame knowing their hypocrisy limits their credibility in speaking for the cause of Christ, so these worldly believers remain silent. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy instructing him, "If a man cleanses himself he will be a vessel of honor, made holy, useful to the master and prepared for every good work." (2 Tim 2:12).
An Old Testament example of sin limiting the power of God is the failed attempt of Israel to defeat the city of Ai. After having previously defeated a much stronger enemy at Jericho, the children of Israel fully expected God to deliver Ai as He had Jericho. After an embarrassing defeat, God revealed to Joshua that there was sin in the camp. Disobedient actions caused the defeat. It was not a lack of skill, not the strength of the enemy, not a lack of strategy, not a lack of effort, or a lack of sacrifice that stopped the advance of God's army; it was sin that robbed the children of God of victory.
Just as sin stopped Israel's advance into the Promised Land, it will silence the witness of Christ followers. Hypocrisy, shame, and a lack of purpose are not appealing to a lost soul. A lost person already struggles with those issues. The unsaved person wants to hear a message of hope that promises to deliver one from the vices that destroy lives.
II. Pray consistently
The biographical account of Anna reveals that she was a prayer warrior who prayed night and day. When God chose a handful of believers who testified at His Son's birth, God chose someone who prayed. Through prayer she gained an insight that many failed to grasp. I am sure she was familiar with the prophecy of Jeremiah who declared for God, "Call upon me, and I will show great and mighty things that you do not know" (Jer. 33:3). Anna saw mighty things of God that others missed.
A wise man of God has said, "You will never tell people about Jesus until you tell Jesus about people." Through prayer the Bible says we gain wisdom (James 1:5). The disciples received the Holy Spirit and power to witness while they were praying in the upper room (Act 2). Strongholds are torn down in prayer (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Doors are opened through prayer (Col 3:2-3). Boldness to advance wearing spiritual armor is gained through prayer (Eph 6:19). Anna prayed and God used her to tell others about Christ. We should follow her example.
Consider the example of the four men who brought their friend to Jesus recorded in Mark chapter two. When they arrived at the house, the crowd was already spilling into the street, so the guys climbed on the roof, tore open a hole, and lowered their paralyzed friend to Jesus.
Now don't miss the next point. The Bible says that Jesus saw the faith of the friends who lowered the paralyzed man down through the roof. Jesus saw their faith, not the one needing healing. Jesus reached out to the man because of the faith of others.
Use your spiritual imagination as we think about the story and prayer. Where is Jesus now? He is in heaven seated at the right hand of the Father. How can we get our unsaved friends into the presence of Jesus? Through prayer. The Bible says the prayers of the saints of God come before His presence like incense upon an altar. (Rev. 5:8). You may not be able to convince a lost friend to attend church, to read the gospel of John, or to listen to an evangelistic testimony, but you can pray your friend before the throne. You can tear down strongholds, open doors, and ask for a harvest by lifting your unsaved friend into the presence of Christ through prayer.
Look back at Anna's story. The Scripture says she spoke to all who were looking for redemption (v. 38). I can not prove it from the text, but I am convinced that she told people for whom she had been praying. Who are you praying for? If you can not name someone, then pray for God to lead you to a lost soul that you can bring into the presence of Christ through prayer.
III. Proclaim boldly
We need to pray consistently, but we must also be ready to take the next step of proclaiming boldly. The text says "she went up to them," and she spoke to others who were looking for redemption. These verses reveal a holy boldness to initiate the conversation. Anna recognized what an awesome privilege she had been given to testify of the Messiah. Some people thought she was just a crazy old lady, but Anna was more concerned about the Messiah than what the multitudes thought.
Boldness is not about doing crazy off the wall, life-threatening adventures. Holy boldness like Anna's is stepping out of a comfort zone, by faith, to share the great news of eternal life with those who need it and are ready to receive it. Boldness prevents you from becoming negative or defeated when everyone does not respond. Most did not believe Jesus even after they saw Him perform miracles; and most will not believe you. Through holy boldness, we keep sharing because we refuse to be intimidated by darkness, ridicule, or a calloused heart of a lost soul.
IV. Persevere patiently
You cannot read this story without noticing the emphasis on Anna's age. Some translations say she was a widow for 84 years after 7 years of marriage. If she was 14 when she married, she would have been 105 years old. Other translations like the NIV indicate she was 84, but the point is the text says she was "very old." She had longed for this day for many years, and God granted her the desire of her heart. Widowhood would have been extremely difficult in the first century. Remember the Apostle Paul's instruction to encourage young widows to remarry. The first deacons of the church were chosen to address needs related to widows. Anna probably battled poverty, loneliness, and depression, but she never lost hope in the God of Israel who loved her. She provides a powerful example to never give up. God's timing is perfect, and Anna waited faithfully on her God.
Notice, Anna makes her greatest contribution at her weakest condition. You persevere by doing what you can, where you are, with what you have. Far too many saints complain or get discouraged about what they don't have or can't do. At almost 100 years of age, there were some things Anna could not do that she once did, but Anna kept on serving. I love the words spoken by Jesus to Mary of Bethany who anointed him with burial perfume. Jesus said, "She has done what she could." Anna did what she could. What are you doing with what you have?
A major lesson from Anna's life is not to let age or any other barrier prevent you from making a significant contribution to the Kingdom. One of the beautiful aspects of the Christmas story is the variety of people that God uses for His glory. Young and old, rich and poor, women and men - all play critical roles in God's plan of redemption. Anna's story challenges all of us to stop making excuses that limit our effectiveness and start making a difference with the opportunities and resources that we do have.
Pastor Paul Powell tells the story of a member of his church who was dying. On his last visit Dr. Powell prayed for God to give this man boldness as he prepared to go through the valley of the shadow of death. The man told Dr. Powell, "Pastor I am not afraid to die, but I am ashamed to die. I know I must go empty handed because I have not witnessed for Christ." Anna spent her final days on earth telling others about Christ. How will you spend you life?