This article looks at the life of Simeon and Anna as examples of how God answers and rewards secret prayer. Their prayer was answered in the coming of Christ.

Source: The Banner of Truth, 2002. 2 pages.

Secret Prayer Openly Rewarded

When God was about to bless his people with their long-promised Messiah, he raised up Simeon and Anna to pray with all prayer and supplication night and day. God's 'secret is with them that fear him' (Ps. 25:14). These two were among a remnant in Israel who 'looked for redemption in Jerusalem' (Luke 2:38). They have a very honourable place in God's Word and deserve to be remembered affectionately. What do we know about them?

Of Simeon we read that he was 'just and devout' (Luke 2:25). His profession of godliness was not feigned or Pharisaic but real and true. In a very dark and dreary age this man had a genuine knowledge of God. He is a reminder to us that Christ has his jewels even in the worst of times. Simeon was a man who, by grace, rose above the gloom of his day and shone in the eye of God as a man of faith and hope. The grey mediocrity of those times did not drown his soul in unbelief or poison his spirit with cynicism. Though what he saw in God's house must have grieved him sorely, he devoted himself to a ministry which no eye of man saw. He prayed, hoped and longed for a better day to dawn. And he did not hope in vain.

It is stated of Simeon that he was 'waiting for the consolation of Israel' (Luke 2:25). He did not form a party to agitate for political or religious reform. Rather, he set himself to wait on God to break into the affairs of the nation again. He believed God's faithfulness to the ancient promises of a coming Saviour. We do not know how long he had been waiting but it must have been for many years before we see him here on the page of sacred Scripture in the one place of God's Word where he is mentioned. He is a bright example to us of the virtue of patient waiting on the Lord and persistent expectation.

To sustain his faith Simeon was also given a divine promise: 'It was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ' (Luke 2:26). Just how this promise was revealed to him we may not know, whether through an inspired man living in his earlier life-time, or by an inner voice revealing to him this divine privilege immediately in his mind. However the message came to Simeon, he was not unfaithful to the heavenly vision but was strong in faith and in the expectation of its fulfilment to the very last. This sublime secret was the hidden source of his spiritual strength, the assurance that he would with his very eyes see for himself the Messiah and Saviour of the world.

There is little or no prayer in our souls until we have a vision of what God may do in this world, and even in our own lifetime. Faith must be constantly fuelled and re-fuelled by the promises of God. Where there is no such expectation of getting good in this life from the hand of God our faith sinks into a state of sleep. Prayer falls till it is a mere formality.

Of Anna, we know that she was a widow of great age, having lost her husband after only seven years of marriage. Her family descended from the tribe of Asher and her father's name was Phanuel. She is described as 'a prophetess' (Luke 2:36), a remarkable fact in view of the cessation of the Writing Prophets some four hundred years earlier, Malachi being the last. We assume that her prophetic gift, or rather the Holy Spirit, had enabled her, like Simeon, to know that the birth of the glorious Saviour was close at hand. She had consecrated almost her entire life to fasting and prayer 'night and day'. It is clear however that there existed in Jerusalem a number of others, not named in Scripture, who at this time were longing for God to revive his work in the church.

The picture we have, then, in this short passage of Scripture is of a small number of spiritually-alive men and women in whose hearts burned the light of true faith. Little noticed, as we may suppose, by the official religious leaders of the day and little involved in the momentous secular upheavals at that time in the state of Israel, they were among the Lord's true disciples in a spiritually-corrupt period of the church. Their ministry was one of waiting on God in secret and, by fastings and prayers, of pleading with God to bring that dreary age to an end and to usher into this needy world One who would be its Light and its Glory.

The facts given here would be interesting enough in themselves if we knew no more of this lively band of praying saints. The curtain which is drawn back for a moment to reveal these spiritual worthies might easily have been again re-drawn to conceal the outcome of their prayers. But God's Spirit has graciously given us much more. He shows us also their reward and the marvellous way in which their faith and prayers are heard in heaven. Never did praying saints more fully receive their hearts' desire than did these precious Jewish believers in Jerusalem.

Led by divine guidance, as they were, both Simeon and Anna came into the temple at the very hour when Joseph and Mary brought in the infant Jesus to 'present him to the Lord' (Luke 2:22, 27, 38). According to their faith it was done unto them. Both Simeon and Anna were richly rewarded at the end of their long life of prayer by a sight of the Child whom they well knew to be the 'light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of God's people Israel' (Luke 2:32). The long night of Old Testament times was now at an end. The church of God was about to 'lengthen her cords and strengthen her stakes' (Isa. 54:2). In this Child all nations were now to be blessed.

It is little wonder, as Simeon takes up the tiny form of Jesus in his arms, that he blesses God for the privilege given to him of seeing and holding to himself the Lord from heaven whose blood would 'sprinkle many nations' (Isa. 52:15). As Simeon prepares to depart from the stage of life, his life's work now done and well done, he blesses God. Then, having announced prophetically to Mary that the sword of grief would one day pierce her heart (surely a reference to seeing her Son on the Cross), he summarizes Christ's ministry as one which would turn the lives of multitudes upside down. So exits this man of God.

Anna too thanks the Lord and goes back to the band of prayer-warriors to announce the arrival of the great Messiah himself and, therefore too, the end of an age. These are they who wrestled with God, and prevailed. They are an inspiration to all God's people to live well in a cloudy and dark day and, in the worst of times, to hope against hope in the sure promises of God.

It would be good to learn in our own day that the same faith and prayerfulness were alive and active. Happy would our dear land be if there were at least some mighty wrestlers with God. Oh, to hear of a group somewhere, no larger perhaps than a cloud the size of a man's hand, of Christians engaged in this secret ministry of earnest intercession! No service for God would surely be more precious than that of men and women devoted to a life of prayer, and importuning heaven for a fresh visitation of grace upon all our churches! There is a host of good reasons why Christians with leisure to do so should set themselves, as Simeon and Anna did, to pray in these days with all prayer and supplication, with strong crying and tears, and with all the energies of their soul for God to revive us all again. It is one of the chief challenges of this hour.

We do not suggest that the case of Christians praying in secret today would be precisely parallel to that of Simeon and Anna secretly praying for God to bless his church in their time. They had a special revelation of the soon coming of Christ in the flesh; we have no such revelation of a visitation of God in our land. They prayed for the coming of the Son of God and for his incarnation; we for his Spirit to 'lift up a standard against the enemy who has come in like a flood' (Isa. 59:19). The two situations are in some respects different.

But in its essence their position and ours is surely the same. They lived in a dreary age when little of God's power was visible in the church; we too live in a time when the arm of God is not being made bare in preaching. They lived in a day when true religion was at a low ebb; so also do we.

Just about every ingenious artifice that the wit of man can devise has been tried in a frenzied effort to inject more life into churches in our Western world. We do not offer this criticism to discourage effort for God's cause but to call attention to the sad reality that, for all these multiplied forms of evangelism, little has happened of which it could be said, 'This is the finger of God'. The sobering fact which must surely be faced is that little of the power of God has attended the machinery of our human endeavour. The one thing which really matters has been conspicuous by its absence: power to change the condition of the world all around us. Society sleeps on in its deep sleep of death.

Though we do not have revelations or prophecies today as Simeon and Anna did, we do have encouragement to hope for great things from God in our times. The gracious hand of God has for half a century now been sowing truth in the earth everywhere. There are today more good books of sound theology in the world than probably ever before in the history of mankind.

Here surely is the spur we need to prompt our souls to look to God for a fresh shower of blessing on his church commensurate with the extent of this recovery of sound doctrine. The doctrine is essential; but if it is to shake society out of its slumbers this theology must become incandescent in men's souls as they preach it and as they hear it preached. The fire of truth is burning, but the bellows are needed to blow up the flame till it becomes a conflagration.

It is precisely at this point that we need today the ministry of an Anna and of a Simeon. The call goes out to all who are zealous for God's cause and who have leisure. Let them see the vision of a ministry of fervent prayer to God in secret. Let every saint who has health and strength to do so set aside quality time for exercising themselves in this secret work within the closet. Let them cry out mightily to God, 'O Lord, save thy people and remember thy holy promises! Why should the heathen say, "Where is their God"?'

The ministry in secret of Simeon and Anna was one of the most significant events on earth in its time. It was not chronicled by the historians who wrote of Julius Caesar's conquests in Britain a little earlier. But it was chronicled in those books of God on high, whose records will be reckoned precious when all the volumes of mere men are at last cast into the fire.

Simeon and Anna were content to exercise a ministry which few but God knew of. But they kept firmly at their devotions till their heart's desire was at last given to them. Their ministry in secret was at length rewarded openly. Will anyone, following their example, take up the ministry of Simeon and Anna today?

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