“And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years,
which departed not from the temple,
but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.”
~ Luke 2:37
The birth of Christ was very humble, yet He was not without honor. He was greatly honored in the temple on this day; first by Simeon and then by Anna. Anna is one of the minor characters in the New Testament, yet she was highly favored by God in that she saw the Christ of God with her own eyes before her death. She like Simeon, was “waiting for the consolation of Israel;” which Simeon saw in Jesus and proclaimed, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
It is not clear from the text whether she was eighty-four years old at this time or if she had been a widow for eighty-four years. Either way, she had been a widow for a long time and she had been serving God devoutly for a long time. She “had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity.” She had had only one husband and after his death, she chose rather to devote her life to God than to remarry, for “she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:34). This is not a negative statement about the remarriage of one whose spouse has died, but it is commendable that she chose to remain single in order to serve God. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Matthew 19:12).
The verse tells us she “served God” and that is where I wish us to invest our attention now. Anna is called a prophetess in the thirty-sixth verse of this chapter. That may indicate no more than that she was a teacher of “the young women,” or she may have been a foreteller. You will recall that Jezebel called herself a prophetess and undertook to teach others (Revelation 2:20). It is not a great matter in what way she was a prophetess for that is not in consideration in our text. The fact that she was a prophetess is not included here in the testimony that she “served God.”
Anna here teaches us some things about the service of God. In the first place, it is not only the duty of the religious officers to serve God. It is certainly expected of such officers to be engaged in and devoted to the service of God. However, some seem to think that only those in official capacity are to be daily employed in God’s service. Additionally, there are those that think only the officers can serve God. In other words, unless we are acting in some great capacity or involved in a highly visible work, we cannot serve God. This widow woman proves this untrue as she “served God… night and day.”
In the second place, we notice of what her service consisted. It is first said of her that she “departed not from the temple.” She was faithful to attend the house of God. At this time, the church was not established, so there was no New Testament assembly as such. The temple was the place for the public corporate worship of God. However, after the establishment of the Lord’s ekklesia, the church is the place for the corporate public worship of God and public ministry of His Word. “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:21, 23).
Our private home with our families is the proper setting for private and family devotions, but this will never fulfill our responsibility to the services of the church. We are commanded by the writer of Hebrews, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). Therefore, faithful attendance to the Lord’s house was a part of her life to which the Holy Spirit testified, “She… served God.”
The second part of her service was that she “served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” What a testimony of personal holiness and godliness! It was not that she observed the “hour of prayer” (Acts 3:3), but rather she prayed “night and day.” She was always at the business of prayer. She must have relished communion with God to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer was no drudgery or mere perfunctory service. She delighted in conversing with God and heaving praise upon Him that was her joy and strength. She must have exclaimed, “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1).
Dear Christian, how is it with your testimony at this hour? Could it be said of you that you “served God with fastings and prayers night and day?” Let us daily be occupied in this blessed service to our faithful God. When the Lord was telling Ananias that Saul of Tarsus had been saved, He said, “Behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). Prayer is a mark of the true child of God. Prayer is also the very beginning of service. We cannot do anything without prayer. We are instructed to do “everything by prayer and supplication” (Philippians 4:6). May we learn from this humble widow and be more frequent upon our knees doing serious business with God.