When I picture Anna, I see an elderly woman, bent from the passage of time. Her bony hands grip a cane that helps her slowly make her way through the temple courtyard. White hair peeks out from under her Jewish head covering. To most observers she looks just like any other old woman in Jerusalem…until you see her eyes. It is her eyes that cause the busy passerby in the temple to pause and listen to what she is saying, to let her grasp their hand in hers and share her story. Her eyes, though they should be dim with age and weariness, are not. They blaze. They are bright and intense and filled with purpose, with light. They leave a person wondering, “What has this woman seen?”
Meet Anna, the prophetess. What we know of her life is found in Luke 2. Her name means “grace.” Anna was a widow. She had been married as a young woman, but her husband died seven years later. Knowing the young ages at which women were married in those days, it is safe to assume that she had been an extremely young widow.
She was of the tribe of Asher, which means that she was probably from Galilee. Her father’s name was Phanuel. Scholars believe his name is connected to the story of Jacob found in Genesis 32 where Jacob declares, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” He named that place Penuel.
Anna did not remarry, as most young widows would have. Instead, she went to the temple and worshiped God. The Bible says, “She never left the temple, but stayed there day and night, worshipping God with prayer and fasting.” She is eighty four years old by the time we are introduced to her. By the time we first hear her name, she has spent decades at the temple, literally pouring out the best years of her life at the feet of God in worship. Some might actually view her life of extreme devotion as wasteful.
Though her life of devotion is already extraordinary, this is not why she is remembered. The one event that causes her to be recorded in Scripture happens on the 40th day of the life of Christ. In observance of Jewish law, Joseph and Mary go to the temple for two reasons. First, they go to complete the ritual purification for Mary, who has recently given birth (Leviticus 12), and second, they go there to perform the redemption of the firstborn son as outlined in Exodus 13. While they are at the temple with their baby boy, they encounter Simeon, who was a devout man, awaiting the Messiah. Through the Holy Spirit, he begins to prophesy over Jesus. Mary and Joseph are stunned. While this is happening, Anna approaches and joins them. She sees the baby and begins praising God. After this happens it says that she begins to talk to everyone who had been waiting for God to rescue Jerusalem.
That is the end of her story. Her life is summed up in seven sentences. But what a life. She worshipped God with a constancy and passion that most of us have not seen in anyone, ourselves included. She encountered Jesus. She spoke of Him to anyone who would listen. I can’t think of a better testimony.
If I could reach back in time and talk to Anna, I would ask her one question. I would look into those eyes, so full of the light of His face and ask her, “What kept you there? What drove you to stay in that place and keep seeking God’s face year after year until you saw Him? How did you stay faithful and consistent over a lifetime?”
It would be easy for us to look back at Anna’s life and decide that her life is the exception. There would be no way for us to live that way because we don’t live at the temple, or church. She did. She lived her life in close proximity to where the presence of God dwelt. She had no children and no husband to take care of. We have different time constraints than she did. We cannot be expected to live the way she did. That kind of intimacy with God is reserved for those who have the luxury of a full time pursuit of the Holy.
But what if we are wrong about that? What if I were to tell you that we have an even more open access to God than Anna did, though she lived at the temple day and night? Anna was separated from the actual presence of God by the thick veil in the temple. She saw God with her eyes for a moment, in the face of the baby Jesus. But beyond that, she pressed on, in faith, without seeing, knowing that behind that thick veil that separated them, the presence of God dwelt.
Girls, there is no more veil. God tore it in half when Jesus gave up his life to redeem ours. The real presence of God stands wide open for us to walk into. There is no more temple. We can worship Him at any moment, day or night. His Spirit does not reside in the holy of holies behind a veil in a building in Jerusalem. It resides in us. Our very bodies are the temple where the Spirit of God dwells.
So what does that mean for us today? It means that we can live that way too. Whether we are at church worshipping corporately with other believers, or whether we are sitting in the minivan waiting to pick up the kids, we have access to God’s presence in a way that believers of old could not have even fathomed. Do we press in to that? Do we treasure that? Or do we ignore the open door to the throne room of God?
Girls, may we never take for granted the access we have to God! If older women are to teach the younger then Anna’s life has taught us well. I believe that her life teaches us to seek God wholeheartedly. She spent decades before the Lord, before she ever saw Jesus. I believe that she saw God with her heart long before she saw Him with her eyes. Isn’t that our story too? That we have hearts that love and long for the invisible God, and someday, that faith will be made sight. Maybe that is what drove her to stay in that place, to keep pressing on in prayer and fasting, to give herself to the worship of God. She had tasted and seen that He is so good. May we live like Anna. May we spend ourselves in prayer and worship. May we run through that open door set before us and encounter the beautiful God whose Glory evokes a lifetime of worship. And if that is a “wasted life” then, may we waste ours as well! May others see the light of God in our eyes. May our love for God not wane, but grow ever brighter as we age. And may we tell everyone about our Jesus, the Light of the World, so that they too might see God, and that they too might live.
“~if you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me.” Jer.29:13
*My blogs are written with the assumption that they are being read primarily by Christians. If you want to know more about what it means to be a Christian or about the gospel of Jesus Christ, click the link here:The Gospel