Anna: Spiritual Woman Extraordinaire

Dr. Brian Allison

In the Bible, we find some very extraordinary characters. One such person is a woman called Anna. Luke 2:36-38 is the only reference in the New Testament concerning her. This brief statement serves to instruct and teach us the ways of God. We read, "And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage [or virginity], and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him [Jesus] to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem."

Anna's calling was that of revealing the will of God, and, as recorded here, she declared God's salvation which found its fulfilment and culmination in Jesus Christ. There are not very many prophetesses named in the Bible. In the Old Testament, according to the Talmud, there are only seven prophetesses – Sarah, Mariam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther; and so Anna is part of an elite company. I want us to focus on one statement in the above cited passage: "And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers" (v. 37b). As I think of this woman, this prophetess, the statement that comes to my mind is this: "Anna, spiritual woman extraordinaire." Let us consider this spiritually extraordinary woman.

Extraordinary devotion

Anna had extraordinary spiritual devotion – "She never left the temple." Now, some Bible commentators believe that she had private quarters within the temple precincts. Others believe that this language is hyperbolic – an exaggeration – indicating that she was incessantly frequenting the temple. In any event, regardless of the interpretation with which you are most happy, we know this one thing, the temple was her constant environment; she was always there. She was devoted to the temple because she was devoted to God.

The temple symbolized the presence of God. It indicated that God was in the midst of His people. It was called the holy place (Acts 21:28). It was at the temple, in a special way, that God was to be found. It was at the temple, in a special way, that one was to seek God. Indeed, the primary purpose for going to the temple was simply to worship God. For instance, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, we read that His disciples "were continually in the temple, praising God" (Lu. 24:53).

So, Anna never left the temple. She was always before God, always seeking the presence of God; she was absolutely and fully focused on God. Now, I hear the immediate criticism: "Well, it is impossible to do that. It is utterly impractical to do that. What do you mean, always at the temple?" I want to suggest to you that this quality characterized many of the great spiritual women. For instance, Julian of Norwich (1342-1415) was a deeply spiritual woman. She was an English mystic and a Benedictine nun. At age thirty, she was encountered by the living God and entered into a suspended state of ecstasy. God broke into her experience and heart, and ravished her spirit; and she was changed. God revealed Himself to her as life, light, and love. Sixteen years later she wrote The Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love. She was a woman committed to protracted periods of meditation and contemplation. God was her life and her environment. So, this quality of devotion to the temple; or spiritually speaking, devotion to God, characterized the great spiritual women of the faith.

Similarly, this practice of devotion to the temple characterized the early Church. After the Holy Spirit had been poured out, there was a radical transformation in the lives of believers. They beheld the glory of God, and He became their life and their focus. We read, "And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people" (Acts 2:46,47a). Impossible? Impractical? It characterized the early Church. Extraordinary? Yes. Impossible? No.

So, how should this historical fact about Anna speak to us? Though perhaps, practically and physically, you may not be able to go to the temple, to the Church, daily, spiritually you can. Remember that, for the Christian, the temple is identified with not only the Church, but also with the redeemed saint's body. We spiritually find God not only in the gathered people of God, but also within the privacy of our hearts. Spiritually speaking, it is possible to be in a state where you never leave the 'temple'. That is, you should be in that constant atmosphere of worship because you are to be continually in the presence of God. Is that true of you? We are always the holy temples of the living God. Thus, like Anna, we can be believers of extraordinary devotion to God.

Extraordinary Commitment

Anna was also a woman of extraordinary commitment – "serving night and day." This woman was actively engaged in the Lord's work; she was a busy beaver. Anna was not distracted by worldly matters, because she was in the employ of the King. Now, I want to underscore the fact that she was an elderly saint. There are two views concerning how we ought to interpret the phrase in verse 37 of this chapter: "And then as a widow to the age of eighty-four." One view argues that she was married for seven years and then she was a widow until the age of eighty-four. Another view argues that she was a widow for eighty-four years; and thus, assuming that she was married when she was fourteen years old, that would make Anna one hundred and five years old at this time. Regardless of the correct interpretation, Anna was a senior citizen.

There are some who say something like this, "Well, I have put my time in serving God and working in the Church, and it is time for someone else to take over the reins; it is time for the younger people to get involved. I have done my share." Have you heard Christians speak like that? Have you spoken like that? Such talk is unbiblical; you do not find that attitude endorsed in the Scriptures. What you find in the Scriptures are serving senior citizens. You have your Moses', your Miriams, your Aarons, etc. Notice the language of Luke 1:5ff., by way of illustration, "In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. They had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years." 'Advanced in years', but still serving the Lord. In Philemon 9, the apostle Paul writes, "Yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you – since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus." Paul was serving as a senior citizen.

Now, we are to continue to serve God because God daily demands our service – He is the Creator, we are His creatures. We are never to stop serving Him because we should never stop loving Him. We serve God because we love Him, and He is always supremely worthy of our love. God created us, not to be idle and to 'do our own thing', but to love Him by our service. There is no retirement or pension plan with God. When you are finished your service on earth, you exit to heaven. Billy Graham is 79 years old. He was interviewed recently and was asked whether he had thought about retirement. Graham answered, "No. Because I don't find that in the Bible." God's servants do not retire, they are simply promoted to glory. So, Anna served the Lord night and day. Where did she get all that energy? I'm sure she could say, "The joy of the Lord is my strength" (cf. Neh. 8:10). If you love God, if you really love Him, you will want to serve Him. You can never do enough for Him, in exchange for all that He has done for you.

Further, the term translated 'serve' is an interesting term; it is a religious term, or rather, has the idea of religious service. Hebrews 13:10 reads, for instance, "We have an altar, from which those who serve [same Greek word] the tabernacle have no right to eat;" again, Revelation 7:15 reads, "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve [same word] Him day and night in the temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them." Even in heaven, we will serve in God's temple day and night. You will not take your ease there, my Christian friend. You will not be given a harp that you can pluck, as you put up your feet and make sweet music. No, you will serve Him incessantly, and you will never get tired or bored, for then you will see Him 'face to face in all His glory', and your heart will be given to Him; and you will not be able to give enough for Him who loved you and gave Himself for you. Let us imitate Anna who had extraordinary commitment.

Further, this term 'serve', which carries the idea of religious service, implies that our service is given to God as an offering. When we serve God, it is essentially an act of worship. That is why you can wash the windows, polish the pews, and sweep the floor in a church building, and enjoy it. You can find some significance and purpose in it; and why? It is an act of worship. As you live before God in His presence, your whole life should be an act of worship. That is, whatever you do, you should seek to please and glorify Him. We are not just putting in time when we prepare a Sunday School lesson or help in the Church nursery, or distribute Church literature to homes; we are not simply performing tasks because the Church leadership expects us to do them (and if that is your motivation, you won't show up and be involved). When it is an act of worship, you perform tasks for God's praise and glory.

Extraordinary Piety

Anna was also a woman of extraordinary piety. She served the Lord night and day "with fastings and prayers." This description underscores the fact that she was indeed performing her service as a worshipper of God. She gave herself unceasingly to God through acts of piety. Now, this term translated 'prayers' is another interesting term. It is better translated 'petitions' (i.e., requests). For instance, Romans 10:1 reads, "Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer [i.e., petition; same Greek word] to God for them is for their salvation." Again, we read in 2 Corinthians 1:10f., "He, on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers [i.e., petitions], that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favour bestowed on us through the prayers of many."

So, Anna was continually requesting or beseeching God for, generally speaking, blessing, grace, and help. She clearly recognized that God is the provider and that absolutely all things are possible for Him. She was a woman of faith; and we, as believers, should have the same mentality. In fact, the Scriptures would exhort us to follow in this example. Thus, Ephesians 6:18 reads, "With all prayer and petition, praying at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints." For some of you, this particular verse is an encouragement; and for others, it is a rebuke.

Now, remember that Anna was a widow. As you read the New Testament, it seems that this practice of praying unceasingly by Anna serves as an example, and as a precedence, for all Christians, but particularly for Christian widows. So, 1 Timothy 5:5 reads, "Now she who is a widow indeed, and who has been left alone has fixed her hope on God, and continues in entreaties [petitions] and prayers night and day." This is quite a calling. When I graduated 18 years ago, there was an elderly saint who attended that graduation and congratulated me. I did not know her that well. Now, the astounding thing for me is this, a considerable time later, I met up with her again, and she disclosed to me that she had been praying for me regularly. Incredible! How do you advance in the Christian faith? How do you succeed in the Christian ministry? Not by your native talents or your acquired skills or your invaluable experience. Listen, all spiritual wars are won or lost on the battlefields of prayer. The Church that thrives is the Church that is undergirded by prayer. A praying Church is a victorious Church; and I thank God for the elderly saints who pray day and night for the Church.

But further, Anna also continually fasted. Her petitions were coupled, and energized, with fasting. That is, she was serious about laying hold on God. She meant 'business' with God. She sought the Lord with her whole heart. Seeking God with the whole heart is that which God delights in. When you fast, you are wrestling with God, and you are diligently seeking to receive God's blessing. Fasting is spiritually enhancing because your body is not burdened by its digestive and metabolic processes, and thus its energies can be focused and channeled on the spiritual. Fasting gives prayer 'wings'.

My friends, we do not succeed because of our slick organization and management skills, we do not make a significant impact because of our wonderful spiritual gifts, we do not prosper because of our experience and knowledge; we overcome, advance, and prosper because of those mighty warriors who fight in the spiritual trenches, who have bruised and calloused knees, and who have sore and red eyes because of lack of sleep, continually wrestling with God in the secret place of prayer. Read the history of revival. Revival comes through those on their knees. It has been reported that the spiritual revival that broke out in different parts of Scotland about 50 years ago was supposedly the result of the prayers of two Octogenarian ladies. These two prayer warriors prayed down the grace of God.

So, Anna served the Lord night and day with fastings and prayers. Indeed, she was a spiritual woman extraordinaire – extraordinary devotion, extraordinary commitment, extraordinary piety. I submit to you that we can be just as extraordinary as she was because we serve the same God. We worship the same King. Oh,...there is one major difference between Anna and the New Testament saint – we have the Holy Spirit as a personal possession; she did not. What do you think about that? She was extraordinary; how much more we should be.