Anna: A Model of Ministry Perseverance

What if your whole life was chronicled into four sentences of eighty-five words? Which defining events would be recorded for history? What words would be carefully scripted to narrate your lifetime?

There is one such devoted servant in Scripture whose life is encapsulated in Luke 2:36–38. Her (short) story speaks volumes to us today. Her name is Anna.

Anna finished well. She remained faithful and useful to God despite personal heartache. As we prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Baby who redeemed us out of darkness and brought us into His glorious light, let’s remember Anna.

Anna’s Disappointment Didn’t Disqualify Her

There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. (vv. 36–37)

As a young woman, we can assume that Anna joyfully anticipated the Asher family album to bulge from chronicling her marriage and the births of many sons and daughters, the typical storyline for women in the ancient world.

Marriage likely came around the age of twelve or thirteen, but seven years later, Anna’s fairytale abruptly ended. We’re not given the details of her husband’s death, but Anna was marked as a widow for the rest of her life. 

When tragedy struck, Anna had decisions to make. Would she . . .

  • Allow God to use her brokenness to minister to others or disqualify herself to live in a prison of pity?
  • Become blistered with bitterness or choose to trust and surrender to God’s plan? 

Verse 37 points to a woman who drew near to God and said “yes” to an unscripted and unwelcomed future. 

Anna’s Gratitude Sustained Her Ministry 

She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. (v. 37)

As anyone who has lost a spouse can affirm, Anna needed the grace of God to climb out of the pit of grief and step into a life of new purpose. Her ministry was birthed out of tragic loss. This widow, now married to her Maker (Isa. 54:5), devoted herself to the Lord’s work. The priorities of her ministry were to serve in the temple, fasting and praying day after day. Anna embodies the description in 1 Tim. 5:5 of a true widow, “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.”

I have a friend, Marcia, who serves Jesus like Anna. She is single, but not by choice. Her unbelieving husband divorced her many years ago. After serving in vocational ministry, she now serves as an older woman without an official title or a paycheck. Her days are spent at her home church encouraging the saints, leading prayer, meeting one-on-one with burdened souls, or pitching in to help whenever it’s needed. Marcia generously gives her spiritual gifts to the Body of Christ without a retirement plan in sight.

What keeps us going in ministry? Any attempts to erase regrets or shame, prove we’re worthy, earn God’s favor, or erect a celebrity platform won’t take us far before the train jumps the track. I cannot speak for Anna, but I imagine she was kept going by bottomless gratitude for God’s provision and grace over her lifetime. Adding to it her love for God’s Word and for the community of His people—her true family, Anna’s hope didn’t rest on wishes, but on unwavering faith in the promises of God. 

While some servants might choose to step back and take time for themselves later in life, this wasn’t true of Anna. Instead of turning her ministry over to the younger generation, Anna was like the righteous people described in Psalm 92:14, who “still bear fruit in old age; [and] are ever full of sap and green.” 

Anna’s Future Hope Fulfilled

Coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (v. 38)

I imagine that Anna, like most women, never ceased to long for a husband or child. She may have prayed for years with wordless groans and tears. Friend, you and I have agonizing longings that may never be fulfilled on earth. We can be grateful for this: unmet desires keep us yearning for our true home in heaven, and we can be assured God will graciously meet our needs in His perfectly timed way.

From the beginning of time, God chose a surprising plan for Anna: her dream of having a family vanished into vapor. I wonder if Anna ever experienced moments when she felt like He had overlooked her—until that fateful day. Her heavenly Father had something better in mind, to behold the Christ child, rather than to hold and raise her own biological child. 

Oh, His ways and thoughts are so different than ours (Isa. 55:9)! 

Scripture details that Simeon held baby Jesus while he prophesied, 

“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34–35)

Can’t you picture Anna standing right beside Mary to offer encouragement as she tried to comprehend Simeon’s mystifying words? Is it possible that Anna’s mothering instincts took over as she reached out her hands for permission to take Jesus into her arms? 

Put yourself into Anna’s place. Ponder the heart-arresting moment. Nothing the world had to offer to Anna could measure up to cradling the Baby who is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Imagine the joy, love, and wonder that exploded through every cell of her whole being as she gazed into the face of God. What a climax to Anna’s story!

Truly, His ways and thoughts are so different than ours! 

Will You Follow Anna’s Model?

God is writing an equally astounding story through your life. He is using your influence and prayers to help shape the stories of the people you serve in ministry. Whether it’s to serve Him in the local church, on the mission field, or in your own backyard, it won’t be what you expect. It will be hard. You’ll get discouraged and want to give up. And when you do, consider again the wonder of it all—the privilege of being a handmaiden to the King of kings and Lord of lords. 

Anna never quit, despite the daily cost of ministry. She fulfilled her calling while ardently waiting for the Messiah’s coming. Once she gazed upon His beauty, she couldn’t contain her love for Jesus or stop speaking about the priceless worth of salvation through His name. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, we too will persevere in ministry until the end.

Let’s look to Anna as our model while we faithfully serve and wait for Jesus’ second coming by telling and retelling His words:

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Rev. 22:12–13)

About the Author

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett has led Women’s Ministry in two local churches, and serves on the Revive Our Hearts ministry team. She connects with women’s leaders around the world in the Revive Our Hearts Leader Facebook Group and as host of online training events. A teacher at heart, she is devoted to training and discipling the next generation to treasure Christ above all. Leslie and her husband Mac live in S.C. where she loves spending time with family, and admiring Lowcountry sunsets.