Psychologists talk about different sorts of people, but they use all sorts of technical terms. I think the Hundred Acre wood is more helpful when we think about personality types. We are all like one of the characters from the Winnie the Pooh stories; Piglet – timid and fearful, Pooh – slightly oblivious but cheerfully bungling through, Tigger – full of energy and an I can attitude that doesn’t quite match his ability, Rabbit – knows it all but rarely wants to get involved, Eeyore – the epitome of can’t do and glass half full. I wonder which you are as you think about reaching your area for Jesus?
Sometimes the task feels a bit overwhelming and then we have the disappointments of invitations offered and rejected, or a great conversation but which goes no further, or just an apathy to the gospel that is so difficult to deal with. One of the biggest dangers to our taking the gospel to the world is discouragement, and here we see God confront that danger in his people and give the remedy to it.
The danger of discouragement
Chapter 1 of Haggai ended with the people responding to God’s word with repentance and faith, as they go up to the hills bring wood and work on building the temple. But as Haggai 2 opens(1) it is almost a month later and discouragement has set it. They have been working hard but the temple is not finished yet, there is still more to be done. And the work has been really slow, not because they don’t want to do it but because other things keep on interrupting.
The first day of the seventh month is the festival of trumpets, the 10th is the Day of Atonement, and the 15th-22nd is the feast of tabernacles. The work has been stop, start, stop, start. And all these celebrations have taken place amidst the rumble of a ruined temple that is still a building site. The feast of tabernacles would have contributed to the discouragement because it was a celebration of harvest, yet there is none, and because it looked back to God’s gift of the Promised Land, and yet the promise seems so distant to these returned exiles. Small in number, oppressed by enemies, short of resources, with a depressed economy, an uncompleted temple and the walls still in ruins.
To add to their discouragement the seventh month was the month in which Solomon dedicated his temple and as they think back to that they can’t help but compare and contrast this temple with that temple. (3)“Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?”
Solomon’s temple was vast, 81 feet long, 27 feet wide, 40 feet high, made with quarried stone, panelled with cedar wood, and overlaid with gold. Compare that to the ruin being rebuilt by a rag tag bunch of economically impoverished returning exiles. Can’t you sense their discouragement. ‘We’re doing our best but look at it, it looks utterly insignificant!’ Ezra 3 tells us that many who had seen Solomon’s temple wept in despair at the foundation of this one.
If we are honest isn’t there a sense in which we are like these exiles standing in the ruins of the temple weeping? Discouragement is a very real danger for us. Maybe you feel a bit discouraged as a church, you’d hoped to storm the area for Christ, to see people come flocking in to hear the gospel, but it hasn’t happened. Or maybe you are discouraged personally; you’ve invited friends to church, to read the bible together and the answer’s been a ‘no’ or a fairly flimsy excuse. Or maybe it is children who are growing apathetic or have drifted away, or a spouse who is set hard against the gospel. Or someone you were close to who was so determined and deliberate in following Jesus has drifted and is now indifferent to Jesus.
Maybe it is with yourself. You are not where you thought you would be; spiritually, vocationally, physically. Perhaps you feel like a bit of a failure, and then you find yourself thinking but ‘I’m a Christian I shouldn’t feel like that?’
Notice here what causes the sense of discouragement, it is looking at events from a human perspective. But it’s also having a compare and contrast mentality. We compare now with the past, just as the people in Haggai’s day are doing, and feel discouraged. Maybe it’s having been in a bigger church. There is a danger in compare and contrast. Especially when our evangelical culture apes the world in praising and lauding the big and the bold, rather than the small and gradual. Church planters feel that pressure to grow perhaps more than any other pastor.
Maybe you aren’t there yet, it will come, at some point. I love your bold vision for 2020, to double in size. But what if it doesn’t happen. When we first started I’d hoped we would be planting again within 10 years, but clearly that isn’t God’s plan. Over the 8 years we’ve been going we have seen key families move away for work or family reasons. We’ve sent students away to university knowing they are unlikely to return to us. We have seen others drift and abandon their faith, we’ve buried a young believer, seen another friend come to faith and then immigrate to New Zealand. Just this last summer we’ve seen 13 (1/6th) move away for work. And sometimes people create pastoral, theological, and relational waves and then leave with pain and hurt in their wake. As churches we need to know how to deal with discouragement just as God’s people building the temple did.
How do you keep going when discouragement comes?
The antidote to discouragement(4-9)
I wonder what you tend to do with someone who is discouraged? What would you expect your leaders to do? I can’t help thinking we revert to doing what is effectively a half time team talk. Either a gentle gee up or the hair dryer with flying tea cups depending on who we’re dealing with, our temperament or how we are feeling on that particular day. Here we see God deal with his discouraged people and he does so by realigning their concept of their identity, and his glory.
Our God knows
Do you see the initially comfort(3)? God knows. God knows how they feel, God knows they are unfavourably comparing and contrasting, God knows how they feel and he does want to leave them in the bog of despair.
We don’t have to hide our discouragement from God. We can take it to him, he knows. We can confess to him our struggle with size and reach and rejection or just the sheer stoniness of the ground we are working. Discouragement is part of living in a broken world and God knows and wants us to come and share it with him because he cares.
But God doesn’t leave it there(4). God calls both the leaders and the people to be strong, he repeats the call three times. He isn’t telling them just to man up and to put a brave face on it, because God isn’t British. He is calling on them to find their strength in him and work and shows them why they can do that.
Our God is with us
“Work for I AM with you declares the LORD of Hosts.” God hasn’t left his people he is with them. God has called them to do this task and has been at work stirring them up to do so(1v13). He doesn’t give them a task and leave them to it. God is more concerned for his glory and his kingdom than we are. He is a covenant keeping God(5), the sin which drove them from the land and into exile isn’t still having lingering effects and keeping God from them. God has brought them back to the Promised Land in an echo of the very first exodus and just as he was with that generation after the sin and failure of the golden calf so he is with his people now. Sin does not mortgage God’s presence and help when we confess and repent of it. God is with them, his spirit remains with them.
How do you think of the mission Jesus leaves us to make disciples of all people? It isn’t our mission so much as we are invited to play our part in God’s mission. It has always been God’s mission. Matthew 28, how can they go and makes disciples all over the world? “behold I am with you always”. In John 14 to his future fearing disciples Jesus promises the Spirit “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper, to be with you for ever.” And just think of the church exploding across Jerusalem and then Judea and Samaria in Acts because God was with them.
As we take the gospel to a world in need, as we look to make disciples we are participating in God’s mission with God’s resources. He has not left us alone to get on with it, he is with us.
God’s glory will be displayed
(5-6)God lifts their eyes not just to him and his presence but to his ability to gain glory for himself. God is more concerned for his glory than they are and he will move heaven and earth to get it. To a people who are fearful that what they are doing is insignificant God promises that (9)the later glory of this house shall be greater than the former. And he shows them a glimpse of his plan to glorify himself. First in what they are building but in an even greater way in what it foreshadows.
(6)God is going to do something significant that will bring him global glory, that will lead the nations to fill this house with glory and bring gold and silver to the temple. Some of that we see fulfilled in Ezra’s day. Behind the scenes other key leaders of nations around about are trying to stop the building of the temple but God so works that their opposition leads king Darius to send items for the temple, money and other provisions and undertake to protect them from their enemies. God supplies what they need physically to rebuild because the gold and silver of the nations are his. We need to trust that God will provide for his work because he is concerned for his glory.
But there’s another key idea here; God’s glory is not in the splendour of the building. The key is(7, 9) God’s presence, that is what the temple symbolised, it was what the offerings made there were all about. God with his blood bought people at peace. Not peace and quiet but in reconciled, restored relationship which spills over into blessing – living life enjoying the favour of God, knowing and enjoying what and who we made for.
What happens when you use binoculars the wrong way round? What should be magnified is minimised. That is Israel’s problem, that’s our problem, when we find ourselves discouraged.
For Israel the nations and the past loom large and God is small. What God does through Haggai is reverse the binoculars so that God is big and the nations are small. Our God is the nation shaking God. Our God is the glory deserving God. Our God’s plans will come to pass, and our God is with us so that we know peace because of his presence even in the midst of the chaotic or the circumstantially difficult.
And where do we find our peace? Not in a temple but in the one who stood in the temple and declared “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The one who pours out God’s Spirit not just on us but IN us, so that now the temple is not a building but the church. The one who is exalted and invites us to play our part in his mission to glorify the Father and is with us as we do so. The one who brings us peace with God.
I wonder how you see the church? It often doesn’t look like much does it, just as the temple didn’t look like much. It’s because we are looking at it wrongly. The church is the repository of the glory of God on earth, it gives a glimpse of the wonder of the gospel and the future kingdom God is leading us inexorably towards, when everyone will see his kingdom shaking glory and bow the knee. Ephesians 3v10, the church declares God's glory to the watching world, it gives them a glimpse of the coming kingdom that is certain.