Do you remember the good old days? Do you remember when people flocked into the gospel meeting? When the Sunday school was so large that it almost overflowed the building? The spiritual insight that used to be shared in the Bible reading?
To many, the above stories of the “good old days” and the “glory days” of assembly testimony are relegated to the reminiscences written in history books and the occasional black and white pictures hanging in the coat rooms of the assembly buildings. In the assembly where I grew up there was a fascinating wide angle picture of the members of the assembly in the 1920s. There were at least a couple hundred people in the picture, and it was at least two feet wide, which further emphasized the magnitude of assembly testimony at that time. But those people have since passed away. Today we don’t need a wide-angle camera shot. Actually, a telescopic lens would be better.The glory days had departed before I was born. Yet, these glory days linger in the back of our minds, and sometimes are inadvertently a discouragement. It does not seem that my attempts to sow the gospel seed and please the Lord in this generation are comparable to what happened in the good old days!
The encouragement of Haggai is an antidote to a weary and perhaps disillusioned spirit. In or around 538 B.C., a small pioneering band of God’s followers had chosen to take up the invitation of their captors and leave Babylon. When the time came to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem, most of the Israelites and their new families chose to remain living in Babylon. However, a small band of devoted Israelites, a “called out” group, returned to Jerusalem to face the parched earth, a scattering of stones that used to be a magnificent temple, and defiant squatters who had since occupied their land.
After courageously journeying from Babylon to Jerusalem, these God-fearing pioneers started to build the foundation of a new temple. They were convinced to put God first, and, as such, decided to build their own homes only after the temple was completed. Whereas the previous temple that the Babylonians had destroyed was a sight to behold – estimated to be worth more than four billion dollars in today’s value – the plans for the new temple were much more modest. In fact, when these pioneers gathered to celebrate the completion of the foundation, the broken-hearted crying of some of the older Israelite priests (who had witnessed the glory of Solomon’s first temple) almost drowned out the shouts of joy at the establishment of the beginning of this new temple! There was discouragement from within the ranks. Moreover, there was discouragement from without the ranks, as the Samaritan squatters were trying every legal means possible to oppose and halt the building of the temple.
The Israelite pioneers were in a discouraging and depressing situation. In fact, a situation wherein many of them, after reflecting upon the previous temple, concluded that their new attempt to do something for God was “as nothing.” Perhaps they thought the new temple’s modest size would be an embarrassment. What would the relatives from Babylon think when they came over to visit?
Haggai is a man marked by “practical encouragement.” Haggai didn’t prop them up with kind, yet empty words. He didn’t soothe their consciences by telling them that at least they had obeyed the Lord and left Babylon to build His temple. No. Instead, as directed by the Lord, Haggai dispensed practical encouragement.
Firstly, Haggai identified the problem: selfishness. These pioneers had chosen to shift their focus from pleasing the Lord to pleasing themselves and building beautiful houses. Haggai called for repentance and a return to obeying the Lord. Haggai also provided specific instruction as to how to return to doing the Lord’s work: Go and start building, for God is with you! After the band of workers had rolled up their shirt-sleeves and rediscovered the joys of elbow grease, he shared a particularly poignant message from God. To the worn out, discouraged, and deflated Jewish pioneers, Haggai asked: Do you see this new work for God as of nothing? I suspect the majority of the group would have wholeheartedly endorsed this assessment. In turn, Haggai informed them that God would fill this new building with a greater glory than Solomon’s temple.
This must truly have been a cup of cold water to their thirsty souls! Their little building would be blessed by God after all! The very foundation on which they were building, where Solomon’s magnificent temple had stood, would one day be the site where the long-prophesied Messiah, the Father of Eternity and the Prince of Peace would be presented to God. It was on this very site that the Lord Jesus would describe the temple (even though built by Herod) as “My Father’s house.” These beleaguered pioneers were engaged in a rather small work with few observable results in the short term – but their combined work was linked with the future glory of the Lord of Hosts. As the exhausted and embittered group stood to hear Haggai’s message to them that day – a message of honesty, practicality, faithfulness, and encouragement – they received a spiritual shot of vitamin B12 that would propel them to continue working despite the discouragement and “smallness” of their efforts. In turn, this rather modest and insignificant work would one day bring invaluable glory to God.
Thank God for Haggai-like Christians in our day who see a discouraged person or group of people and help them through the difficulties. Perhaps it means pointing out error or sin. Perhaps it means rebuking or correcting. Perhaps it means giving practical advice about how to return to our First Love. Perhaps it means spending time working alongside those who have become worn out and exhausted. The Haggai-like approach will certainly also include a timely word from the Lord that can shock us back into His service. The Haggai-like encourager can help us to see that our work for the Lord is bigger than our understanding, it is wider than our imaginations, and longer than our memories. Our work for the Lord may echo down the years and have an eternal measurement greater than our calculations. Thank God for glory days of old where men and women faithfully served the Lord with commitment and conviction! But, maybe, just maybe, in the smallness of our work for the Lord in our generation we too will have the honor of bringing glory to the same God that Haggai and the people of Israel served so many years ago.