A few years ago after preaching about Pentecost and the Holy Spirit a woman came to speak to me. She told me that she was a missionary to part of Outer Mongolia! Well that got my attention and respect and so I asked her to tell me about the Church where she serves. She told me a lot of things but to be honest I didn’t pay much attention after she told me one statistic because I was so blown away by it. She said that in 1990 there were three known Christians where she served, now there are an estimated 50,000. Even if there has been a miscalculation or overestimate that is still an incredible figure.
I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be one of those three Mongolian Christians or a missionary who had moved there in 1990? Surely it must have felt like the task they were being called to, given their small numbers, relative lack of resources and probably opposition from the government and other religions, was impossible. I am suspecting over the last 30 years or so the church in Mongolia hasn’t had church buildings, that many theologically trained leaders, big bank balances, access to tens of thousands of Christian books which can be delivered the next day or numerous translations of God’s Word in their own language. Yet with none of things we take for granted or normally think are necessities for success in the church world, they have witnessed God do something incredible in and through them.
The question all of that provokes in my mind and I am sure in yours is HOW?
Call me thick, (well I would prefer you kept it to perhaps, a “little slow.”) but it wasn’t till later that day I put together what this woman had told me, my question and the fact it was Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember God unleashing His Spirit into our churches, lives and world. Thinking all of that over my mind went to an incident near the end of the Old Testament.
The man with one of the most difficult to spell names in the OT, “Zerubbabel,” was appointed to governor of Judea by the Persian King. He appointed to take charge of the rag tag and very unmotivated exiles who had been allowed to return to Jerusalem and supervise the rebuilding of the city. This was much more than a project management kind of a job, because behind the King of Persia’s command was God’s call.
Zerubbabel was called to rebuild the Holy City and the Temple, he was in effect called to rebuild God’s people. Yet Zerubbabel must have thought that even just physically this would be an almost impossible job, but he also faced spiritual apathy among God’s people. The returned exiles were much more concerned about ensuring that they had comfortable homes than making any sort of sacrifice to help rebuild the rest of the city and especially the Temple. The surrounding hostile cities were plotting Zerubbabel downfall as well as physically threatening the work. Right at the point where it must have felt like what God was calling on him to do, he was incapable of doing, an Angel came to Zerubbabel with this message from God.
This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 7 Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him! Zechariah 4:6
That Angel had a simple message for Zerubbabel there were two ways that he could attempt to do what God was calling on him to do
1. “by force and strength” …. By independence, he could attempt it all relying on his own strength and resources.
2. “by my Spirit” … In dependence on the Holy Spirit.
The promise is if he chooses to depend on the Holy Spirit nothing will stand in his way, “Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him!” Temples can be rebuilt whatever the odds stacked against that happening and 3 can become 50,000 in Outer Mongolia, if God’s people will stop depending on their own resources and instead choose to do what God has called them to do in dependence on His Spirit.
We had a day off for Ascension Day recently. I hope we remembered it was the day Jesus didn’t just return to heaven and send his disciples out to join Him in mission. Jesus told them to return to Jerusalem and await the promised Holy Spirit. I wonder if Jesus was teaching them this lesson. That they couldn’t do what He had called them to do in their strength and with their own resources, they needed to be filled with and then learn to rely on, the Holy Sprit. Our own strength is never enough for the work of God. Zerubbabel had to learn that and so do you and I.
Well Pentecost has come and gone but its implications face us everyday and never more so than we face something we are called to do that seems so daunting as to be all but impossible. Whenever we feel like that, whenever we feel inadequate or incapable of doing what God has called us to do, we need to hear afresh the choice and invitation the Angel gave Zerubbabel
“It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
and turn again from depending on our own strength and resources and learn to depend on the Holy Spirit, and that includes whatever you are facing today.
It feels to me that in almost every area of our lives at the moment and especially as a group of God’s People that we face what feel like something between daunting and insurmountable challenges. I know about you but one thing I know about these challenges is that I feel intimidated by them and incapable of overcoming them.
But I am not too worried about feeling that way because I have realised that it simply puts me in the same frame of mind as Zerubbabel was in when the Lord told him
“It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord
And if you are feeling intimidated and incapable in the face of what is confronting you in life right now, the Lord says the same thing to you too.