“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6
The prophets, both major and minor, are not always easy reading. In fact, most of the time they are very challenging and frustrating even for seasoned Bible readers. You can only take so many woes to the Edomites, Moabites, Chaldeans, etc. etc.
What I do love about the prophets, in addition to their unwavering commitment to be highly unpopular in their time, is the regular grace that breaks through like a bright shaft of light. Their prophetic skies are normally thick and gray, but then a parting of the clouds lets through an insight that I need. Frankly, I rather enjoy searching for these bright spots that burst into a full and racing dawn in the New Testament.
One of these bright spots for me is in the prophecy of Zechariah. Along with Haggai, he prophesied after the Persians allowed the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and temple. The task was huge, so disappointment often surfaced. Zechariah’s prophecy often was something of a motivational speech.
Zerubbabel, one of the key leaders in the rebuild, must have often felt overwhelmed. That’s understandable, for any church building project requires dealing with limited resources and often grumpy members. So an angel gave Zechariah a message for Zerubbabel directly from God: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” In other words, human might, power, insight, drive, vision, leadership skill, etc. are insufficient. To finish a godly task, Zerubbabel needed a godly presence and power.
What is the task you have before you right now? Where is life taking you? What are you doing? Ever feel overwhelmed? Ineffective? Fearful and doubtful? Is the task too great for you? Good! If the work to which you are called is beyond you, then you have entered the realm of God’s work. And in that realm you also will need His presence and power. You need the Spirit. In fact, that is the only way you will succeed.
Too often in my own journey I have put more trust in the gifts God has given me than in the God who gave them. I have some skills and abilities. Some of these I have trained for, and earned degrees in. I have practiced them for so long that I can do them in my own strength. I may even appear competent.
Soon, however, I feel a soul-weariness that borders on despair. My response usually amounted to trying to get some rest, reading a book about my work, or trying to figure out a way to be more effective so that I will feel better.
Noble as some of this may sound, I now recognize it as self-centered pride. I believed more in my might and power than in God’s Spirit. I cannot accomplish anything of eternal value using only my resources. I must live, work, and serve, by the Spirit. Then my work is infused by a limitless energy and a sense of profound meaning.
Practically speaking, what does this new spiritual orientation look like?
Acceptance is the key. I accept my own limitations, weaknesses, and complete inabilities. I accept that I cannot control the people involved in my task or the outcome of my work. In this way I transition from being in charge to being of service. I become an instrument of God’s grace and peace instead of a self-directed leader of men. Terry is no longer in charge. The Spirit is, and my chief task is to be a conduit for the Spirit.
Acceptance sounds so very weak in this power-driven, shark-tank culture. It sounds as if we’ve decided to become slackers, uninterested in change. But acceptance is not approval or agreement of anything in particular. Acceptance is truth. It is an act of faith that God does things differently from our meager attempts. Acceptance means realizing that God does not keep score the way we do.
In both Hebrew (the language of the OT) and Greek (the language of the NT) the word for spirit also means breath and wind, and both of these imply life, energy, power, and change. If we are living in the Spirit, then we are connected to a source of limitless power and commitment to change. We become the change-agents we originally envisioned without burning up ourselves endlessly. I write as one who spent much of my time acting as if everything was up to me. I’m now more aware of the indwelling power of the Spirit.
A related key is making peace with the fact that the unexpected will happen. Typically, when the unexpected happens we set about trying to restore it to “expectability.” Sometimes that works, as with an acute illness or a natural disaster. We do heal from nearly every disease, and we can clean up and rebuild as people are now doing throughout south Louisiana.
The problem arises when our usual ability to restore normalcy proves laughingly, sometimes tragically, inadequate. Things happen that irrevocably change life. The verdict settles on us like a lead blanket. You will never be the same.
What do you do? Rage at life’s unfairness? You can kick the world if you wish, most of us do at some point, but all we get is a broken foot. You can rage at God and fling away from Him, but that will simply leave you without the comfort and strength of the Spirit you needed in the first place.
Far better is to look the world in the eye with a steely faith in God’s goodness. One day God will make all things right and new. Until that day my challenge is to remember that this life was never all up to me in the first place, and therefore I need to rely on the Spirit.
My strength and power can only take me so far. I encounter God in what lies beyond my strength and power. Every acknowledged weakness, every accepted failure becomes, not an occasion for God’s disapproval, but the opportunity for grace to enter and God to work. Full and trusting dependence on the Spirit is the way God created us to live. Accepting this brings peace and joy.
Dr. Terry Ellis
September 4, 2016