Summary: The “Lord of the angel armies” speaks, and says “I am here… you are not alone… I will give you strength – I will strengthen your hands – to finish the task.”
Let Your Hands Be Strong
Sept 14, 2008 Zech 8:9-17
Can you recall a time when you wanted to quit? Throw in the towel, pack up your stuff, and walk away? The situation was hard, you were tired, you felt like you’d had enough, taken enough, worked hard enough, and you were ready to just say, “enough!” I’m finished, I’m done, I’m walking away, it just isn’t worth it anymore.
I’ll tell you about a time like that for me. It was many years ago, before I got married, when I was living with Brian Whittle and we were two young college guys. I was working part-time in ministry here, and had (in addition) taken the job of shoveling the snow here at the church to make a little more money so I could afford to pay Brian my share of the rent and groceries.
It was one of those bitter winter nights. It had been snowing for a couple of days non-stop – that wet, heavy, kind of snow – and was now about a foot deep. If you’ve never noticed, we actually have a lot of sidewalk around this church… (insert snow weight calculation here??)
I remember the biting wind that makes your ears hurt so you have to keep your toque on but then your head gets too hot because of all the physical exertion of moving snow. I remember the weight of the snow on the shovel. I remember a bunch of other things waiting to be done at home. And so I shoveled a thin path, done poorly, and even at that was physically exhausted and fed up. And ready to just say enough! This isn’t worth it!!
Now, Brian my roommate had come with me to help. Yes, out of the goodness of his heart, voluntarily, I don’t even think I asked him, but he also had a shovel and was plowing through some snow at the other end. Isn’t he wonderful? And when I had had enough, I went and got him and said “there. I’m done. It’s good enough, let’s get out of here.” And the volunteer shoveler said to the paid shoveler, “What? There’s no way you could have finished that side already.” And he walked over to the part that I’d done poorly, took a look, and then taught me a very very valuable lesson.
“Steve,” he said, “you are not done.”
“Come on,” I replied, “it’s good enough, let’s get out of here.”
“We’re not leaving.” And since he had driven, I was stuck. Then he said, “you are the guy who is always talking about the pursuit of excellence. And you want to leave this sidewalk looking like that??”
Now I’d never imagined that my desire to pursue excellence applied to shoveling snow. That wasn’t in my dream of pursuing excellence. I only wanted to pursue excellence in the things I liked, and probably that were easy for me. Surely that didn’t apply when something was this hard, right??
Brian didn’t say anything else, he just started shoveling. The parts that I was supposed to be shoveling… and he did it properly. With excellence. Alongside me, side by side, shovel by shovel. When I wanted to quit, he wouldn’t let me.
Background to Zech 8:
It seems our friends the Israelites have come to a similar point. If you’ve been with us over the summer you’ve heard about how they have just returned from more than 50 years in slavery in Babylon, and they came back and everything was destroyed. They started rebuilding, and for the first 18 years or so had concentrated on rebuilding their own homes and farms and industries, and then the time had come for them to come together to start rebuilding some of the common areas of the city, the public parts, most importantly the temple where the people would come to worship God. That project had begun about 2 years ago, with volunteer labor and with funds freely given. And this was done with great sacrifice – to work on the temple meant that people would have to leave their own homes and lives, which were not yet finished or established, leave them vulnerable to enemies, and go for weeks or months to work on the temple in Jerusalem. And after two years of this kind of sacrifice, it seems like there was starting to be some of the “enough…” sentiment. And so our passage today finds God speaking clearly and directly to a people who may very well have been feeling like quitting…
Zech 8:9-17 (NLT)
“9 “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Be strong and finish the task! Ever since the laying of the foundation of the Temple of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, you have heard what the prophets have been saying about completing the building. 10 Before the work on the Temple began, there were no jobs and no money to hire people or animals. No traveler was safe from the enemy, for there were enemies on all sides. I had turned everyone against each other.