There are many times in our walk with God that we are going to feel weak in the faith. We are going to feel weak in our service. We are going to feel weak in our worship. We are going to feel weak in life. We are not alone when we feel this way. All of us experience these times in our lives. God addresses those times when we feel this way. It is exactly the way God’s people felt when they came back to rebuild the temple of the Lord. You can imagine what a daunting task these people had when they left Persia and came back to Jerusalem. The walls of the city are torn down. There are no houses to live in. There is no farming lands ready to produce. The temple has been burnt and toppled. There is so much work to do. We need to plant so we can eat. We need to build a house so we can live. We need a city so we can exchange goods and services in a marketplace. We need a temple so we can worship our Lord who has preserved us. There are 42,360 people who have returned to do this work (Ezra 2:64). While this is a lot of people, the amount of work that needs to be done is overwhelming and discouraging. So God has sent his prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to encourage these people to not give up and to have hope even though they feel weak in this moment. So let’s look at how God brings encouragement and hope to his people and how that message can help us when we need hope when we are weak.
The Weight of Too Much (4:1-7)
Now the prophet does not directly express what the people are feeling or what the problem is. Based on God’s answer through the prophet’s visions we are able to understand what the people were thinking, feeling, and doing. Zechariah 4 begins with another vision. The prophet sees a solid gold lamp stand with a bowl at the top. The lamp stand has seven lamps at the top with seven spouts for each of the lamps (4:2). The prophet also sees two olive trees, one on each side of the bowl. So, thankfully, the prophet asks what all of these things mean (4:4). Notice that answer that is given in verse 6.
“Not by strength or by might, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Armies” (4:6).
God’s message is that it is not by your strength, your power, or your might that this work will be accomplished. It is by God’s power. It is by God’s strength that this work is going to happen. It will not be your strength, but God’s Spirit that will make this work successful. Notice that verse 7 continues that picture. Even if a great mountain stands before Zerubbabel, God is going to make that mountain level ground. Zerubbabel will see the success that the Lord brings when the capstone of the temple is placed. Further, the people are going to understand that it was not by their own power but by the grace of God. They will shout, “Grace, grace to it!”
Now we need to take a step back because this answer helps us see what Zerubbabel, the leaders and elders of Israel, and the people were thinking and feeling. They are looking at the work and saying that they cannot do it. It is too much. There is too much to do. There is no way that we can succeed. Look at all the mountains in front of us. Look at all these obstacles that stand against us. This is never going to succeed. They are in a low moment in their faith. They feel weak when they look at all they need to do. Here is God’s message in their weakness. It is not by your strength or might. It is by God’s Spirit that this will happen. You have mountains in your way but God is going to make them level ground. Now do not read this and think that this message was only to these people who were alive in Zechariah’s day. God repeats this message to us. Listen to what the scriptures say.
Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, let it be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, let it be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10–11 CSB)
The apostle Peter calls his listeners to the work. Everyone has gifts. Use your gifts to serve others. How can we possibly do the work that God has called to us to? Here are Peter’s examples. If you are speaking, you are not speaking your words. You are speaking God’s words. You do not have to come up with what to say. You are going to tell people what God has to say. If you are serving, you are not serving from your own power or strength. You are serving from the strength that God provides. Depending on God’s strength is going to cause God to be glorified all the more. The apostle Paul said the same thing.
We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9 CSB)
Paul says that they were completely overwhelmed, even beyond their strength. Have you ever felt this way? Paul says that they even despaired of life itself. So what did Paul do? How did Paul get through? Paul says that this happened so that we would stop rely on ourselves and on our strength but on God who raises the dead. Stop looking at yourself and saying that you cannot do it. Look at God and say that he can do it! You are right. You cannot do it. But God can do it and he can do it through you. This is what the apostle Paul said to the Christians in Ephesus.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10 NIV)
Stop trying to be strong in yourself. Be strong in the Lord and be strong in his power. This is what God was saying in Zechariah. God can move the mountains in your life out of the way if you will do the work by God’s strength. Think about Hebrews 11 as the writer lists all the people who exercised great faith. Then listen to what he says about them.
…who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:33–34 ESV)
Notice what the writer says. They were made strong out of weakness. They did not start off strong. They became mighty. God gave them the strength because they did not look to themselves but to God and the strength that he gives.
How much are we unwilling to do because we are looking to ourselves? We think that we are not going to do it well. We think that we cannot serve, worship, or do what God has called us to do because we look at our own power, knowledge, abilities, strength, and the like. Rather than looking at ourselves we need to think about what God can do through us. It is not us but the strength that God provides. God can bring the success. God can flatten the mountains you are looking at in your life. God can clear those obstacles. Think about how many obstacles God has helped you overcome so far in life. What we are doing is discounting what God can do in our lives and through our lives. We must look for the strength that God supplies and stand in it when we feel weak and helpless. Now there is one more word of encouragement in this chapter. Look at the rest of chapter 4.
Do Not Despise the Small Things (4:8-14)
The completion of the temple will be the proof that God is with them and will support them (4:9). But look at verse 10. “For who despises the day of small things?” (CSB) The NASB reads, “For who has shown contempt for the day of small things?” You can imagine what this looks like. It is easy to despise small beginnings because it does not seem to be so much. Laying a couple of blocks for the temple may seem so small and insignificant. But here is God’s message to not despise the small things and the small beginnings. Every journey begins with a step. Do not have contempt for how it all starts. Sometimes we can have a low tolerance for failure and think if we can’t be at the goal today then it is not worthy doing. When April and I got married we were so poor, living on $2000 a month as in a preacher training program trying to figure out if this was for me. We were so poor our honeymoon was nothing more than driving back to Kentucky from here. No big trip or vacation. You cannot start and where you want to be. When I started preaching I was a disaster. But it was just another small step on the journey to where I am now. Do not be frustrated by the slow and painful process. I have others ask me how I preach like this now. My answer is 25 years of making mistakes and learning from it.
Do not despise the day of small things. Do not despise your day of small beginnings and small steps. What can you do today to serve? What can you do to prepare yourself to be a shepherd in the church? What can you do today to prepare to be a deacon in the church? Do not despise the small things because those small things are the necessary things to get the outcome God wants. Take those steps forward in the strength of the Lord and watch God move those mountains. God sees what is happening. God sees all you are doing. Do not let others discourage your work in the Lord.
So how can we have hope when we are weak? God tells us to stop looking at ourselves. It is hopeless if we look to our own strength and abilities. Look for the strength that God supplies. These are the moments in life that are intended to move us to depend on God’s deliverance and help. Our helpless feelings and hopeless feelings often come from looking at the person. We need to look to God and not ourselves to overcome this helplessness and seek God’s support and strength. Pray for the help and strength you need. Then do not despise the next small step. Do what you can do right now. Who can you help now? Who can you serve now? What can you do for the Lord now? Do not despise that answer just because it is small and do that work today. God is the reason for any success we have. So look to him to give it as we take our steps forward in faith.