Zechariah 4:6

‘“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit’”’

There’s an agenda in life that we need to know about – God’s agenda. Basically it’s what’s going to happen. So pursuing other agendas is pointless. His mysterious providence might permit traction to such alternatives for a time, but ultimately they’ll wither and die. God’s agenda however comes to full fruition, in His good timing, made certain by His almighty power.

Zerubbabel found himself playing a key role in God’s plan several hundred years BC, and the prophet Zechariah had been sent to encourage him in the midst of it, because contrary to what we might expect, such tasks can seem rather challenging. Zechariah’s message from God to Zerubbabel, which in fact had come to the prophet via an angel, included this advice: ‘“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit’”’. It’s recorded in scripture partly as helpful advice for us too, as we seek to follow God’s agenda with our lives, however challenging it might seem to become.

‘Zerubbabel’(Matthew 1:12-13; Luke 3:27) was a descendant of King David in the ancestral line of Jesus, and the ‘“governor”’(Haggai 2:21) of God’s people in Judah after their return from exile in Babylon. They’d started to rebuild the temple, but had faced some discouragements and ‘ceased the work… until… Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah… prophesied… Then rose up Zerubbabel… and Jeshua [the high priest]… and began to build God’s house which is at Jerusalem; and with them were the prophets of God, helping them’(Ezra 4:24-5:2) – including by conveying this encouraging message from God.

They needed it, since the task they faced seemed like a ‘“great mountain”’(Zechariah 4:7). Here was a typical challenge; feeling feeble in the face of mountains is normal for God’s people. It’s the way He operates. However, the point is that with God at our backs all of us can echo, ‘“Who are you, great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you are a plain; and he will bring out the capstone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace, to it!’”’(Zechariah 4:7). Jesus said something similar, ‘“if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you”’(Matthew 17:20). The key of course is the ‘“‘Grace, grace’”’ and following God’s agenda, as James warns, ‘You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives’(James 4:3), the right motives being things in line with God’s plan, like ‘“Go up to the mountain, bring wood, and build the house. I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified,” says Yahweh’(Haggai 1:8).

The apostle Paul lived like this, feeling his own weakness, understanding his utter dependence on God, but when in God’s grace enjoying a challenging yet effective ministry, for God’s glory, not his. The Lord had taught him, ‘“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”’(2 Corinthians 12:9), so he’d learnt to say ‘in my weaknesses… the power of Christ may rest on me. Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses… For when I am weak, then I am strong’(2 Corinthians 12:9-10), and ‘by the grace of God I am what I am’(1 Corinthians 15:10). With this attitude God was able to use him powerfully.

However, Paul knew that depending on God’s grace/Spirit (rather than on personal strengths) did not mean making no effort. In the very same verse Paul reminded the Corinthians, ‘I worked… yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me’(1 Corinthians 15:10), i.e. he put in the effort, but it was initiated, carried out and brought to fruition by God’s Spirit working in and through him. God can take our seemingly inadequate ‘“only… five loaves and two fish”’(Matthew  14:17), say ‘“Bring them here to me”(Matthew 14:18) then bless and multiply what we’ve brought – for us to distribute.

Likewise we’re not to despise ‘“the day of small things”’(Zechariah 4:10). He’s the God of the tiny ‘“mustard seed”’(Mark 4:31), which grows and ‘“puts out great branches”’(Mark 4:32). But the great mustard tree is ‘“the Kingdom of God”’(Mark 4:30). It’s about His Kingdom, His temple, His plan, in which we are blessed and graced to play our modest parts, as ‘“branches”’(John 15:5). Our task is as sowers going ‘“out to sow… seed”’(Mark 4:3-4), meaning ‘“the word”’(Mark 4:14), God’s word, and as Paul again recognised, ‘I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the increase’(1 Corinthians 3:6). Working in line with this plan we’ll find God’s ‘“eyes”’(Zechariah 4:10) blessing our work in His field ‘“anointed”’(Zechariah 4:14) to ‘“bear fruit”’(John 15:16), which perhaps we’ll not see the full ripeness of until eternity.

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