”This is a lot of work, it better be worth it.”
“I AM the Vine and you are the branches. My Father prunes every branch…so that it will bear more fruit. This is to my Father’s glory – that you bear much fruit, proving to be My disciples.” (John 15)
In our post-Easter sermon series we are tracking David’s twisting, turning, stress-filled life. We titled the series Seeing: Understanding God’s Perspective. The psalms are David’s journal, the outpouring of his reality placed alongside what he believed was true about God. At times those things seem to be at odds – David’s loneliness, fear, suffering, running for his life, the wrong people seemingly ‘winning’ – juxtaposed with God’s “unfailing love”, faithfulness, goodness, and LORD over all. The psalms are David’s growing pains in his faith – not denying his reality, but viewing it through the lens of God at the center.
The walk of faith means He works through our struggles, but rarely detours us around them. That is true in our personal lives, and is also true in our life together as the Ecclesia community.
In recent weeks we have had to face our limited finances. Expenses have been exceeding our income. We faced the heavy painful reality of reducing the size of our staff. It weighed on elders and staff. It woke me often at 3:00 am many mornings. One of those pre-dawn mornings I found myself reading Haggai, one of the minor prophets tucked near the end of the old Testament. It spoke to me. Haggai speaks to their reality – they are working hard, trying their best, but he repeatedly notes “It is not enough”. I thought of our finances at Ecclesia. Haggai calls the people to return to God as the center of their lives and their focus. Their focus, perhaps like ours too, had shifted onto their circumstances –focusing more on “What is happening” instead of “What is God doing”? Many who had seen the former temple lived with a sadness and grief as they remembered the glory days of the past (I have heard many describe the delight of worship at the Pacific Theatre and being the ‘cool church’).
Haggai called them to more than action. Yes, he called them to engage in rebuilding the temple. But that was an outer evidence of an inward shift – placing the Lord once again as their focus, as the center, as the lens through which they viewed their circumstances. They shifted to asking “What is God doing?” rather than sadness over their circumstances. The Lord loves it when we make Him the center, when we do life by faith in Him. Immediately Haggai spoke encouragement to them from the Lord,
“Take courage” (Haggai 2:4)
“I am with you” (Haggai 1:13, 2:4-5)
“Stop fearing” (Haggai 2:5)
And the Lord promised the future glory would exceed the good old days (Haggai 2:7-9). He promised ‘blessing’ from today forward, even before they could ‘see’ the blessings (Haggai 2:18-19).
When I am in LA I stay in my father’s vacant home. Several months ago I was visiting with one of the neighbors. He was stooped over in the front flower beds pruning back his rose bushes. It was an ugly sight – all that remained were stumps like rows of sticks. He wearily said to me ”This is a lot of work, it better be worth it”. Last week I snapped a photo of his yard – an explosion of blooming roses (see the photo above). Pruning, while painful and tiring “produces” beauty and life.
Ecclesia has been in a season of pruning over the last year or more. There has been sadness and grief and anxiety as people have wondered “What is happening? Do I want to keep attending?”
I urge each of us to allow Haggai to focus us instead on a different question – “What is God doing?”
I invite you to reflect, and perhaps write your own psalm merging your current reality with the truth about who the Lord is:
• Are you focusing on circumstances and how you feel, or on placing the Lord at the center?
• What is the Lord doing in your life? What is the Lord doing in Ecclesia?
• What would flexing faith look and act like for you?