Sunday, December 14, 2014

Compelled by force to stop ministry - and then taking it up again

As I got ready for work on Friday morning, I just happened to choose the book of Ezra for my audio Bible to play. Someone had made an offhand comment about the book of Ezra, and I had said to myself, “Oh, Ezra. I haven’t read that book for a long time.”

Therefore, I thought I was just “refreshing my memory” on Ezra, but I was struck by the passage that talked about them building the temple (chapter 3-6). It was a mortal battle between the enemies of the Lord and the servants of the Lord regarding whether or not the temple would be built. 

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, 
“Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.”  
But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, 
“Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.” 
Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:1-5)
This was the first sortie. The people had been blessed by God. They had been granted the king’s permission to return. Cyrus had even sent back the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar. The people were blessed with money and an official decree to go and do this work (chapter 1).

Then the enemies of the Lord’s servants came, and notice how subtle their tactic was. “Let us help you. Let us build with you.” But Zerubbabel and Jeshua saw through it and would have none of it. The malice of the initial attack was revealed, and they had to resort to direct means of opposition, since they could gain no access to corrupt the project from the inside.

In my life, I have also warded off the initial sortie. The adversaries who would oppose the edification of my life as a temple of the Lord have sought to gain access from the inside, and they have been repelled. And their opposition, though frustrating and troubling, did not cause the work to cease. 

Power changed from the hands of Cyrus to the hands of Artaxerxes, and after an exchange of letters, the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin actually got Cyrus’s decree reversed. Artaxerxes sent a cease-and-desist order, and Rehum and Shimshai and their companions gleefully went to enforce it. 

Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me. Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?  
Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.

Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:21-24)

They made them to cease by force and power. 

Then ceased the work of the house of God. 

This is the same exact thing that happened in my life in at the end of May. The enemy caused the work to cease by force, and thus it ceased. 

The continuous direction that I had been going in my life, the way I had been living, the choices I had been making, were all leading up to something being built, a house of worship to God, a work of grace, a temple for the glory of God. This was the only thing I was living for. I didn’t want anything else. God was blessing it. The decrees had been given. The attacks of the enemy had been thus far repelled. 

And yet, it was brought to a screeching halt by force. 

Interestingly, I had attributed it to God. 

This was the enemy’s work. 

Who else would be interested in bringing it to cease?

Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them. (Ezra 5:1-2)

Haggai and Zechariah prophesied, and Zerubbabel and Jeshua promptly moved back into action with the same original direction they had taken.

After I listened to Ezra, I listened to Haggai and Zechariah on my way to work, and I was freshly struck again with how striking the similarities were to my case. 

Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD'S house should be built.  
Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? (Hag. 1:2-4)

The people said ‘The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” 

That is exactly what I have concluded! 

They were stopped by force, and the most natural thing in the world is to attribute the delay to the timing of the Lord. It must just not be the time. 

NO—the Lord begs to differ. He says, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?” This smote me to the core. What have I been doing but pursuing my own house to dwell in? 

Is it time for me to dwell in a house in America and have a comfortable life while the Lord’s work lies waste? 

I was made to stop by force—yes—and the only thing that occurred to me to do was to occupy myself with my own house. Because I incorrectly attributed the cause of stopping to “The Lord’s Time,” I had nothing else to do for Him until His “time” came back. 

In my case and in the case of the people of the land, this was not an opportunity to throw up my hands and say, “Well, the Lord allowed it to stop; guess I’ll just go do my own thing now.” Rather, it was an opportunity to recognize the spiritual attack as what it was and keep on building anyway, in the face of a decree that stopped them by force. The Lord has endorsed this work, and therefore, we will go on with it, come what may. 

After Haggai and Zechariah’s prophecy, the people had to act in direct rebellion to an order from the highest earthly authority in order to obey the Lord, but they did it, and they went on building, and this time, they were unstoppable.
But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease. (Ezra 5:5)

More letters went back and forth, but this time the Jews’ argument was in the ascendant, and Darius the king not only confirmed their side of the story, but prescribed curses against anyone who would hinder them. 

Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place.  
Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.  
And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.  
Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.  
And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed. (Ezra 6:7-13)

The next thing that happened was that they builded, prospered, and finished the temple.
And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.  
And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. (Ezra 6:14-15) 
And they kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 6:22)

• • • 

The implications for my life, given this picture, are tremendous.
The Lord said in Haggai 1:8, “Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.” 

In other words, don’t just sit around waiting for something to happen, waiting to see the temple rise up out of the rubble. Go up to the mountain and bring wood. Go get the practical stuff that is necessary in order to make the work go forward. But when you do, the Lord will take pleasure in it, and He will be glorified. Is not this the cry of my heart? Is not this the yearning of my soul? OH, LORD, that You would be glorified in and through my life! But HOW does He say He will be glorified? When I sit around in my lovely house, surrounded by comforts, not lifting a finger to the work, because after all, I have been stopped by force? No. He will take pleasure in the going to the mountain to bring wood. He will be glorified by the temple going up. 

THE LORD IS NOT GLORIFIED BY A HALF-COMPLETED TEMPLE, even though even that much being accomplished is testament to His work, His favor, and His enablement. HE IS GLORIFIED BY THE WORK CONTINUING ON TO COMPLETION. And how much more is He glorified when the completion of the work involves the overcoming of massive obstacles!? 

The Israelites were allowed to go through the disorienting and disillusioning experience of having the work brought to a halt by force. And yet, they were asked to continue. Is not this the essence of faith? Is not this the evidence of grace being poured out? Will not grace always be greater than any obstacle we could encounter? Yes, since grace is the unlimited power of God, which always surpasses earthly power. 

My ministry work has been brought to a halt. I have not done anything in 6 months. I have thought I was not allowed to. I have thought that it was taken from me by force by God. 

Now I see it in a much different light. Undoubtedly, I was brought to cease by force by none other than the enemy of my soul. I will not go by this most recent decree. I will go by the original decree that I received from the Lord, and when search is made even by my most violent opponents, they will find that they must come into alignment with God’s decree rather than me coming into alignment with their decree.

This means that I am not only FREE to do ministry, I am COMMANDED to do it. 

This means that my life is NOT ABOUT getting a house. It is about building the Lord’s house. 

This means that I can go back to the way I lived before, trusting the Lord, seeing Him provide, and not living for my career or my salary or my comfort. 

This also means that I am acting in direct defiance and rebellion of the ways of the enemy. If it was the enemy who told me to stop, then for me to proceed forward again is only to incur his wrath. I can only expect him to unleash his rage in a rabid fury against me. If I was brought to cease by violent measures before, the measures will have to be only more violent next time. And yet, I expect that this time, the work will be unstoppable, no matter what trouble is unleashed against me. I expect to be able to walk in perfect peace, protected by the Hand of the Lord from the storm that rages against me. He will let nothing reach me. He allowed the adversary to test me, just as he allowed his children to be tested by the governors and opponents in their day. 

I raise my head in defiance of the enemy’s schemes. I will no longer flounder about, making excuses about it not being the Lord’s time and wondering if I had it all wrong in the way I ordered my life. 

I will go forward in boldness and persistence to do the Lord’s work, to build His temple, and to glorify His name. 

My life is an unfinished work, but it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. No longer shall it decay in neglect and disrepair. The Spirit shall have His way. His original decree shall be fulfilled. It shall be for His glory and honor and pleasure. 

Oh thou enemy, how darest thou put a stop to the work that the Lord has decreed should proceed forward? Let the curse of the Lord abide on thee forever. Let timber be pulled down from thy house, and being set up, let thou be hanged thereon; and let thy house be made a dunghill for this. 

• • •

How does that look? What does that mean?

All of a sudden, all my criteria have been reset to correspond to whether or not they foster the completion of the temple or comply with the enemy’s demand that it cease.

The Lord has raised me back up on to my feet and has given me the assurance that He does indeed have work for me to do, and I will proceed forth in victory according to His grace and enablement, in the face of the enemy's violent opposition. Great joy has come in this, and a great heaviness has lifted. 

At the same time, a soberness and stability has settled over me. No longer am I blithely waltzing forward into the work of the Lord with youthful enthusiasm and naivete. Now, I am picking myself up off the ground after the enemy's beating and deliberately moving forward in direct rebellion to his demand that I cease and desist.

• • •

"God will not look you over for medals, degrees, or diplomas, but for scars." What nobler decoration of honor can any godly man seek after than his scars of service, his losses for the crown, his reproaches for Christ's sake, his being worn out in his Master's service!
--Streams in the Desert, Dec. 12

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