When we lived in Gravesend, one of our neighbours began to rebuild his house from scratch. The house began to take shape, foundations were laid, and for weeks there was the sound of vigorous activity as the walls were framed. Then everybody left - the work stopped. We didn't know why, but for the rest of the time we lived in Gravesend the house stood unfinished on the corner of the street.
Some of God's projects stall, too. Five centuries before Jesus was born, the Israelites returned from exile to find Jerusalem in ruins and their beloved temple destroyed. With great enthusiasm they set about rebuilding it. However, Zerubbabel the governor, got little further than laying the foundation before opposition set in. Neighbours fought the project tooth and nail, finally succeeding in getting a restraining order to halt construction (Ezra 4). Enemies mocked. Supporters became discouraged. For years the site stood silent.
Zerubbabel felt like a failure. His grand dream had fizzled. He was probably like the rest of us when failure looms. We meet further effort with scepticism. We protect ourselves from getting our hopes too high again. We look at the ground rather than the sky, at the past rather than the future.
And then one day a man of God, Zechariah, began to speak words that filled Zerubbabel with fresh hope: "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty . . . The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple, his hands will also complete it" (Zechariah 4:6-7). The project had seemed like an immovable mountain but now with God at work Zerubbabel knew he could finish the temple. The final words of the prophecy jolted him. "Do not despise the day of small things" (v10). He had despised that early start. How weak, how insignificant, how naive he had been. Yet, in spite of all that, God had been in those beginnings.
What little thing, what dream, what false start, might we have despised? Our 'small' church? Our meagre ‘gifts’? Do we despise our failures or apparently insurmountable difficulties? We shouldn't! We should surrender them to the God who delights in taking human weakness and showing his strength. "Not by might, not by power, but my Spirit says the Lord Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6).
And by the way, when we went back to Gravesend a few years later someone had finished that house on the corner of the street.
It looks terrific!