Ministry can at times feel like one big battle against discouragement. If I experience it as a pastor’s wife, I can’t imagine how difficult the battle must be for my husband, who is in the spiritual trenches fighting for souls every day.
Last February was an especially discouraging time in our family and our ministry. My husband, Kyle, and I had the opportunity to go away for a few days and almost immediately upon leaving our city, we were able to get more of a bird’s eye view of what God was doing in our church and our family, and many of them were exciting. I started recounting to my husband all the good things that were happening that we’d been blind to in the everyday grind, and I quickly saw his demeanor change. I realized in that moment how often we talked about what was going wrong and how little we focused on all that was going right, and I determined that if I did nothing else, I wanted to help my husband pastor by encouraging him.
As Kyle and I had that conversation, God reminded me of something He’d shown me in my study of the book of Ezra. In Ezra, a Jewish remnant returned from exile in Persia to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. They were excited; some were weeping because they’d seen the original temple and couldn’t believe they were seeing God’s restoration after a long period of exile and discipline. It is a strong start, a good beginning.
When I read that, I thought back to when we first planted our church. We moved to an unfamiliar place with a huge task ahead, but filled with a sense of excitement and wonder. We felt God’s pleasure at our obedience and faith. Anticipation was high.
While starting something is exciting and glorious, we cannot maintain that same level of excitement. Why? The reality is this: gospel work is not romantic. It is day-in and day-out faithfulness that is largely unseen and sometimes seems unrewarded or unfruitful. And then what happened for the temple builders is what also happens with us: gospel work is always met with resistance.
The one that the temple builders faced that is most like what we face is discouragement-- the Jews’ enemies actually hired professional discouragers to frustrate their efforts. As a result, the restoration work stopped for 15 years. They were paralyzed by discouragement for 15 years. Later in Ezra, we discover that they also lost their joy and zeal for the Lord’s work.
That’s what discouragement does if we listen to it: it causes us to lose our joy and zeal for the Lord’s work. Though we continue working and going through the motions of ministry, our hearts grow hard and building stops on the inside, where God can see.
This is the interesting part, however, the part that God reminded me of as I sat talking with my husband: the building of the temple eventually resumed. What got it going again? The prophets Haggai and Zechariah spoke words of encouragement to Zerubbabel, the leader of the exiles.
We actually have their specific words recorded in the Bible and it’s a lesson in itself to see what they spoke over Zerubbabel.
Haggai drew his attention to the Lord’s constant presence: “Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel, says the Lord...and work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts. According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!” (Haggai 2:4-5)
Zechariah spoke to the Spirit’s power and the daily effort that adds up to a great work: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; His hands shall also finish it….For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:6-10)
We may not have these prophet types standing alongside to encourage us as we serve the Lord, but we can certainly be a Haggai and Zechariah for one another in our marriages. Because, certainly, ministry tends to be a constant fight with discouragement, but we always have something to celebrate regarding what God is doing, and we have the same promises that the exiles did of God’s constant presence.
We can help our husbands pastor by encouraging them the way the prophets did: One brick at a time. One person at a time. One day at a time. One sermon at a time. One response of faithful obedience at a time. Eventually it all will add up to the building of a fruitful life lived in honor of the Lord.