Regaining Momentum in Your Ministry
Introduction: Ulysses Grant faced Robert E. Lee during the “Battle of the Wilderness” in May of 1864. This took place in Northern Virginia, and it was a savage battle in which 200,000 men met in a fight to the death. The wilderness around the Rapidan River was twelve miles long and six miles wide, a dense forest with lot of undergrowth. Union troops became disoriented in the thick woods, with bullets whizzing by. Two Union generals were killed. Grant’s advisors lost confidence in the direction of the battle, and casualties soared. Portions of the undergrowth were set on fire, and men were burned alive. In Washington, Lincoln sat in the telegraph office two days waiting for news that didn’t come. The Union soldiers were discouraged.
A reporter, Henry Wing, decided to escape the battle and file a report with his newspaper. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Grant. The general spoke so softly no one except the reporter could hear. “If you see the President,” said Grant, “tell him for me that, whatever happens, there will be no turning back.”
The reporter got out of the war zone—barely. In Washington, he saw Lincoln and delivered the six-word message: “There will be no turning back.” That’s when Lincoln knew he had more than a fighting chance of victory. He had a general who wouldn’t give up.
The next day, Grant, riding his horse Cincinnati, rallied his beleaguered army and led them out of the Wilderness toward the highway that ran north and south. No one knew whether he would turn north, signaling retreat, or south, which would mean advance and attack. Everyone wondered, everyone marched. In one of the most dramatic moments of leadership in the War, Grant came to the junction, paused, and turned south, to press the battle to the enemy. A roar erupted from the soldiers, shouts of cheer, sustained applause, spontaneous singing. The men were tired of retreating. One observer said that the Army of the Potomac, which till then had not been very effective, suddenly became a triumphal procession.
There have been times in my ministry when I’ve been discouraged. It’s the occupational hazard of ministry. But I’ve never been able to afford being defeated by discouragement. The Lord’s army cannot afford to see its leaders defeated by discouragement. The church today is looking for leaders who will say, “Whatever happens, there is no turning back.”
On one occasion in the Bible, God’s workers became so discouraged they gave up, and I want to show you how they regained momentum. I’ve gone back to these passages often, and I hope they’ll encourage you too.
1. Discouraged in the Work (Ezra 1-5)
The setting is Ezra 1 – 5, when the Persian monarch, Cyrus, issued a decree allowing a remnant of Jews to return from Babylon to repopulate Judah and rebuild the temple (See Ezra 1:1-5).
Ezra 2 lists the groups who returned—more than 42,000 people, under the leadership of Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua. The older returnees remembered the temple before its destruction; the younger people were excited about their new adventure.
In chapter 3 the remnant assembled at the site of their destroyed temple to clear away the rubble, rebuild the altar, and resume the sacrifices. Ezra 3:8 says: In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem… (they) began the work.
Verse 10 continues: When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments with trumpets, and the Levites with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving, they sang to the Lord: “He is good; His love toward Israel endures forever.” But many of the (people) wept aloud when they saw the foundation of the temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Things changed in Ezra 4. Enemies arose, opposition came, and discouragement swept over the builders. Local officials who detested the Jews made accusations to King Artaxerxes, and he issued a ruling against the builders.
Ezra 4:23 says: As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai… they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop. Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
That amounts to sixteen years. For sixteen years nothing happened and the temple site was abandoned. We all face the same danger. We are opposed every moment by the most power enemies known to mankind: the world, the flesh, and the devil, and they want us to stop our work. I remember a period when I went through a season of discouragement. Everything I tried to do stalled, and I begin to realize that some of my dreams and ambitions would never materialize. I felt waves of failure. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that way, but that’s how the remnant felt for sixteen years. The building site was deserted; the vines, foxes, and rats returned. The devil had stymied the work of the Lord with the weapon of discouragement.
2. Encouraged by the Word (Haggai 2)
Then one day, two men showed up. Ezra 5 says: Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, (preached) to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel and Joshua set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.
These two prophets preached a series of messages so powerful that revival erupted and the work was jumpstarted. They regained momentum for rebuilding God’s temple.
Ezra 6:14 says: So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah…. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel.
By the end of Ezra 6, the temple of the Lord was completed and dedicated.
What kind of rousing messages did Haggai and Zechariah give? Wouldn’t you like to know what they preached? Ezra doesn’t tell us because we have the contents of their sermons given in their own books in the minor prophets—Haggai and Zechariah. These two books were placed in Scripture to encourage those about to give up in the work of the Lord. How often I’ve read these books when discouragement threatened me! Every verse in the little book of Haggai motivates us out of discouragement; and every chapter of that strange and wonderful book of Zechariah does the same.
Look at one passage—Haggai 2:1-9: The word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, to Joshua, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people. Ask them, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?”
Ever feel that way? My work, my church, my efforts seem like nothing.
Verse 4 continues: But now be strong, Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, Joshua son of Jezadak, the high priest. Be strong all you people of the land, and work. For I am with you, declares the Lord. This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.
Notice the progression of thought:
- Be strong!
- Remember I am working alongside you. I am with you!
- I promised to remain by your side.
- My Spirit remains among you!
- Do not fear; do not be anxious!
But there’s more. Verse 6 says: This is what the Lord Almighty says: In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake the nations and what is desired by all nations will come.
The One desired by all nations is Jesus. The Lord said, “Keep building this temple, and in a little while I’m going to shake the nations and Messiah will fall out and land in this temple.
…I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord Almighty. The silver is mine and the gold is mine, declares the Lord Almighty.
And verse 9: The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house, says the Lord Almighty. And in this place I will grant peace, declares the Lord Almighty.
When Moses built the Tabernacle, the clouds of God’s glory came down. When Solomon built the Temple, the clouds of God’s glory came down. But this temple you are building. Into this temple will come the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the Redeemer of the Ages! Your work seems small to you, but it’s glory will exceed the glory of Solomon’s Temple because Jesus will walk there.
This Second Temple was later renovated by Herod the Great. And into this temple Jesus was brought as a baby. Here He was dedicated to the Lord. Here aged Simeon and Anna recognized Him and identified Him as the Christ. Here at age twelve He asked and answered questions with the rabbis. Here He taught and debated with the scribes. Zerubbabel’s temple became an arena for His ministry and it was glorious—far more glorious than the temple of Solomon.
Conclusion: Little is much when God is in it. We are saved by faith; we walk by faith; and we work by faith. We only see a fraction of our results for Christ. Our greatest work will come after we’re gone. Revelation 14:13 says: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord…. They rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” That is: “Blessed are those who die after serving Jesus, because their works will keep on multiplying until Jesus returns.”
- Galatians 6:8 says: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
- 1 Corinthians 15:58 says: Be steadfast and unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
In 1518, Martin Luther sparked the Reformation. But a hundred years later, Lutheranism itself needed revival. God raised up Philipp Spener, an educator who became pastor in Berlin. He called people back to the individual study of the Bible and to devotion to God. His revival was called Pietism. But he faced savage criticism and was often discouraged.
One day Spener met a young man named August Francke who was struggling, and Spener mentored him. Francke went on to become a professor with humanitarian concern. In the city of Halle, he established an orphanage.
One hundred years later, a young man named George Mueller studied at the University of Halle and spent two months in Francke’s orphanage. He was deeply impressed, and later in the city of Bristol, England, he established a similar ministry.
Many books were written about Mueller, and a few years ago my daughter’s family read one. A conviction came to their hearts that they, too, should minister to orphans. They took in a little brother and sister, who have become our grandchildren, numbers 15 and 16.
Philipp Spener didn’t see most of the results of his work, and he battled discouragement. Yet look at what God has wrought. Four hundred years later, Katrina and I have a new grandchildren through a chain reaction that goes back to Mueller, Francke, Spener, Luther, and points beyond. God is using you more than you know, and your works continue to accumulate until Christ comes.
Be strong and do the work. For I am with you, declares the Lord. My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.
Regan the momentum of your ministry and remember, whatever happens, there is no turning back.