“What a mess!” exclaimed Jake as he surveyed the jumbled mishmash of gadgets, goods, and galore lying in heaps across the basement floor.
“What are you doing, Mom and Dad? Why did you unpack all of our bags?” Caleb asked.
“Yeah, Mom,” Jake pressed. “What is going on here?”
For over three and a half months, eight of our pieces of luggage were packed, stored away, but ready for departure to South Africa. John and I hadn’t looked inside these bags since the first week of March. What seems a lifetime ago, our family had been preparing to return home to South Africa. Alas, the Covid-19 Pandemic altered our travel plans significantly and our family has been waiting for travel bans to lift ever since. Yet, we remained expectant – hopeful to return in May. Alas, our rescheduled travel date in May never materialized. Like our March travel plan, our May travel plan was deterred as well. Since that time, international travel bans remain in place.
The calendar flipped from one month to the next and to the next month again.
July materialized this past week.
Can you believe it?
Half the year is over, and our family remains stationed in the United States – what appears to be for an indefinite-will-this-ever-end period of time.
Back in March, we had packed some special-to-us food items. Alas, green chiles, Pepperidge Farm Cheese Crackers, Red Robin seasoning, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, coffee, hot chocolate, chocolate chips, and other food stuffs have expiration dates. Add vitamins to the mix, and John and I knew that we needed to locate and unpack these items to use them.
Here. Now. Not later.
So, we unpacked every piece of luggage. Books, clothes, shoes, sandals, tools, school supplies, food items, sheets, wall calendars, gifts, and family heirlooms lay scattered in cluttered heaps on the floor. The gallimaufry of goods was a gut-punch. The melee before my eyes symbolized the physical, emotional, and mental upheaval and impact of this pandemic on our family’s lives. My heart ached and my tears welled.
We are going to be here awhile longer.
How much longer I do not know, but because the pandemic is worsening – both in the United States and in South Africa – John and I realize that more months will pass before there will be an opportunity to travel internationally again.
Honestly, this reality is discouraging.
What do I do when I feel disheartened, frustrated, and helpless – like I do now? For me, I have consistently discovered strength and encouragement from the Word of God. I hold fast to my belief and my hope that God is with us – especially in such a time.
You may call it coincidence.
You may label it a fluke.
You may even mark it as a stroke of luck.
However, when I sought my God for assistance with a word of encouragement, He led me to a word from Haggai, the prophet. Haggai was one of the twelve minor prophets. He shared four transformational, prophetic messages with the nation of Judah. The prophet Haggai both confronted and appealed to the people of Judah with a heart-strengthening message who had forgotten their God. Instead, these people, like so many of us, focused upon their own interests – like my upturned luggage. After having returned from their exile, sixteen years later, this people were lost and vulnerable. At this time, the people were feeling discouraged by their circumstances. Haggai challenged them to look beyond themselves:
on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to 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? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
New International Version, Haggai 2: 1 – 5
Now, please don’t miss this:
Haggai’s prophetic, heart-strengthening word came by intimate, knowledgeable name.
Be strong, Zerubbabel
Be strong, Joshua
And, Haggai’s prophetic, heart-strengthening word was not just for the leaders, but for all:
Be strong, all you people of the land
If ever, our family needed such a personal word, it is now.
Yet, there is even more encouragement and hope instilled in Haggai’s address!
First off, the Lord’s name – Jehovah-Sabaoth – is declared with authority and purpose by Haggai. God Almighty is the Lord of Hosts who has omnipresent dominion over the whole universe. Who are these hosts? The Hosts of the Lord are inclusive of the angels, the stars, and the church. The heavenly hosts have a dual role from both heaven and earth to defend, strengthen and comfort believers in times of general ruin and destruction – even pandemics. The Hosts of the Lord obey the voice of God Almighty and proclaim God’s care, protection, and presence.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress
New International Version, Psalm 46:10-11
Yet, there is more to glean from Haggai!
Haggai proclaims of our God, “My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!”
Haggai calls upon the Angel of God’s presence who redeemed, carried, and saved the remnant of Egypt as they followed the cloud by day and the fire by night through the desert wilderness. The cloud was a visible manifestation of God on earth. This natural, yet supernatural occurrence is called Shekinah Glory. Shekinah is the Hebrew transliterated word for dwelling or one who dwells. Thus, Shekinah Glory is abiding in the divine presence of God.
In a literal sense, Haggai reminded the people of Judah of God’s promise: “I am with you.” Just as the Lord had been with Moses and their ancestors, their God was with them now to stand with them in their struggle, defend them from their enemies, attend to their basic needs, strengthen and protect their hearts, encourage their confidence, and establish their foundation of faith to reestablish their focus and priorities.
Why had this word from Haggai come now?
The Jews who had returned to their homeland of Judah after years of exile in Babylon faced intense opposition, both external and internal. The enemies of Judah attempted to thwart the Jews from rebuilding the temple of the Lord. These enemies used a number of effective tactics to delay and eventually halt the reconstruction plans. Under this pressure, the Jews succumbed to their fears and gave up the building project. They decided to focus on constructing their own homes. Haggai pointed out that the Jews had misplaced priorities. Their own safety and security took precedence over the will of God. Unfortunately, these self-centered priorities were not to their personal benefit.
Their lives were a mess.
The people needed to be reminded of the assuring, powerful presence of God in their lives.
My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!
I am at work in you and through you.
I will defend and plead your cause.
I will strengthen and encourage you.
I will silence you fears.
My Spirit stands with you – to counsel you, to assist you and to care for you.
And what is amazing about this time in history with the people of Judah, they listened and responded to Haggai’s exhortation.
Pastor Chuck Swindoll writes, “After thousands of years, the book of Haggai remains largely unique among the books of Old Testament prophets for one key reason: the people of Judah listened! Haggai’s message to rebuild the temple was passionate, simple, and straightforward (Haggai 1:8). No one could mistake whether or not his direction had been followed—the results would be evident for all the people to see. Through the physical act of rebuilding the temple, the people began to indicate a shift in their spiritual lives: from devotion to self toward devotion to God.”
For me, my big take-away is that even in this uncertain time and in the upheaval of my messy life, my God reminds me that He is with me and to keep my focus upon Him. He is my Shekinah Glory.
My God reminds me that He is the Lord of Hosts – powerful, strong, and capable enough to see me through this time as He cares for me, protects me, and guides me.
I may not be tasked with rebuilding the temple of God like the nation of Judah, but I am asked to build the Kingdom of God. I feel pretty inadequate at the moment – living out of a jumbled mess of luggage. Yet, the resources of God are infinite. He can use me wherever I am – even stuck in a basement for an indefinite period of time – for His glory and for His benefit.
And if He can do that with me, He can do that with you.
He will offer us guidance and instruction.
He will give us the energy and insight we need.
He will ignite our faith.
He will manifest Himself in our life in Shekinah Glory.
He will show us the way forward – even when we don’t know which way to go yet.
He will strengthen, protect, and comfort us as our Lord of Hosts.
Even though our life is a mess, He promises:
My Spirit is abiding in your mess; do not fear!
He is calling us to faithfulness. Will we listen and obey?
If you’d like to hear more about Haggai and what happens with the people of Judah:
Here is the Bible Project’s take: