“Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.” – Haggai 2:4-5
Some of my most beloved memories of growing up in Kentucky are the many summer days sitting on my grandparents’ front porch listening to my Papaw and dad talk about life on their farm. My Papaw raised cattle and chickens, and my dad helped him while also spending summers working with his cousins on their tobacco farm. As a teenager that hadn’t lifted anything heavier than an AP Chemistry book, I was always dumbfounded as I listened to them recount early mornings, long days, late nights, blistered hands, and sore backs.
The process of caring for 8,000 chickens, 50 cows, and seemingly endless rows of tobacco was both intricate and intense. It required diligent planning, thorough organization, and a ton of old-fashioned elbow grease. My favorite part of their stories was when my grandmother would chime in with the gory details of her daily job, which shed light on the phrase “a chicken with its head cut off.”
I remember always asking the same question, “Where did you find the strength to do all of that hard work?”
Their answer was always the same: “I’m not sure how we did it, except for the Lord’s strength in us.”
Working a farm required much endurance and strength, but the Lord provided it for my family, and he was with them.
In Haggai 2:1-5, the people of God resolved to undertake a massive rebuilding project. They obeyed the Lord’s call to resurrect the temple from ashes. After returning from exile, building their own homes had been hard enough. But the work required to rebuild the temple was on another level. It was work many of them had never experienced. The task of obedience was daunting. However, the strength they needed to obey the Lord would come from the Lord.
God compels the people of Israel to “be strong” and to “work.” On their own, these demands are crushing and have the prospect of failure. If the Lord stood far away as a hands-off deity, the success of obedience would rely entirely on the inherent strength of the people. But the Lord provides the strength needed for the obedience he requires.
“Work, for I am with you,” is incredible motivation for obedience today as much as it was then. Nothing about the Christian life is easy. All of it requires much work, most of which is ordinary and repetitive. Our spiritual brows will sweat. Our spiritual backs will ache. As we follow Jesus in a fallen world, our hands will blister. There will be many early mornings and long days. The fruit of our labors may be difficult to see. Sometimes others will reap what we sow.
"But the weight of obedience we are called to is not ours to bear alone. God is with us. His Spirit remains in our midst. He will work in and through us. All of our spiritual striving is grace-empowered. We work out our own salvation as God works in us to accomplish his will." Philippians 2:12-13
Hundreds of years after the temple was rebuilt, One greater than the temple would say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Working out our obedience is only easy and light because God is with those who are resting in the finished work of Jesus. We can work hard to follow Jesus because he has already accomplished everything necessary for our salvation.