Not by Might….

Last year I was in India for a translation workshop that seemed destined for failure. From the first day we encountered numerous and sundry roadblocks to  teaching the participants how to translate the Scripture. From culture shock, to illness, to poor language skills, to no understanding of the source language, to illiteracy and no computer skills at all, our problems were mounting faster than I could address them. And I was the leader of the project! By Wednesday I was crying out to God, “We aren’t getting anywhere, Lord! I don’t know what to do next; I came prepared to train mother-tongue speakers to translate Scripture, but I can’t get around the roadblocks. I can’t get anything done!”

And God spoke to my heart the words of a verse I had learned as five-year-old child. Zechariah 4:6 says, “It’s not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts.”  Zechariah was a prophet in Israel after the first return of exiles under Cyrus. He and Haggai were contemporaries, and both called the children of Israel to obedience in rebuilding the temple that had been destroyed in the Babylonian take-over. This project had gotten off to a good start with a lot of enthusiasm, and then it had slowly petered out, until the people had all but given up on building  God’s house. Zechariah had a difficult message. The excitement had waned. The people were no longer committed to the task, and Zechariah had to wonder, “How are we every going to finish this temple? How am I going to inspire these people to stay the course and finish this God-ordained project?” And in answer, God sent him the message, It won’t be by human strength. It won’t come about because of powerful leaders. It will be my Spirit working in the hearts of my people. You have only to follow me and watch the mountains be flattened.

When I memorized this verse as a child, our family was living in a remote jungle village ministering to the tribal people of Venezuela.  And my parents lived by this kind of faith. My dad struggled to learn the language of the people, but he never failed to show them the love and compassion of Jesus. Our family was plagued with illness including malaria, mumps, and strep. Human strength was in short supply. But my parents chose to believe God that by his Spirit the people of that village would know the power of His love. It wasn’t obvious how that would ever happen during the few years my parents lived in that village. But just this past week end my parents got to celebrate the home-going of a missionary lady who had worked with the same tribe for most of her adult life, and whose legacy includes the translation of Scripture into their mother-tongue, and a growing community of believers among that people group. My parents get to rejoice that “by His Spirit” many have been brought into the kingdom. As a child I had memorized the words of this verse; but I had also seen it’s meaning played out before me in my parents’ lives.

So as I cried out to God in that hot chapel in India, His answer humbled and empowered me. It reminded me that my part in the great commission is His gift to me, not my gift to Him. No amount of planning or working on my part will thwart the enemy’s attacks on our work. No human strength or power will prevail. Only the Holy Spirit of God working through His people will get His word to the nations.  And I get to rely on Him for that!

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