All I had was God and the flimsy conviction that He had called me to this work. Frankly, that didn't feel like enough.
Numbers ran through my head all that week, adding and multiplying and dividing themselves. I dreamed them, woke them, breathed them. In my school days I'd hated math; ironic that now, with all those abstract numbers attached to very real finances, I spent all my spare seconds doing it.
The math was haunted. I laid out budgets while the words "another Great Depression" sounded in the air. I checked my email to learn that another friend had been laid off. Our whole city was reeling from auto industry layoffs. Recession — a terrifying word.
When I was 21, I quit my short-lived office job and went into business for myself, believing that God had called me to work with words. My biggest contract involved teaching writing online, up to 60 students at a time. As my income grew in the next few years, I took on bills, dependents and big dreams.
I couldn't afford to lose money now. So I held my breath, drew up budgets, and tried not to be too afraid. I pored over my records from last year in my free time. Adding and subtracting. Trying to shut down the voice in my head that shouted, louder all the time, What's the point? You can work as hard as you want and the economy will just undo it all. People with so-called job security were losing everything; I didn't even have their illusions to cling to.
All I had was God and the flimsy conviction that He had called me to this work.
Frankly, that didn't feel like enough.
So it was under an incessantly clacking mental burden that I went to church and settled uncomfortably into a tin folding chair, cradling a paper cup of hot tea to ward off the January chill, and wondered why on earth Pastor Aaron had chosen to preach from the Book of Haggai.
Hope for the Haggard
Aaron called his message "Hope for the Haggard," a title that should have gone straight to my heart but didn't. I was distracted by all-consuming thoughts of money. Haggard? Sure I was. As haggard as a castaway clinging to a rapidly eroding rock. I looked around the room at people clinging with me. Did we all have that look of desperation in our eyes?
Aaron told the story. Returning from Babylon, Israel had been charged by the prophet Haggai to stop neglecting God's work in favor of their own and get the temple built. The Israelites responded well. But their work was slow and constantly thwarted. Enemies surrounded them, forcing them to work one-handed as half their laborers served as watchmen and soldiers. They repeatedly stopped work to observe Sabbaths and feast days. They labored under the memory of Solomon's Temple, a building so glorious that its gold walls must have shone like the sun. And all they had was a deeply threatened tortoise of a project inching toward a finish line they couldn't even see.
I'd never typed with a sword in one hand, but as I leaned forward in my tin chair, I felt like I understood. It's not easy to work when the world around you could undo your labors at any time — when your dreams might well crumble, and you can't do a thing about it.
"Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?" Haggai asked. "How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?"
I swallowed a lump in my throat. Exactly right, Haggai. What are we supposed to do about it?
I read ahead in my Bible as Aaron preached, drifting out of the sermon to dwell on the page. Words leaped out at me and made the lump in my throat bigger — with hope this time. With that amazing sense that I'd just heard the voice of God Himself, and I wasn't just eavesdropping — He was talking directly to me.
"But now be strong," God said. "Be strong, and be strong." Whoever they were written for originally, in this moment all three "be strongs" were for me. Then came the clincher: "Work. For I am with you."
For a moment, those words swept through all the clacking numbers. Recession, crumbling economy, looming disaster — all still there. But God was there too, with a command and a promise.
Work, for I am with you.
When had I forgotten that? God told the Israelites not to fear, for He had always been with them. And with me, sitting at my laptop. God was with me too, like He was when He saved me, when I trusted Him to be there, when His presence cast out all fear, when He called us His temple and promised to fill us.
And now I knew He was still there. Still saying, "Do not fear."
Hope in Hard Times
I went home simultaneously buoyed and subdued. I knew God might allow things to get worse before they got better, and that still wasn't easy to swallow. But my determination to trust Him was renewed. No matter what, He would be there. Work was worth it, for He had commanded it.
My trust in the world's system had been exposed, and I was determined now to place all my faith in God again. I would obey. And I would let Him handle the outcome.
A few days later I got an e-mail. My student roster had been cut in half, and I watched my income plummet in a single moment. I swallowed hard, emotionally back in a tin chair with a cardboard cup of tea, riveted to the promises. OK, God, I thought. You knew this would happen. You say work, I'll work. You're going to have to build the temple.
I didn't panic. I went through the numbers and figured out how far behind I was. I made a few plans. And then I prayed. Hard. Not just for me, but for all the other Israelites laboring on a besieged temple. I prayed that God would provide for us. And I prayed that we wouldn't forget to trust Him.
Hope of Glory
"This is what the LORD Almighty says," Haggai 2:6-9 proclaims. "In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations ... and I will fill this house with glory.... The silver is mine and the gold is mine."
The following months weren't easy, but the recession and the prophet Haggai did something remarkable for me. They pulled me out of the selfish world I was building for myself and reminded me that it's not about me, it's not about money, and it's not about security in this world. It's about serving the God who is with me. It's about fulfilling my calling in every area of life and trusting Him to fill it with glory.
It's not fun to live in an era when God is shaking things. But we don't belong to those shaking nations. We belong to the Almighty God with hosts arrayed, with mighty plans, with every resource at His fingertips.
Two things happened shortly after Pastor Aaron and Haggai delivered their messages. First, God proved to me that He was bigger than any recession. A retiring coach handed me her roster of students. New clients and writing jobs poured in. My self-published books, usually a meager source of income, started selling at all-new highs. And then God called me to a new ministry, one which requires a lot of time and doesn't pay.
So it's time to step out on the promises of God again. Time to replay all those powerful messages: Do not fear. Be strong and be strong and be strong. The silver is mine and the gold is mine. I am the LORD Almighty, and I will fill this house with glory.
Work, for I am with you.
Months later, the nation is beginning to come out of its fears. Here in Canada, major banks are predicting that the recession will end next quarter. In the UK, some say it's already finished. The U.S. has longer to wait, but no one's saying "Great Depression" anymore. In the midst of all this human hoping, I find myself challenged again. I can put my trust back in the world's financial systems, or I can keep it firmly in Jehovah Jireh, my provider. I can wake up tomorrow and get to work because I'm pretty sure it will reward me, or I can do it because I know God is with me and has called me to serve Him.
The fact is that no matter what the experts say, the world's systems will always be shaky. I'll face more challenges in the days ahead. I'll probably lose faith again, but God will keep reminding me. And if I lose everything, at least I know this: The God who shakes all nations is coming to fill His house with glory.
If I can have a part in that, all the struggle will be worth it.
Copyright 2009 Rachel Starr Thomson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.