I love the holiday’s. I love eating food on Thanksgiving and seeing my kids open presents on Christmas. I especially love that it’s one of two times every year where the secular world acknowledges the miracle of Jesus. Family and friends congregate in our homes every week and there is an unusual cheer associated with Christmas carols that you simply do not get anywhere else. Unfortunately for many the holiday’s are overshadowed by a dark cloud of sadness or depression. Call it Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), anxiety about family getting together, or worry that not everything that needed to get done during the year got done. The bottom line is that the holiday’s can bring about feelings of discouragement because of the past, frustration with those around us, and fear that the new year will not be any better than the last one.
The Israelites who were just coming out of Babylonian captivity knew the feeling well. The book of Ezra describes the first wave of captives being released back to Jerusalem with the instructions from the Lord to rebuild the temple. They begin their time back in Jerusalem with joy and purpose. They were united together with the mission of doing what God had asked them to do, and nothing was going to stop them.
It didn’t take long, however, for the enemy to come in and stop the work. The adversaries, as the writer describes them, used lies and deceit to put a stop to everything the Israelites were doing.
Their joy quickly turned to despair and their resolve into unholy surrender.
“Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose…” Ezra 4:4
They were in the same boat as many of you.
The encouraging thing about their situation was that it ended, a stark contrast just a couple of chapters later.
“And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them Joyful…” Ezra 6:22
Their discouragement, fear and frustration had all of a sudden turned into joy. The question for us is “how?” What happened to cause such a drastic change in their mood?
There are four things that we can learn from this group of Israelites that will help us, too, turn our sadness into gladness this holiday season.
1. Allow the Holy Spirit to come into your situation. At the deepest moment of their situation they allowed two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to come in, to “be with them” and “support them.” (Ezra 5:1-2) The role of prophets was simply to proclaim the word of the Lord to the people of God and the nations. At this point in time, they were there to come alongside God’s people who were especially struggling.
There is another One in Scripture who fits this description.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:13
The Holy Spirit promises to be our Comforter. The prophets, a type of the Holy Spirit in Ezra, came to give them encouragement and support, and the Holy Spirit promises the same thing to us.
If you are going through a difficult time, the first thing you must do is ask the Holy Spirit to come into the situation, not necessarily to bring you out immediately, but to be your Comforter.
2. Remember what God has done for you. As the persecution continued to come at them, the Israelites responded this last time with the story of what God had done in their midst. (Ezra 5:11-16) If you’re anything like me, you overanalyze and think profusely about what you can do to improve your situation. The key, however, is to think less about what we can do and more about what God has done.
When we begin to lose faith in God’s ability to turn things around for us, we should simply remember His perfect track record thus far. He’s been faithful and He will always be faithful.
3. Continue to do what God has told you to do. They could have given up the task of rebuilding the temple. We certainly would not blame them for calling it quits considering their situation. However, with a few key turns of events, they began the building again and completed what it was God had told them to do, despite their difficult place emotionally and spiritually. Think about how incredibly relived they felt when they could say “and this house was finished…” (Ezra 6:15)
Don’t let your fears, worries, sadness or insecurities get in the way of doing what God has told you to do. God comforts us in our afflictions, but we also don’t receive a free pass from doing what He wants of us. Keep going no matter what, and the reward at the end will be well worth it.
4. Take Time to Celebrate. After finally finishing what God had instructed them to do, they allowed themselves time to step back from everything and celebrate. (Ezra 6:16) There is something soothing for the soul about gathering together with friends to celebrate. Luckily this time of year we have the greatest One of all to celebrate.
I understand the feeling of not wanting to be around people or not being in the celebratory kind of mood, but I’m telling you that if you allow yourself to just have some fun celebrating the Lord, things will begin to turn around.
What are you going through this time of year that might be difficult? Saying “give it to the Lord” is always true, but so often times difficult to do. Perhaps begin by simply inviting the Holy Spirit in, remembering what He has done in your life, doing what He has told you to do, and rejoicing with one another over who He is.
Merry Christmas. May it be filled with great joy.