Songs carry memories—-have you ever noticed that? We can sometimes hear a song that we haven’t heard in years, one which we practically had forgotten existed, and upon hearing the melody or lyrics, instantly we’re transported to the time and place evoked by remembering it. Think of your high school or college fight song, the rock and roll you used to sing with friends in the car, the song from your first dance at your wedding. Do you remember?
Recently in church, as the first chords of a particular song were played by the praise band, my eyes instantly welled up with tears. Immediately I could see in my mind’s eye our former youth praise team up front, my daughter singing lead on King of my Heart. For a couple of minutes it took my breath, remembering. So many sweet moments came rushing back, moments that won’t ever return: Sunday night youth services where I’d get to hear her sing, the struggles she was walking through at the time and the way God was walking alongside her, the integrity-filled leaders who poured into both of our daughters’ lives in high school, their wonderful, godly youth pastor and his wife who loved our family so well, but have since moved away. In a way on that Sunday morning in church I was mourning what once was; in another way I was rejoicing. It was bittersweet. After a couple of minutes of breathing my way through the song to regain my composure, the Holy Spirit exhorted, admonished, encouraged me not to let my mind and my praise only remember the Lord’s goodness in the past. Instead I should remind myself that His goodness extends to my future (and my family’s future) as well.
Perhaps that’s not uncommon for us as humans. Perhaps it’s universal to look back with longing at the past. We’ve probably all heard senior members of our family or community speak with regret that things are no longer as good as they were in the past, back in the ‘good old days.’ The Bible even portrays that the Israelites looked back on former days with a feeling that their best days were behind them.
In the book of Haggai in the Old Testament we learn that the word of the Lord came to the minor prophet, Haggai, as he is sent to motivate the leaders and people of Israel to restore the temple that had been destroyed. The Israelites during this time had recently returned from Babylonian captivity after 70 years. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the original, glorious temple, which was built during Israel’s King Solomon’s rule. The people had already been tasked with rebuilding the temple, but had stalled because they were caught up in chasing after their own prosperity instead. They made the excuse that “the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD” (Haggai 1:2).
As a remedy for the situation, God sends Haggai to them to point out that their pursuit of prosperity has resulted in fruitlessness. In order for them to gain and flourish, they should make rebuilding God’s house (the temple) their first priority.
Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”
Then the LORD reminded them, “I am with you.” So the governor and the high priest and the remnant of people who returned from Babylonian exile were moved in their spirits to work heartily to rebuild the Lord’s temple. After nearly one month of labor, the people who remembered the former temple in all its splendor must have been disheartened as they looked at the meager building they were currently constructing. In no way would this match the glory of before. God, knowing their thoughts, again sent Haggai to them with a word, this time, of encouragement:
The Lord says, ‘Some of you will remember how beautiful my temple was in past times. Look at it now! It seems nothing like it was before. But now, Zerubbabel, be strong and brave! Joshua too, and all you people who belong here in Judah, be strong and brave! Now begin to work, because I am with you to help you. That is what I, the Almighty Lord, say to you. Do not be afraid. Remember that I made a promise to your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt. I promised them that I would be with them. My Spirit is now with you too.
I, the Almighty Lord also tell you this: Soon, I will cause the sky and the whole earth to shake. I will also cause the sea and the land to shake. I will cause people in all the nations of the world to shake with fear. They will come here to offer their valuable gifts. At that time, I will cause my temple to be full of glory. I, the Almighty Lord, tell you this. Yes, all the silver and gold in the world belongs to me. And I promise you this: This new temple will be even more beautiful than the old temple in past times. Here in this place I will bless my people.’ That is what the Almighty Lord says. (Haggai 2:3-9, Easy English Bible 2018).
What is striking here is that God isn’t just reminding the people that He is with them like He was with the builder’s of Solomon’s temple; no, He is reminding them of His covenant to be with their ancestors when they had escaped from Egypt generations ago! His promise that this new temple would surpass the original one in glory is a foreshadowing of Christ the Messiah coming, the eternal, spiritual Temple (see John 2:20-21 and Rev.21:22, 24). Our God is eternal, and He always and still honors His covenant. Even when thousands of years go by, even when terrible things have happened, even when we are unfaithful, He is faithful. Even when we can’t see how things can be as good again as they were in the past, He is with us, and His promises are fulfilled.
Being reminded of this truth encouraged me that morning in church. I pray that knowing God is with you will also encourage you, and that you will also realize that, in Christ, your best days are still ahead of you.