Today with David, we looked at God’s desire for encouragement and what kind of posture we should have in encouragement. He looks closely at the nostalgia of the Israelites when the temple was rebuilt and how it keeps us from seeing the ways God wanted to encourage them in the present rebuilding.
The 2-step model of Encouragement David mentions (Inspired by Love, Directed Toward Fear) is credited to the book Encouragement: The Unexpected Power of Building Others Up by Larry Crabb with Dan Allender.
Opening Question: What is nostalgia?
Nostalgia is looking back at something with fondness and desire because you’ve forgotten or overlooked at the shortcomings of that thing. Nostalgia causes us to walk back into similar situations again, situations that still have those shortcomings that we should probably avoid because we’re not glossing over the bad, and only remembering the good. Examples, from David’s point of view, could include childhood movies with poor acting or production, childbirth or parenting small children, or certain relationships.
As people who want to allow the Spirit to shape our minds and hearts, we need to be critical of nostalgia, so David asks us to consider this Kingdom question in response to the very real tendency to look back with nostalgia: How does God breath encouragement and life into a nostalgic moment that doesn’t hold up over time?
God can take what is painful and broken and redeem it into something good. That time we are nostalgic was not spent in vain and there were some good moments in it, but David submits that the best is yet to come, and God’s encouragement in the midst of nostalgia is a practice of hope and seeing the best ahead of us. We learn how to do this by looking at the book of Ezra.
Ezra find the Israelites post- exile. Their temple and city was burned, and they were captured by Babylon for 50-70 years. In this place of despair, this burning of their homeland, this shattering of their identity and home is what the prophet Ezra is speaking to. A modern example of this is the recent burning of the cathedral in Paris. People wept and were moved by it because they had fond memories tied to it, there’s a shattering of identity and sense of place that came as they watched the spires burn. This is the condition of the Israelites when we find them in Ezra.
At the same time, the elders encouraged the younger generation who were raised in captivity that God is going to redeem them back to Jerusalem. They passed on a type of nostalgic memory. So much so that when they were finally set free by the Persian army and found their city still deeply ravaged, there was a keen sense of, “This is not as it should be. This is not what we remember.” So overwhelmed by nostalgia and discontent that the thing in front of them is not the thing they remember, they began investing in other parts of rebuilding; their homes, infrastructure, livestock.
From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.
The temple held so much nostalgic memory for them that it was difficult to rebuild, until about 18 years later when God reminded them of the importance of the temple through words from the prophets:
What is your temple? What is the thing you are so nostalgic about you can’t look at what is in front of you clearly and you cannot dream of rebuilding?
We are encouraged to face our nostalgia because if left unchecked, it can turn into discontent – this is the case of the elders who remember the former temple. When the Israelites finally began building and the temple was built, there was a great celebration that was immensely bittersweet for the people:
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, For his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shouting from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.
How can we resist living in this bitter sweet place? Look to God for encouragement and hope for the present. Lean into God’s model of encouragement for ourselves and others when we’re tempted by bitterness.
David then takes us to Haggai, a post-exilic prophet whose calling was to help the Israelites avoid exile and capture again. In Haggai’s words we learn how God’s encouragement is a remedy for nostalgia: acknowledge pain, inspired by love:
- Acknowledge PainWhen we acknowledge the pain, we look closely at the reality of the pain that brings the need for nostalgia. We don’t shame those who feel pain.
Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?
- Inspired By LoveWe encourage not out of manipulation or our personal convenience if we seek to encourage as God does. We seek to encourage out of a place of deep love for the person.God addresses our need to be seen and loved by reminding us that he has been with us, he is with us, and he will be with us! What is our need for nostalgia when we have the God of the Universe at this very moment with us?
Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.
We then direct our encouragement towards fear:
For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.
The core fear of nostalgia is that the present of the future won’t be as good as the past. But God in Haggai shows us that in his eyes, in his economy, in his estimation, the best is yet to come.
If we can hold on to these things when we look back at the past: That God is with us, God sees our pain from the loss of a good thing, God desires to bring good right now, and God has loved us every single moment past, present, and future — then we can hold nostalgia with an open hand.
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