Remember the song about the guy who mined 16 tons of coal and just got deeper and deeper in debt? He maybe should have read this scripture. God really does have something to say about our work habits and how we spend our time.
CONSIDER YOUR WAYS
1. Background – Haggai is one of three prophetic books written after Israel's return to their homeland following the exile into Babylon. Zechariah and Malachi are the other two books of prophecy; the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Ester are historical books covering the same time period. In Ezra 6:14 the Bible records that Israel prospered under the prophesying of both Haggai and Zechariah. Haggai records the date of his prophecy according to the reign of Darius the king of Babylon. The date corresponds to September 1, 520 B.C. of our present calendar.
It has been 16 years since the people have returned to Jerusalem and the Temple of God still has not been built. God is chastising the people because even though the temple is still unfinished, they themselves are living in luxurious (ceiled or paneled) houses and are attempting to maintain a similar lifestyle. They are so blind that they are unaware that God is not blessing them. He is, in fact, cursing their efforts.
2. The Message- We do not always reap the benefits of our hard work. Even though we have been told for our whole lives that the way to prosperity is through dedicated study, hard work and saving money, things just do not work out that way all of the time. They often do, but sometimes what has worked before does not work now. The children of Israel are finding this out. Working hard has produced some good results (fine houses), but they are having a difficult time sustaining the 'good life'. The prophet Haggai is giving them the reason why. They have neglected God's work. Specifically, they have failed to rebuild the Temple. This failure is also indicative of a greater failure to be the Priestly People to the other nations which was God's intent for them all along. A failure, by the way, which haunts them to this day. The task has been given over to the church.
– The Problem – The return to Jerusalem was accomplished. The people had returned home. Great joy was in the hearts and on the lips of the people. Over forty two thousand had made the journey. They found their homeland in shambles. They began to rebuild. As work began on the Temple, the local inhabitants came to Zerubbabel ( Ezra 4:1-5 ) and tried to influence the building. When this failed they took the political road, hired powerful lobbyists and had the work stopped. Nothing is new under the sun! The tactics never change. When Satan cannot stop God's work with local influence through derision, skepticism and scare tactics, he always resorts to the legal, political system to enact his evil intentions. We are no different today. For the last forty years, we Christians have blindly accepted the government's intrusion into our lives and God's work. We have not fought back, so to speak, on behalf of our God and done whatever was necessary to further His kingdom. Until very recently, we have been cowered into blind obedience and acceptance.
The people's reaction went a step further. Rather than finding a way to continue work on the Temple, they began to build a life of their own. Slowly, they forgot the Lord's work and the temple lay in ruins. They did what we Americans call building 'the dream'. A fine house, good job and lots of play became their ambition. They didn't need God. They had careers! They were busy with life. They had responsibilities! Time? Who has time? Certainly, they had no time for church. Again, nothing is new.
As time went by, they made another mistake and concluded that the delay was really because "it just wasn't in God's timing" for the Temple to be built. Not yet anyway. They blamed God for their inaction and disobedience. Without a doubt, they knew that God wanted the Temple built. Yes, they had opposition. It was a great task. It would require lots of hard work and effort on their part. Even though they had lots of laborers (remember 42,000 people had returned) they just couldn't muster up the courage and stamina needed for the task. So, they blamed God. Today, our churches lack vision. Workers are really few. The majority of the work is done by just a few souls. God's work languishes nearly undone because we fail to get it done. We are working on our own dreams while the Master's work limps along. The number of baptisms in America among Southern Baptist Churches has remained nearly the same for a very long time. This is happening even though the total population has been increasing dramatically. We are reaching an ever decreasing percentage of Americans for the Lord. He cannot be pleased.
– God's Reaction – Your work is futile. Whatever you do I am against. Whatever you accomplish, I bring to little. Whatever you save, I take away. You work harder and harder, but I bring it to nothing. Haggai 1:5-6 is a vivid picture of what happens when God is sorely displeased with His people. Even though they have been working hard to make a living, they seem to be getting further and further behind. They were going backwards. Has not the same thing been happening to us in America? It takes two people working full time to keep a family and home running these days. What one person could do several years ago, two can barely do now to make ends meet. In the 1960's my father made just $300 per month. It wasn't much, but we lived on it. Ten times that today is not enough for the majority of us. When we do get a raise, it is quickly consumed with higher taxes and prices. Gasoline has doubled in price to $3.00/gal. A low income worker can't afford to drive to work. What are we to do?
– God's Solution – Build the Temple so I will be glorified. This is not a command to just build a building. It has always been God's plan that His people will represent Him to the world as they worship Him. At this time in the world's history, a god is seen and worshiped at a particular location in a fine building. All people are known by the temples which they construct for their god. The world recognized a god and his power by the magnificence of his temple. God loves the whole world and if His people will build the Temple, His people could worship Him there and others would be drawn to Him. It is no different today. We, however, are the Temple of the Holy Spirit and, as such, represent God to those around us. In this way we either honor or degrade The Great God of the Universe. We, therefore, must be diligent in building ourselves and conforming ourselves to the image of Jesus the Christ.
How can we do this? First, by building up our bodies both physically and mentally. Have you ever heard the old expression when asking how someone feels? A popular reply around where I grew up was,” I’m fat, dumb and happy.” It's a sad fact that most people are not at all happy. In fact, it's just the opposite. Without knowing it, they are very unhappy because either they do not know Jesus as Savior or they are not truly involved in His work. Equally sad, 60% of all Americans really are fat and dreadfully out of shape. Most of us couldn't do a good hard day's work if we tried. If we got one day in, we surely couldn't do the second day's work. The worst thing of all, though, is that even among church goers today, true Bible knowledge is practically non-existent. We are equally flabby in our mental preparation for the Lord's work. Just ask anybody who Mephibosheth was and see what kind of answer you get. By the way, he was Jonathan's crippled son who was treated kindly by King David. How can we truly represent God before a dying world with our bodies so out of shape. Along with our own body, we desperately need to rebuild the corporate body known as the Church. If our people do not know the Bible, how can we get them to learn? Even four hours (3 on Sunday & 1 on Wednesday) of Bible study and preaching a week have not been enough to keep us knowledgeable of God's Word and ways. We need personal Bible study. We need to read Christian material. We need regular, personal time with God. It's about time that someone stood up in some pulpit and said that as a whole we are disgracing God in our bodies and in our work for Him. We should be better than the world. We aren't.
Secondly, we need to learn how to pray. I mean to pray prayers that cause God to move. Prayers that really change things. Prayers that God answers without doubt. Most likely, our prayers are no more than generalizations filled with Christian, mumbo-jumbo platitudes which are wordy and which do little to invoke our Loving God to act on our behalf. They may not even be in His will. In His great high-priestly prayer ( John 17:20-26 ) for us, Jesus prayed to the Father that just as He and God are one, we would be one with Him. How can we be one with Him? By entering into frequent times of close union with Him. We must realize that our prayers are not just communicating with God. They are so much more than that! They should be a means of joining ourselves with God so closely that we feel His very presence. This is what Jesus is saying when He says that we should abide in Him (John 15:4-7). You never abide with someone without intimate contact with them. Rushed, shallow prayers are never intimate. In Knowing God, J. I. Packer writes:
Men [and women] who know their God are before anything else men who pray,
and the first point where their zeal and energy for God's glory come to the
Expression is in their prayers…If…there is in us little energy for such prayer, and
Little consequent practice of it, this is a sure sign that as yet we scarcely know
You cannot, you will not pray if you do not know God. You cannot know God unless you learn to pray. How then do you learn to pray? Begin by practicing the presence of God. That is, realize and visualize God with you at all times. He is you know? Even if you are not saved, God is all around you. You cannot go where He is not. As a saved person, the Holy Spirit lives within you. How can you go somewhere that you are not? See, God is with us. Since He is, then act like it and begin to make Him a part of your life. This is a form of what Paul is talking about in 1Thess 5:17 when he says to pray without ceasing. You will never cease to commune with God if you begin to practice His presence. You should be honest with God in your prayers. He knows your thoughts, faults and needs even before you present them. Tell Him what is on your mind. He knows that too. Don't try to be pious by trying to inflate your vocabulary or intentions. He sees through that all too soon. I probably speak West Virginian instead of English when I pray. Talk about a personal prayer language. If you can't pray, then just sit quietly before God (we should do more of that anyway) and listen to Him. See what He has to say to you. If done with respect and reverently, your thoughts will very soon begin to reveal what God has probably been wanting to say to you for a very long time. You will be surprised at how much God has to say if we just give Him a chance. Your life will turn around.
Thirdly, we need to regain a bigger vision concerning the great commission of Matt 28:18-20. Since our God and Savior, Jesus Christ has been given all authority; He now commissions us to GO in His Name to proclaim Him to the whole world. Actually, the word for go is a word which assumes you are going. It could be said, "As you are going". Go when and where God sends you and not a step further. Do not be afraid. He will not require you to go where you cannot go. Make disciples or followers of Jesus by teaching the whole world about our loving and merciful God. Teach about His love for all mankind, of how He died to pay our sin debt and how He rose from the grave to provide a way for us to get to Heaven so we can be with Him forever. Teach them that we can truly know and live with the One True and Living God. Get a God-sized vision of the possibilities which open up to a person dedicated to God and willing to serve Him. This happened to D.L.Moody, an uneducated shoe salesman in Chicago, who became one of the last century's great evangelists. He decided to just follow Jesus.
3. THE CONCLUSION – The children of Israel were disobeying God by letting His Temple lie in ruins while they went about their daily lives. They were so far away from Him that they didn't even realize that their lives were being spent on things that were just disappearing before their very eyes. We in America are in a similar predicament. No one needs to tell you that we are working harder and harder for less and less. Our best efforts are getting us no where. Could it be that we are building our luxurious houses and life styles instead of doing God's work. The answer is an obvious YES! Repent now and save yourselves further agony and heartaches in life. God has promised us that if we seek Him first that we will be given the best things of life ( Matt 6:33 ). He will provide us with everything which we need. His provision will meet or exceed our very expectations. If you are unsaved or unsure of your salvation, would you just ask Jesus to come into your life right now? Tell Him that you are sorry for your sins and that you want Him to forgive you and come to live with you and teach you His ways. Allow Him to direct your life. He will do it. If you are saved, examine your life and see where your "paneled houses" are located. Where have you been giving God less than your best? What is keeping you from serving Him? Let us all worship God with our whole hearts and minds and souls (Matt 22:37-39 ). Let us praise His Holy Name (Psalm 103 ). In this, God will receive honor and glory from His faithful servants. All of Heaven will rejoice.