Then Haggai, the Lord 's messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: "I am with you," declares the Lord. So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius. -- Haggai 1: 13-15 (NIV)
Sometimes this Christian walk seems to grind to a halt. Sometimes the going is a tough slog. We can serve for years, become enamored more with our church than our Lord and honestly become spiritually lazy. Sometimes God needs to stir our Spirit. Or maybe we over-serve, get hurt in ministry, and honestly become spiritually bitter. Sometimes the Lord needs to stir our Spirit. Or possibly we never really pursued the things of God very hard to begin with. We might attend church regularly, perhaps tithe occasionally, but honestly we are just spiritually immature. Sometimes God needs to stir our Spirit.
There are so many treasures in the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament. The Prophet Haggai is one such treasure. Let's set up the backdrop. The Ten Northern tribes known as Israel have already been scattered by the Assyrian Empire, never to be heard from collectively again. The two remaining tribes, known as Judah were finally judged by God for their sin and carried off into captivity in Babylon. Judah cannot say they were not warned:
"The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you. -- Deuteronomy 28: 36-37 (NLT)
There are always consequences for sin. God had warned His people in the Torah what would happen if they continually disobeyed His law. If anything, we should marvel at the patience of God to watch the 400 years of disobedience during the Judges period; followed by the various sins of Kings Saul, David, and Solomon; followed by the splitting of the kingdom where the overwhelming majority of kings never obeyed Him either. So the remnant God has left is Judah, in captivity. In 5349 BC, the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians, which opened the door for the return of the people to Jerusalem. The Book of Haggai is set about 16 years after the first refugees had returned to Jerusalem. God let them settle in a little bit and then sent the Prophet with a Word for the people and it remains a Word for us today as well:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: "These people say, "The time has not yet come for the Lord 's house to be built. '"Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?" -- Haggai 1: 2-4 (NIV)
The first lesson we need to take from the Prophet Haggai is that we should not ignore the house of the Lord for the sake of our own personal house. This applies on many different levels. Essentially God is saying here that He understands that we have real concerns in the very real world that we live in. God does not expect us to live in a Christian bubble. God does not expect us to leave our walls unfinished and our doors unprotected. At the same time however, God does not expect us to ignore the things of God in pursuit of the things of this world. We need to not do two things specifically within these three verses that can directly apply to our lives today. First of all we need to stop making excuses. God starts the prophetic word by saying, "these people say the time has not yet come for the Lord's house to be rebuilt." He uses their own words to condemn them; to convict them. Not only had the people not rebuilt the temple but they were excusing their behavior of doing so!
We can fall into the same habits in our own walk with God. We can start to slack off regarding any number of spiritual disciplines. We can start to pray less and say that we just do not have the time. We can read the Word less and excuse it by saying that we attend two services per week. We can take no personal time for worship and blame it on our schedule. Our Spirit starts to starve a little bit at a time. When this starts to occur, we need to take a good look at our personal habits, or our secular habits, if you will. I think we can fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to other Christians who may not be any better off than we are spiritually. The second thing to take away from these three verses is that God compares our investment in Him with our investment in ourselves. While the people were saying it was not yet time to rebuild the temple, they were living in "paneled houses." This indicates that the people had somehow gone above and beyond merely worrying about their physical space. The usage of "paneled houses" to me indicates some level or adornment or enhancement had occurred to the houses they were living in. Remember, they had been there 16 years already. So they had not only rebuilt their own houses in which to live but apparently they started modifying them, adding onto them, or making them more luxurious in some manner or another. They managed to do this while the temple of God laid in runs all around them. That was the comparison God was making here to them.
It is the same comparison He is asking us today to make regarding ourselves. Look, God is ok with us living in paneled houses, so long as the house of the Lord in our life is not lying in ruin. The object of God is not an impoverished life. It is a balanced life. Sometimes our Christianity consists only of the time we are involved with church functions or ministry. We attend two services per week, serve in a couple of ministries, tithe correctly and think that is what our walk is before the Lord. We do not feed on the Word personally during the week. We do not pray regularly as we should. We do not have any personal worship time. God is an afterthought when we are not directly involved in some church activity. If that is the case, the house of the Lord in our life is lying in ruins all around us. That is why the enemy so easily defeats us. That is why we walk with no Holy Ghost power during the week. That is why we keep circling the same mountains in our lives over and over again. That is why we seemingly cannot find peace:
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! -- Isaiah 26: 3 (NLT)
That is the point God is making here to Judah and to us today. What is it that we are fixing our thoughts on? What are our paneled houses? What is it that takes up our time instead of paying attention to the temple of the Holy Spirit, which every believer is. I am not talking about work or school -- everyone has responsibilities. What is it that we do with the rest of our time? Our personal time? Oh you don't understand preacher, I have four kids and I am just too busy. What I do understand is a moment doesn't seem to go by where you aren't on Facebook! Maybe it is time to send a tweet to God! Again, we are not talking about neglecting self -- just making sure our temple is not lying in ruins all around us. So where are our thoughts fixed? Do we catch every Yankee game but never have time to read a chapter in the Bible? Do we make time each day, no matter how busy to stop at Starbucks but we cannot seem to make the same time to pray to God? You don't understand preacher -- I can't function without my venti grande chai latte! Oh I understand, I just think God wants us to get to a place where we cannot get through the day with Him. God is not saying don't get your coffee. He is saying if we can make time for that regardless of how our day is going, we cannot tell Him we can't make the same time for Him. As with everything it is always a matter of choice. The world sells this victim mentality where we have no control over the events that shape our lives and God here is saying -- nonsense!
The second lesson from the Prophet Haggai is that eventually God will make sure He gets our attention if we continue to make excuses:
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the Lord. "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the Lord Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands. " -- Haggai 1: 5-11 (NIV)
There is a lot there to digest. The first set of conditions God is describing here relate to our level of comfort. You eat but are not full. You drink but still thirst. You put on layers of clothing only to not shake off the cold. No matter how much money you make, it never seems enough. Have you ever felt that way? I know I have. Where no matter what I do or what I accomplish it is never satisfying enough. God is saying here that maybe we are looking for the wrong kind of satisfaction. Worldly satisfaction will always leave a God shaped void in our lives. Worldly satisfaction is never what it is advertised to be, always comes with strings attached we never saw, and rarely lasts for very long. That is not like the promises of satisfaction from God:
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. -- Isaiah 58: 11 (NIV)
God is saying here to the people in Jerusalem and to us today that if we feel like we are in a constant state of discomfort or dissatisfaction, perhaps we need to stop looking outwardly and start looking upward. What is the state of our temple? Is it lying in ruins as we pursue the things of this world? Do we make excuses for not fitting God into our busy schedule? Christianity is not supposed to be about fitting Jesus into our lives -- it is supposed to be about making our life about Christ. The second set of conditions refers to more severe methods God had to employ to get the attention of the people. Crops failing, poor production, droughts and famines. I add this here because there seems to be a growing false theology out there that doesn't emphasize the fact that God can and will punish us according to what we deserve. The notion that the work of the cross eliminates the need to pay attention to the law is pure heresy. It is a lie from Satan designed to get us to drop our guard in our own lives about sin. Don't fall for it.