I’ve noticed that it’s very tempting for people to get wrapped up in their own problems. It doesn’t really matter what concerns them; if there’s some obstacle that needs to be overcome, the knee-jerk reaction of just about anybody is to focus on that problem and how they would go about solving it. Very rarely do they ever step back, breathe and look at what caused the problem or at other problems orbiting around the problem where their focus is.
And here’s some startling news: Christians are just as bad at this. Shocked? It’s not too surprising—we’re not perfect, remember? But the problem isn’t in making the mistake, rather in continuing to make the mistake and how it shows in our relationship with God and how we treat Him. God’s people have a tendency to continually become self-absorbed and forget just to whom they belong. If you take a look at the book of Haggai, you’ll see how true this is.
Starting at verse 2 of Haggai 1 (NIV):
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD’s house.’”
3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but 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.”
Before I go on, let me back up a bit and give you some context.
Haggai’s ministry took place after the Jews had been released from captivity and sent back to Jerusalem—approximately twenty years after their captivity had ended (for those who are avid OT readers, this was decades before either Ezra or Nehemiah came to Jerusalem). In the twenty years since the first Jews were released from captivity, they hadn’t managed much in the way of rebuilding. Though they started rebuilding the temple early on, the work had been halted and would stay that way for about ten years.
Along comes Haggai, sent by God to speak to the leaders in Jerusalem. While the Jews had stopped working on the temple, they had evidently kept working on the city and on getting their homes back up. In other words, they had abandoned fixing up God’s house and worried about their own homes and God was not pleased with that.
Sometimes, it’s hard for us to appreciate a circumstance like this, but keep in mind that the temple was central to the Jews in their walk of faith. They knew it as their means of coming to God where he dwelt and bringing everything you had to him as an act of worship. While it may not have been the only method of worship or service open to the Jews, since God was there, it was the big unifying point in their lives.
So what message does God give Haggai? He basically says to the Jews, “You’re not getting a lot out of your work to rebuild your lives because you’ve ignored Me in the process.” Clearly, things had not been going well in the reconstruction since their decision to put the temple on hold. According to Haggai, any effort they made to rebuild and put their lives back in order proved unproductive—all because they decided to put God on the back-burner and worry about themselves first.
Have we moved away from this behavior? I don’t really think so. If anything, the choice is made worse by the tendency in America to insist on being self-made. I’m sure there are those who would disagree with my claim. They might say that this is some hold-out from our dusty, old religious days. However, I am not the one who is calling out this behavior—God is. That should give anyone plenty of reason to stop and think.
God called His people out for putting Him last. The God of Israel was becoming usurped again in the hearts of His people. It’s not very clear in the passage what usurped God, but it looks like concern for physical wants and needs—shelter, food, clothing, etc. I think that this is where we arrive at the scary part: we’re guilty of doing the exact same thing. We may not fess up to it in word, but our actions sure make it obvious. How are we guilty? We’re more concerned with how we can benefit from our actions instead of how we’re worshiping God; we’re more concerned with how to provide for ourselves instead of giving back to The One who provides for us. It’s choices like this—and they span more that just material concerns, by the way—that affect the direction and focus of our worship—ourselves or God—and affect just what kind of results we yield if we claim to be His children.
Jesus told a parable of a foolish man and a wise man—the story where the first man built his house on sand and the second man built his on a rock. The short of it: sand makes a lousy foundation. Anything built on sand is liable to fall apart as the sand shifts with the changing weather. This is not the case when you build on a foundation that is sturdy like a rock. The same is true of our life choices today. We can either build on the sand of things that are perceived as important now—the house, the perfect job, etc.—or on the rock that is God and His ways.
Often, these aren’t ways that best serve ourselves or bring us comfort or do whatever else it is that gets in the way of God’s house being built up in our lives. Those choices don’t seem to really help in the long run, anyway.