This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
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?”
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 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.”
Haggai 1:2-6 (New International Version)
Everybody’s got one. Don’t you? You know, that place in your basement or maybe your garage or at the back of a closet where all the forgotten dreams go. That place where we will find that musical instrument we were going to play, the roller blades that we were going to use every week to get back in shape, that jigsaw puzzle we were going to put together, or that box of pictures we were going to scan into our computer or put into a scrapbook.
We hear about a new thing and we get so excited. We buy all the equipment, perhaps even a DVD with lessons on it, and we jump in. We are excited. We are off to a roaring start, even seeing some results. But something comes up and we have to put that new exciting activity on the back burner… at least for a little while.
Time starts to drag on, we move the exercise ball out of the living room, we slip the guitar into the closet, or we tuck those pictures up on a shelf until we can get back to them. But one of these days, we’re going to get to that. We’ll pick it up right where we left off. We will achieve that new goal… one of these days.
That’s what God’s people did after He restored them to Israel. God moved on the heart of King Cyrus, king of Persia, to make a declaration releasing the Israelites from captivity and appointing them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. Incredible! God uses this pagan king to give freedom of worship to a people who had been held captive for 70 years.
The group that returned tackled the building project with enthusiasm. They laid the foundation, rebuilt the altar, restored the sacrifices and burnt offerings and celebrated the grace of God for returning them. The priests and singers brought out the cymbals and trumpets and “With praise and thanksgiving [the people] sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; His love toward Israel endures forever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” (Ezra 3:11)
Then political opposition to the project flared up. The people slipped out of the city to check on their farms and villages. They’d be back once things got straightened out. They’ll get right back to it. Never fear.
Sixteen years later, they still had not returned. Sadly, we are just like that, especially with God. We start a new Bible study. We go to a new church. We return from a great retreat or conference with a spiritual high. We are gung-ho and ready to roll. But things come up and God finds himself on our Shelf of Forgotten Dreams.
Why does this happen? A key spiritual reality is this: Discouragement is to be expected in life; but the more God is going to be glorified, honored or proclaimed in something, the more spiritual opposition and resistance there will be. Too often we cave quickly, just like the Israelites, when faced with such opposition. And we drift off into our own little world, forgetting God in the process.
But God is not content with that. He wants a personal, committed relationship with His loved ones. It is not fitting to make God #2, let alone allow our relationship to gather dust in the back of a closet. He loves us too much to let us think that this rat race is all there is to life.
So what does He do? In the verses above, God challenges us to examine our ways. Take a look at your life, He urges. How’s it working for you? You work overtime, but still barely scrape by. You eat and eat, and still wander through the kitchen opening cabinets to find something to satisfy the emptiness you feel. You earn 401(k)s only to have the market tank. You invest in a home only to have it drop in value. Why does this happen?
“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 your own house.” (Haggai 1:9) God takes the responsibility for our emptiness. He takes responsibility for the challenges we often face. Not every problem, mind you. Not every headache. But God is saying that He can use our emptiness and our circumstances to redirect our attention and priorities.
The other day my wife told me of some sheep that had gotten out on Highway 224 west of Wellington; “There’s going to be a terrible accident if someone doesn’t do something.” I dutifully jumped in the car to see what I could do. When I arrived and saw three rams wandering in the middle of the road, I thought, “What am I, a city boy, going to do here?” But I pulled over and gave it a try.
I approached the sheep slowly with my arms outstretched to try to shoo them into their pasture. They started running west, right past their pasture. “No!” I yelled as a car came from the west. Fortunately that driver saw them and gave a little honk. That startled them and caused them to head back my way. Seeing me with outstretched arms, they headed right into their pasture.
God often works like that. He brings in forces to hem us in. He herds us toward Himself and away from danger. God tells us: Seek Me first (Matthew 6:33), and love Me with all you’ve got (Mt. 22:36-38). But we tell God: “Once I get my life in order, then I’ll have time for You.” We think, “I got to get my stuff figured out, get my things in order, just let me get everything straightened out, then I’ll put God first!”
But that’s not how life works. If you wait, you will never put God first.
CS Lewis said “If you put first things first, we get second things thrown in; but if you put second things first, we lose both first and second things.”
We need to know that this is how life works! So we have to ask ourselves, Where is God’s place right now in your life?
In the Old Testament, God’s house referred to the temple in Jerusalem. But in the New Testament, all that was changed. God said that each believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and that all believers collectively are His temple (1 Cor. 3:16). So if we are to start building God’s house, we will start to build up fellow believers and grow our own faith.
In seeking God first and His kingdom, we will pursue our relationship with Him and seek to help others discover how to have this relationship as well.
So, what are you building and what are you seeking? Are you building your house or God’s house? Are you seeking to put yourself first, your job first, your family first OR God first?
Where is God right now in your life? Is God on The Shelf of Forgotten Dreams? Is He still one of those things you need to get to one of these days? God says that He loves you too much to let you think this is all there is in life. He will blow it all away so that He can get your full attention.
How will you respond? Will you receive this message today as your wake up call? Will you join me in this courageous prayer? “God, do whatever it takes to get You back in the center of my life!” This is a bold prayer, a scary prayer. Will you pray this with me? Let’s be like the Israelites. They heard the Word of God from Haggai. They feared God. And they obeyed!