Last week I read Haggai, and since it’s a short book I finished quite quickly. Dissatisfied with just a superficial reading of the text, I decided to go deeper and study the book with my trusty John MacArthur study bible (if you haven’t got one, I highly recommend it! Nothing helps me to understand the context and substance of God’s Word than this book, and with that the Holy Spirit is then able to illuminate so much more of the Word to me).
I particularly love reading the introduction to books, and so after reading the one for Haggai I learned some pretty interesting things:
- Both Haggai and Zechariah did their ministry alongside each other in around 520 BC, the second year of King Darius.
- 538 BC was when the Israelites were given the freedom to return to their homeland by decree of Cyrus the Persian. About 50,000 Jews returned under the civil leadership of Zerubabbel.
- The temple had previously been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and so the Jews began to rebuild in 536 BC.
- Fierce pressure from neighbouring nations, as well as indifference by the Jews meant they abandoned the work.
- Haggai and Zechariah were commissioned by God to remind the people to rebuild the temple, as well as to instruct and encourage them to consider carefully their spiritual priorities.
- Haggai said in chapter 1 verse 10, “therefore because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops”. Israel’s sin had caused God to remove His presence, not in the least because the destruction of the temple, His dwelling place, resulted in the absence of His glory from among them.
So with that context in mind, let’s look at the 5 ways Israel – and we today – exclude God’s presence in our lives from the first chapter of Haggai:
1. Simple Indifference
“This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be rebuilt'”
It’s simple: if you don’t prioritise something, it won’t get done. Simply wanting something to get done is not enough – it needs to be important to you, and you need to implement the discipline and strategies necessary to do it. I find this happens a lot with my prayer and devotional life – of course, as a Christian, I want to pray – and so I discipline myself in such a way that there’s time in my day devoted to the Lord in prayer and bible reading. Yes, this is a command – but it’s also something I enjoy! I’m a Christian – therefore I enjoy communion with God and learning about Him. We all ought to – but when indifference strikes, we must strike back with discipline.
2. Preferring what’s comfortable
“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
Of course, at times prayer and bible reading seem intimidating or just too exhausting. “I’m too tired,” I tell myself, “God would probably rather me not talk to Him when I’ve been working hard at home and caring for the baby all day”. It’s more comfortable for me to come up with some excuse to not read my bible (which doesn’t always have to involve intense study – simply meditating on a single Proverb or adoring God through a Psalm of praise is a great way to worship God in the midst of the day) or pray, and instead spend time doing things that are apparently ‘less’ important, even though I spend more time on them (*cough* Facebook *cough*). Getting out of the habit of making excuses is another great step to proper prioritising of our spiritual lives.
3. Lacking self-reflection
“Give careful thought to your ways… Give careful thought to your ways”
In Jewish literature, emphasis is shown through repetition (they didn’t have fancy italics back then), so we can gather from Haggai’s use of the phrase “give careful thought to your ways” twice in one message to be of great importance. While both Haggai and Zechariah were commissioned to remind, reprimand and encourage the Israelites, Haggai was the one who got the ball rolling. He instructed Israel on the necessary developments they as a people needed to make before they began their work on the temple; mainly, getting their spiritual priorities in order. This is why the book of Haggai is known for the call to proper self-reflection and other mind-related issues, and is still a great help for all Christians today, 2500 years later.
4. Distracted by worldliness
“You have planted much… You eat, but never have enough… You drink, but never have your fill.
You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it…
each of you is busy with his own house”
It could be that assignment or project you’ve been working on for weeks. The job you’ve been waiting for. The guy you really like. Your friend group at school. Your seemingly insomniac baby.
All of these things are good, but if anything – or anyone – becomes a distraction or intrusion to our spiritual lives, we ought to figure out a plan to minimise their impact. It could be as simple as setting aside parts of the day dedicated to the things that must be done, or even disciplining oneself to worry less about things that really don’t matter. Think about what you give your most thought-time to: Do you think about godly things mostly? What worries you, or holds your attention, throughout your day? Is it God? If not, your priorities may need a do-over. I challenge you to (along with me) spend the following days evaluating what you give thought to – is it God, or things of the world/flesh? And then responding appropriately with prayer, repentance, thankfulness, and discipline.
5. Forgetting God’s Promises
“”I am with you,” declares the Lord.
So the Lord stirred up the spirit of the people.
“But now be strong… and work, for I am with you””
Lastly, we ought to remind ourselves daily of God’s promises. This can seem overwhelming, since there are so many – but our God is just that good! Remembering God’s promises is one of the best ways to spur us on to discipline, holiness and obedience, for these are born out of true thankfulness to God. And as we do God’s work on the Earth, we experience His grace and power that flow into ever-increasing joy.
I encourage you to follow Haggai’s advice along with me, to seriously and soberly pay attention to what you think about, and where time with God in prayer and bible reading fits in to your priorities. I am praying that God would show me areas of my life that need particular re-evaluation and repentance, and that He would give me the grace and help necessary to keep my mind undistracted and focussed on Him as my greatest treasure.