So busy getting nowhere
So busy getting nowhere (Haggai 1)
As we begin to rebuild our country, families, lives and livelihoods in the wake of the destruction caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Let's be careful to makes sure we put God and His glory first.
3 questions we must ask ourselves about our priorities
What is our first priority? The worship of God (Hag 1:1-4)
What happens when our priorities are not right? Frustration (Hag 1:5-11)
What must we do about it? Head and Obey (Hag 1:12-15)
I’ve called this message “So busy getting nowhere.”
I think one thing that this pandemic has done, is that it has put a lot of pressure on all of us. You have to work that much harder to keep your job, to keep your business afloat, to make that sale, to get the same money out as you used to. There are all these extra restrictions and procedures which we have to go through and we can’t afford for production to go down. School teachers have to prepare lessons for online and onsite classes. Restaurants and shops have all these extra sterilization procedures and forms to complete and because of social distancing and retrenchments, fewer people have to try get the same amount of work done. Office hours have suddenly become flexible and most often they are being stretched.
And I think we’ve all realized how fragile our lives and our plans really are, how quickly they can be swept away. We might have spent 10 years building a business only to see it go insolvent with a bang, or building a career only to find ourselves on the short-list, or building financial security only to watch our bank account being drained, or establishing or home only to see the bank reclaim it.
And we know that we need to try stabilize the economy and regather the troops and rebuild our clientele and we are desperately trying to rebuild… to recover what we lost, to get back to life as we knew it – but its all such a struggle and the danger is that we might get so focused on rebuilding that we lose sight of what really matters.
That’s my fear, that this pandemic might change the way we live permanently, and change it for the worst. I’m not concerned that we might not get back to doing all the things we used to do – because I think we are all realizing that some of those things we were so busy with, were really just a waste of time and money and energy. I don’t think it would be a bad thing if life never goes back to the way it was. But it would be a travesty if Christians don’t get back to what really matters. If in this process of trying to rebuild, we find ourselves rebuilding the wrong things…
The good news is that there a whole book of the Bible dedicated to this exact scenario. It was written to a group of people who had lost everything, whose lives had been decimated. They had lost their homes and livelihoods and businesses and property. When finally they started to rebuild God sends them a message through the prophet Haggai – saying, “You’re rebuilding the wrong things. You are trying to rebuild this, because you think this is most important but you are leaving derelict the very thing that God says is most important You’ve got your priorities all messed up”
We are going to find no happiness, no satisfaction, no fruitfulness and stability and productivity on the other side of Covid-19 if we don’t put God first and make God’s things a priority. That’s the message God gave Haggai to give to us.
Some historical background that we need to know in order to understand what is going on in the book of Haggai.
From covenant to exile
● In the book of Exodus we learn how God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt and entered into a covenant relationship with them in order that He might be their God and they might be His people. Under that covenant God promised to dwell in their midst, to give them the land of Israel as their own possession and to bless them and protect them in the land
● If, however they disobeyed and disregarded the covenant then God promised to discipline them, drive them out of the land, to remove presence from among them.
● That is exactly what happened, despite countless warnings and opportunities to repent, Israel did not continue to follow God- they worshipped false gods, they disobeyed the law.
● The nation was split into 2 kingdoms, the northern was kingdom of which the capital was Samaria – were taken away into exile by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Very few Jews were left in the land and the Assyrians settled foreigners from other places in the land.
● In 586 BC – approximately 150 years after the exile of the Northern kingdom- Judah, the southern kingdom was taken into exile by the Babylonians.
Back from exile
● Ezra-Nehemiah record the whole account of how the Jews came back to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile.
● In 539 – Persians defeated Babylon and God moved Cyrus, the king of Persia, to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem and the city.
● First batch of exiles returned, approximately 50 000 Jews.
Opposition (Ezra 4:1-5)
● Read Ez 4:1-5
● Ezra 4 records how the Samaritans who were living in Jerusalem wanted to help the Jews rebuild the temple.
● Remembers the Samaritans were the foreigners whom Assyria resettled in the northern regions when the Northern tribe were exiled, so they were not really Jews, though they had chosen to follow many of the Jewish laws and traditions.
● Jews said no, only Jews, who can trace their ancestry back to one of the tribes who had entered into a covenant with God, only they were the covenant people of God and only they should be part of rebuilding the Temple.
● Read Ez 4:16,22
● So the Samaritans then began to oppose the work, they threatened the Jews and later wrote a letter to Cyrus' successor, Cambyses, saying the Jews were rebels and were a threat to the kingdom, so Cambyses ordered that they stop rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem – but he didn't order that they stop rebuilding the temple which had specifically been commissioned by His pre-descessor.
● Yet 18 years later, when Haggai the prophet comes on the scene – the Temple still has not been rebuilt and the people in fact, have stopped even trying to rebuild it.
The book of Haggai as a whole is a call for God's people to get their priorities straight and to put God first.
From now on – when you hear Haggai, think – put God first.
This morning we will ask ourselves 3 critical questions about our priorities in life, which chapter 1 of Haggai will answer with the clarity and conviction that comes from God's Word alone.
1. What is my first priority? THE GLORY OF GOD (1:1-4)
Haggai and contemporaries
● Haggai 1:1 – second year of Darius. Darius is the 3rd king of Persian rule. 522 BC 16 years after Cyrius had first sent the Jews back to rebuild the Temple.
● The month is August by our calendar, even identifies the exact day God called Haggai to speak on His behalf.
● His Word came THORUGH Haggai. That is a reminder to us that the author is God, the prophets are merely the mouthpiece, the spokesman.
● To – Zerrubabel who was the governor of Judah and Joshuah who was the high priest.
● This small group of Jews who had returned – approximately 50 000 people.
● They basically just occupied the small region around the city of Jerusalem
● With a local Jewish governor and High Priest who are governing on behalf of the Persias to whom they are still subject.
● They have come back to Jerusalem, they are still under foreign rule and yet they have been given the opportunity to again live in the land and to rebuild the Temple so that they could worship God.
The temple was the visible manifestation of God's presence in the midst of His people.
All of Israel's worship centered around the temple:
● The sacrifices which provided forgiveness from sin could only be made at the Temple.
● Prayers were to be offered at the Temple
● The various prescribed feasts of worship and thanksiving were celebrated at the Temple.
● Without a Temple, Israel had no tangible means to approach God, to pray to God, to thank God, to be reconciled to God.
● Now, 18 years later, the Temple has still not been rebuilt and in fact, the people have given up trying.
1:3 - They are saying – now is not the time, it is obviously not God's will. There is too much opposition, things are too difficult, God is obviously not blessing this work, it can't be God's will.
God uses the prophet Zechariah and Haggai to rebuke, exhort and encourage the people to get back to their first priority.
1:4 – God essentially asks His people, what are your priorities?
Your own things, your own houses, your own comforts and pursuits – those are your priorities....
Paneled houses were a luxury in that day. It's not just that they had been trying to put a roof over their head, trying to provide for their essential needs. They had been decorating their houses, making themselves increasingly comfortable. Busying themselves with their own affairs -
● Then appeasing their conscience by saying – the timing just isn't right yet....
● We can't be doing that just yet, there are first these other things we must attend to.... our own things, our own pursuits, our own desires, our own comforts, our own houses, our own glory.
God says – your excuses are lame.
Application – same hours in a day
Brother and sisters, is this not exactly what we do?
● We all have exactly the same number of hours in a day and days in a week and we are all busy – I have not yet met a person who doesn't complain about how busy they are -especially not in Guateng!
● But what are we busy with? Paneling our houses, decorating our gardens, entertaining ourselves with television and hobbies and sport, sleeping
● And where is God in our life? He is relegated to 2 hours on a Sunday when we can make it, and a half hour in the morning when we are not feeling too tired or too stressed by all that we have to get done that day...
A priority is something you do first. What is the first and foremost priority in our lives? THE GLORY OF GOD
THAT WE MIGHT TASTE HIS GLORY FOR OURSELVES AND SAVOUR IT IN WORSHIP AND THAT WE MIGHT DISPLAY HIS GLORY TO OTHERS.– that is the only reason for our existence and the only thing that gives our existence meaning.
“The first and greatest commandment is this, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength” Deut 6:5
Yet we give Him no priority in our lives. Everything else gets priority over God – He will understand....
1:5 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says, “Give careful thought to your ways”...
I command you (it's an imperitive) to think about, to consider your ways, your priorities, the path your life is on, what you are so busy with.
What is your first priority? God's glory/ worship
2. What happens when my priorities are wrong? Discontentment (1:6-11)
1:6 – you are wasting your time.
● What you are doing is not fulfilling (you are still hungry)
● It is not satifsying (you are still cold and thirsty)
● and its not productive (you are working so hard but your crops are not yielding and your wages are going nowhere.
Does that sound familiar to any of you?
● You work and work and all you have to show for it is a whole lot of debt.
● You work overtime and weekends and evening and still can never really get through all your work.
● You are so desparately tired, so you take a holiday and come back only more exhausted.
● The more you have, the more you want – the more you sleep the more tired you are..
Why? - 1:7 – This is what the Lord almighty says, “I command you, give careful thought to your ways!”
1:8 Put God first
Go up to the hills, get the timber and build my house.
Why – this is what will please me, this is what will honour me -
that is your first priority! - to do what will please and glorify God
The term here for honoured when taken literally means weighty or heavy. In this I will be shown to be the weightiest, the most important, the greatest value – the first priority.
It is in the very act of putting God first, of giving Him priority – that His value, is worth is made manifest
We pursue that which we value the most. If we value our own comfort or money or the praise of men – then we will pursue that first. If we value God the most then we will put His pleasure first and in so doing – manifest to all, how valuable He is, how worthy He is – and that is the essence of worship – recognizing and displaying the worth of God.
1:9 – You did not get what you expected.
● What sowed and what you reaped didn't match
● What you got out was not in proportion to what you put in.
● Your life has been difficult, you have been fighting against the elements, drought, natural disasters - one thing after the other.
Why? ... I blew it away, I called for the dought. I have been the one who has been working against you, says the Lord Almighty.
● Look at this – I called for a dought on all th labour of your hands. In other words God ensured that their labour and toil would amount to nothing – would be futile.
● God was working against all their efforts, frustrating them and making their life a misery
Why – because of this house which remains a ruin.
● The fact that the Temple still lay in ruins meant that they could not worship God because there was no place to bring their offerings and gather in celebration and offer prayers as God directed them to do at the Temple
● It meant they were not worshipping God because they didn't care, it wasn't important enough to them, it could wait. The essence of worship is recognizing the worth of God and by neglecting the Temple they were showing that they did not recognize the worth of God.
● That is why God gives us limited time and asks us to spend it on Him
● and limited money and asks us to give it to him
and limited ability and asks us to use it for him
That is what demonstrates the value of God. Not that we give him the left overs of our time and money and effort and abilities – but that we give Him the best and the first and our all – because He is that valuable, that worthy.
APPLICATION: THE PRINCIPLE APPLIES
I think the principle still applies – when we are not putting God first, when we are worshiping and serving and giving ourselves to other things first – God will frustrate our efforts because He is a jealous God and He is jealous for our worship and He is a good God and He knows that we will be most satisfied when are are worshiping Him
1. What is our first priority? God's glory/ worship
2. What happens when my priorities are wrong? God is not glorified and we are not satisfied.
3. What should I do about it? Hear and obey (1:12-15)
They heard the message, they heeded the message and they obeyed the message.
● Not as the word from man, but as the Word of God. It came to them with authority and conviction.
● They obeyed because they feared God – they showed reverence for God.
● Hearing the message made them realize the error of their ways and they repented.
1:13 When God's Word has this kind of profound effect on people, it is not merely the work of man but it is the work of God.
It is God's Spirit who took God's Word at applied it to their hearts so that they were convicted of their sin and move and empowered to obey.
1:13 – look at this affirmation which came through Haggai – I am with you. I was against you, but now I am with you.
When we repent and take the first faltering steps of obedience – God is with us to strengthen and enable and empower our obedience.
The simplicity of it.
What is our first priority – worshiping
What happens when we get our priorites wrong? God is not glorified and we are not satisfied.
What should we do about it? Repent.
Example – quiet times
I remember a number of years ago sharing with a pastor how I was battling to be consistent in my devotional times
I thought he would give me some helpful tips or encourage me and tell me to persevere because it takes time – instead he simply said I must repent
I remember leaving feeling a bit deflates, like he had not really helped me.
8 years later – I think he was right.
We make the Christian life so complicated by trying to avoid the simple truth that there is no excuse for any of our sin – and God's simple command it that we repent.
● If you are not making it a priority to be here every Sunday for corporate worship – repent. Make a decision that you will be here every Sunday from now on – hail, rain or snow
● If you are not finding time for personal devotions – Repent - set your alarm, get someone to phone you in the morning. You never leave the house without brushing your hair, you seldom miss meals or your favourite T.V program because they are priorities. If you can made and keep those priorities you can make and keep new ones.
● If you are not involved with God's people, doing God's work, proclaiming God's gospel, serving in God's church – why not. What needs to change.
1:15 – on 24th day was first day they began rubuilding the Temple. Love that. This was a big ask. Stop whatever you are doing, despite the drought and difficulties you have been having – start work again on this massive project of rebuilding the Temple – an almost impossible task in their context. Repented, immediately began making plans and preparations and 24 days later there is a complete turn around – everyone from the leaders down to the commonfolk – put God first in their lives.
TURN TO CHRIST
I must conclude by covering this message with the gospel of Christ. Repentance in the N.T is not merely changing what we do. It is turning away from our sin and turning to Christ, refocussing ourselves on Christ and all that He has done for me.
Tit 2:11-14 – God's grace in Christ must be the focus of our gaze as we seek to change the focus of our efforts. We are not seeking to rebuild and earthly temple, we are seeking to put Christ at the center of our lives.
If you have been following the course of this pandemic then it goes without saying that the Coronavirus kills people. I think its becoming increasingly apparent that it is not as deadly as most people initially thought. But the real danger of the Coronavirus for Christians is that it would do us spiritual harm. That is would kill our zeal for the Lord, our desire to live for His glory. That is would distract us from what really matters, from what will matter 100 and a 1000 years from now. If we let the Coronavirus force us to retreat in fear and passivity and reduce our lives to worrying about washing our hands and putting food on the table – then it will have done greater spiritual damage to the church than anything it has done in the world. I’m not saying that we must forget about the Coronavirus, but I am saying that we mustn’t let the Cornovirus cause us to forget about God and what matters to Him.
As yourself this morning – who are what are you living for? Who are what are you really living for? Can you see that in your priorities, in the way you spend your time, your money, your talents? Can those around you see that you live first and foremost for God’s glory and not for your personal comfort and safety?
“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” Jim Elliott