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Life is sometimes so difficult to understand. We read of verses that tell us that "He is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting," (Psalm 106:1), but then when we look at our own lives, we find something that just doesn't match.
A. Identifying the Problem (Haggai 1:1-11)
We like to hear of God's love. We like to think how God favors us and deals nicely with us. But when we start going through times of difficulty, poverty, and stressful times, we begin to actually wonder what is going on. We might say it like this:
"Why does our loving God allow His people to go through times of deprivation?"
Haggai provides one key step in trying to figure out what God is doing when things get tough. He does not give us the total picture, but we need to start here in understanding how God sometimes works out His love in unexpected ways. You might be wondering how some ancient book could be relevant to your needs. You will be surprised how God can use the truths of Haggai to speak to your heart.
In these two short chapters, Haggai leads the Israelites into one of their most strategic steps forward in all of their history the rebuilding of the temple. In two short chapters, the Lord through Haggai tells them what their problem is, reveals the secret of their response and shows how God brought His favor back upon them.
Dear Lord our Father, we often do not understand why we go through difficult times. Is it that your love has changed or has it merely taken different shape? If you still love us, then why are we suffering so? Thank you for be willing to use the Book of Haggai to address part of this problem. In Christ's Name we pray, Amen.
If we had our choice, we would never want to experience anything but God's blessings. Why is it, though, at times we actually do not experience His blessing but instead find ourselves in desperate situations? Surprising enough, difficult times is a way God speaks to us. God uses such circumstances to alert us to pay attention to something going on in our lives.
Are you feeling as if you are in a tight situation? What are you wrestling with? What particular situation or lack of something causes you to miss that peace of life? More than often these tights situations touch our financial situations, but they affect our lives overall just like it did with the Israelites.
"You have sown much, but harvest little;
you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied;
you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk;
you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and
he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes." (Haggai 1:6).
God gets our attention by actually withdrawing His blessings. Instead of blessings, we have curses. God wants to speak to our lives' situations. He actually tells us to consider our ways.
Haggai 1:5 "Consider your ways!"
Haggai 1:7 "Consider your ways!"
The message can't be easily avoided. We subconsciously draw conclusions in our minds. If everything is fine in our lives, then we think everything is okay. When things go difficult, we wonder whether God has a made a mistake, or that we have done something wrong. God is so intent on getting His people's attention in certain cases that He even influences the weather patterns!
"You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?" declares the LORD of hosts, "Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. "Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. "And I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands." (Haggai 1:9-11).
What is your situation? What troubles your life? For every difficulty we face in life, we are suppose to look up to God and ask Him if this is because we are disobedient in some way. This is wisdom. The foolish man never gets the connection. He goes at full pace into worse and worse situations.
Were the Israelites doing something wrong in this case? They sure were. What was their disobedience? The Lord summarizes His difficulty with them in Haggai 1:4.
"Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?" (Haggai 1:4).
Their lives were built around caring for their own families rather than God's concerns. The 'paneled' houses were not normal back then. They sound rather luxurious. By mentioning them, it is like emphasizing to what degree they have regularly made wrong priorities. For us it might be those entertainment centers, video rentals, etc. which all have taken away our tithe and offering from the church. Or perhaps it is those luncheon buffets, lottery tickets or fancy cars though missionaries are scraping to get by and the poor get poorer. Idolatry occurs when man serves man's interest first rather than God's.
What priorities in our lives have caused us to give less than we ought to God's work whether it be in money, time or effort? This is a question every family, church or individual will need to face some day.
If focusing on their own ways was the problem, what was the solution? He clearly tells them in verse 8.
"Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified," says the LORD. (Haggai 1:8).
God has no problem helping people to know how to serve and give. The biggest problem is getting His people to turn back from prioritizing his own needs first. The need is often the place we will find a solution. Problems arise when we are not positively affirming God's clear will.
For example, in this case if they just noticed that they avoided going around the temple area because it would make them feel guilty, then they should realize God might have them correct the problem by rebuilding the temple. It seems the guilt was amassing because once someone mentioned the problem, they all as one agreed they need to do something about it. The mature Christian is always seeking for God's will; they will not need to be rebuked by a prophet to know they ought to do something.
The spiritual principle then is that we should always prioritize God's will over our own conveniences. What God wants is more important than what we want. We change our lifestyle to seek Him, His will and then make decisions that will involve us in doing those things. This is the life of Jesus Christ.
God has a whole set of commands that are to help us regulate our lives. Anytime that we allow our own preferences to break His commands, we show that we do not worship God the Maker but man the created. We are idolaters. God sent the trouble that came upon the Israelites; it was no accident.
"And I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands." (Haggai 1:11).
When we start feeling the 'tightness of living,' we need to immediately and humbly turn to the Lord and see if we are neglecting something that He desires. We are wise when we examine our lives as an inventory list to check out our faithfulness.
Am I loving the people around me?
Have I done what He has told me to do?
Have I refused to do those things which I am not to do (temptations)?
Am I spending my money wisely? Eating out? Gifts? Buying binges?
Are my hobbies or interests keeping me away from my time with God?
We must remember that having difficult times doesn't automatically put a person in 'chastisement' mode. Chastisement is judgment with the purpose of bringing His people back closer to God.
While chastisement deals directly with some particular sin of ours, pruning is the deliberate shaping of our branches (life's circumstances) with the purpose of causing more fruit.
If we do not see any immediate reason for God's disappointment in our lives or in our attitudes, then we must assume God's faithfulness is using these circumstances in our lives for some other reason. Below are three biblical cases where God was not chastising but testing their hearts so to prove their true desire to know Him and increase their faith.
In Job's case trials were there to increase faith. (Book of Job).
Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. (James 5:11).
Jacob needed to persevere in doing good (wrestle) to get the blessing that he desired.
Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.... But he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." And he said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." (Genesis 32:24-28).
Daniel's prayer wasn't heard because the devil's holding power.
Then he said to me, "Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. "But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. (Daniel 10:12,13).
We always need to examine our hearts. If we do not find any sin, then we need to accept that God is bringing us through special testing to see the genuineness of our desire to trust and believe in Him. Joseph is an excellent example of how God trained and used someone going through difficult circumstances.
Hearing what God wants us to do is one thing, but our response to God's message makes a world of difference in what happens next in our lives.
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Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted:
(C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988