Haggai 1:2 Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.
3 Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4 Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
5 Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
7 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. 9 You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.
10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.
Reading this passage this morning brought to mind the current economic and spiritual depression that is occurring around us these days. It seemed as if this passage, in which God speaks with the Israelites about their priorities and dissatisfaction, could have been written to me on a lot of days. This message is being delivered to the Israelites who have returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian Captivity, where they had spent 70 years living in relative prosperity. Upon their return to Jerusalem, they did not make God and their relationship with him their first priority. While the Temple laid in ruins, they were focused on building their own homes and securing their own prosperity.
But God observes of them what can be observed in our own time—the more they made their own comfort and security their priority, the less satisfied and secure they actually became. Jesus addressed this very issue in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 6:19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
In America today, even in the midst of this current economic crisis, we are more prosperous than any other civilization in history. Our treasure is firmly on this earth, our heart has followed, and our discontent is evident. We pour our time and money into our own personal happiness, security, and satisfaction and then wonder why we are more miserable than ever before. We spend our time and money building our own home while the work of the Lord is left undone. We are expending ourselves on a product that will not last, so are working in vain. Our hearts were created to work for the glory of God, and when we spend our time working for things other than His glory, we will be inherently dissatisfied.
Sometimes, we even do this under the guise of building the Lord’s house. Take a look at your church’s budget: where is the majority of your money spent? Is it on outreach? Evangelism? Church planting? Missions? Take a look at your church’s calendar: how does your congregation spend the majority of its time? Is it in visitation, counseling, evangelism? Don’t misunderstand my point: buildings and technology and discipleship are vital aspects of ministry. But when our focus is self-comfort, self-improvement and self-entertainment, when we spend more time in fellowship than service, then even serving the Lord becomes unsatisfactory. It’s unsatisfactory because we are really serving ourselves instead of truly serving Him.
I have learned the last few months that when I face times of frustration, of dissatisfaction, I can usually trace it back to somehow being disappointed with my circumstances. When I take my focus off of the Lord, when the building of His kingdom is no longer my desire, when I make my treasure here my priority, I work and find no satisfaction. I lay my heart on the alter of worldly prosperity and it is sacrificed there every time.
So what are we to do to rid ourselves of the attitude of discontentment that so easily springs up in all aspects of life? God tells the Israelites to “Consider your ways.” God tells His people that they will work but gain no prosperity, security or satisfaction as long as they work to secure those things for themselves in their own way. He is our portion and our provider. Our contentment and security are found in Him alone.
The Psalmist Asaph wrote of this problem of discontentment in Psalm 73. Asaph quit looking at the goodness of the Lord and began seeing the perceived prosperity of the wicked around him. He viewed them as healthy, happy, successful, prosperous, and this led him to ask of God, “Where’s mine?” Asaph laments that he has kept his way pure for no reason; after all, what good has clean living done for him if it is only the wicked who prosper? He says that he continued in this thinking until, “I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (v. 17). When Asaph returned his focus to eternal, kingdom matters, he remembered that while the wicked seem to prosper in this life, they will spend an eternity separated from God. Asaph remembered that the treasure that matters is the treasure of a regenerate heart, fully focused on service for God.
I pray that I will remember these instructions from God. The next time I am frustrated with the success of the wicked, when I begin to question the payout for living faithfully before the Father, when I work hard but achieve no satisfaction, I pray that the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit will being this to mind: “Consider your ways.”