Pastor Randy’s Top 66 – Haggai
“Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways’”. Haggai 1:5
Haggai is referred to as a ‘post-exilic’ prophet, meaning that he wrote to the Israelites (now called ‘Jews’ for the first time) as they have returned to their homeland to rebuild their temple and the walls around Jerusalem.
The southern kingdom of Judah was taken captive by the Babylonians in 586 BC. In 538 BC the Persians conquered Babylon, which meant the Israelites were now under the jurisdiction of Persia and their King Cyrus. Shortly afterward, for political reasons that I won’t go into at this time, which includes some divinely providential reasons, Cyrus decided to let the Jews return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. This is what the Books of Ezra (the temple) and Nehemiah (the walls of Jerusalem) are about; and the Book of Esther is about the Jews who remained in Persia.
After starting off like gangbusters, those building the temple got lazy and complacent and the building stopped. The Book of Haggai, among other things, is about motivating the people to get back to work. Verses two, three, and four of chapter one pretty much sum up this theme:
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?”
The two chapters of the Book of Haggai contain four messages shared in a four-month period in 520 BC. In its mere thirty-eight verses there are a number of recurring themes. Five times the Lord says through Haggai, “Give careful thought to your ways.” Twenty-six times in thirty-eight verses Haggai says, “This is the Word of the Lord.” That’s pretty profound – and considering the message of Haggai, that reoccurrence of those two phrases continuously is important.
First, “This is the Word of the Lord” is obviously emphasized so often because the people – after seventy years of captivity – had become so self-satisfied and not accustomed to regularly worshiping the Lord – that they needed to hear again and again and again that it was the Lord directing them – not man!
But it is the other phrase, ‘Give careful thought to your ways’ that I want to briefly focus on. Allow me to put this phrase, which is mentioned five times in these two brief chapters, in its opening context; it’ll be said two times in these few verses. Here’s Haggai 1:3-10,
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.’
This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought
to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down
timber and build My house, so that I may take pleasure in
it and be honored,’ says the Lord. ‘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. Therefore, because of you the
heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops.’
The resettled Jews started building the temple but became so involved in taking care of their own wants and desires that they neglected what they were called to do. In all of their self-involved work they didn’t realize that they weren’t really prospering. Their work and efforts were frustrating and they had no idea why. And of course, the reason was: The Lord had deliberately hindered their selfish acts because He wanted them to make the main thing the main thing. And what was the main thing? It was the finishing of God’s House. The Lord isn’t selfish in that He wanted His House built first, but rather He knew that if they didn’t “Seek first the Kingdom of God (put the Lord first in their worship and attitude), then all these other things (their homes, their crops, their prosperity, etc.) would be added unto them (Matthew 6:33). They weren’t THINKING appropriately. They were thinking of only themselves and not the Lord, so that is why this phrase “Give careful thought to your ways” is emphasized five times in these two chapters of Haggai. If they only thought it through – if they only stopped looking at themselves and looked to the Lord and thought about His ways, purposes, and glory, then everything else would fall into place for them.
Now, of course, there’s a basic and logical lesson for all of us here: Think God first. That goes without saying, although I just said it. But I want to take this a step further (or maybe a step in the other direction!) to remind us all of this other basic and logical truth that will help us in ALL areas of life, especially in our walk with the Lord – and that truth is wrapped up in what King Solomon said in Proverbs 23:7 (depending on your Bible version):
“As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”
In other words, we are, or feel, or behave, or interact with the world by the way we think about these things and ourselves. If I asked you on the spur of the moment to come to the pulpit on Sunday and explain a particular verse to the congregation, or if in the middle of a meeting your boss announced that you were now going to present your innovative ideas for the future of the company (and you were totally unprepared) you might become anxious, begin to sweat, your heart would start racing, and you might melt into a puddle once you stood up, if you could stand up!
Why? You may begin to have an anxiety attack because of what you were telling yourself – what you were thinking about yourself and this ‘horrible’ situation! “Oh my, I’m not prepared! What if I stutter; or mispronounce the words; or say something ridiculous; or maybe I’ll freeze and say nothing; or I trip going up the stairs! Then everyone will laugh at me; think less of me; they may even boo me! I’m going to die! This is the worst thing that has EVER happened to me!”
And guess what will happen? Oh, you probably won’t die, but you may very well stutter and stumble and make a fool of yourself, but it won’t be because you are inadequate, incompetent, or a failure to begin with. It will be because you just talked yourself into this anxious frenzy. If you had fair warning; if you had prepared; if you practiced pronouncing the words; if you knew your material well; AND if you told yourself as you walked to the pulpit, “I can do this. The Lord is with me. I am prepared, and I know my material. And even if I slur a few words or lose my place, the people listening are not going to hate me; as a matter of fact, they are relieved that it isn’t them up here. And if I make a mistake and they giggle, then I’m going to flow with it and laugh myself, and that will disarm any uncomfortableness that any of us might be feeling at the moment.”
I’m not implying that this is a cure-all for all anxiety and depression because I understand that some folks are dealing with serious and very real anxiety and depression issues that need further help. BUT this principle can help us in times when the doldrums and anxious thoughts are getting the best of us. In those times ask yourself immediately, “What am I thinking about right now? What am I telling myself?” And I can almost guarantee that you are lying to yourself. You are telling yourself something that just isn’t true. Tell yourself the truth as I mentioned above. It’s okay if you stumble over a few words. It’s okay if you feel sad because a friend is very sick or just passed away. Just don’t let those thoughts overwhelm you and turn into ‘stinking thinking’!
So what should you think about when you become anxious or overly sad when you don’t ‘need’ to? Paul told us exactly what to think about in Philippians 4:8-9,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or
praiseworthy think about such things. Whatever you have
learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me –
put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
THAT’S what we need to be telling ourselves. And one more related but especially important point: one of the reasons many Christians walk in a defeated, discouraged, or worrisome manner, even though they know that they have been redeemed and belong to the Lord, is that they don’t know or remember or are not reminding themselves who they really are in Christ. This is why we need to be ‘encouraging ourselves in the Lord’ as King David did when he got himself out of sorts (1 Samuel 30:6).
We need to remind ourselves that:
- ‘I am more than a conqueror in Christ’. Romans 8L37
- ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. Philippians 4:13
- ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. Psalm 139:14
- ‘No weapon formed against me will prosper’. Isaiah 54:17
- ‘He who began a good work in me is faithful to complete it’. Philippians 1:6
- ‘Casting all of your anxieties on Him because He cares for you’. 1 Peter 5:7
- ‘If any man or woman be in Christ they are a new creation; old things are passed away, and all things have become new. All this is from God….’. 2 Corinthians 5:17-18a
- ‘The Lord has raised me up in Christ and has seated me (NOW, spiritually) in Him in heavenly places’. Ephesians 2:6
- ‘I am accepted in Him’. Ephesians 1:6
- ‘I am the righteousness of God in Christ’. 2 Corinthians 5:21
And HUNDREDS of more verses speak about our position in Christ, and we need to be THINKING on these things – as long as they are true – as long as we are truly IN CHRIST – in a redeemed relationship with Him – we need to be telling ourselves these truths all the time – because if you are in Christ, then THEY ARE TRUE!
So, just as the Lord had to keep reminding the Jews to ‘Give careful thought to your ways’ in order to get them to be thinking right about the Lord and begin again to worship Him as He deserves, which would bless them; we need to ‘give careful thought to our ways, and especially to our thoughts, and then – as Paul ended this ‘think of these things’ comments in Philippians 4 – “And the God of peace will be with you”. That works for me!