Listening and honoring
Haggai 1: In listening to Haggai, they honored God.
The drought has everyone worried. If rain doesn’t come soon the resulting famine will bring misery and death. Not only that, but there’s a general dissatisfaction among the returned exiles. Even when they do things that ought to satisfy they’re left feeling empty. Then Haggai brings his sermon. He says that the reason for no rain is that God’s getting their attention. They’re living self-centered lives and have failed to honor him by rebuilding the Temple. He also says that the reason for their general dissatisfaction is that they’ve been looking for satisfaction in the wrong things. Only the Lord can satisfy their lives and they can experience him only by putting him first. At this point the people stand where their ancestors stood many times through the years. Will they listen to the message from God or will they harden their hearts and become more entrenched than ever in their refusal to honor him? Their answer is a resounding decision to obey the voice of the Lord. Where their ancestors failed they succeed. This watershed moment is rewarded with a further message from the Lord who declares, “I am with you!” I love what happens here. As I’ve read through the Prophets I’ve encountered one instance of rebellion after another. How refreshing it is to hear God’s prophet declare God’s message to God’s people and see them listen and obey. It’s almost as though the sun breaks through the clouds to shine down on the words I’m reading. The people of Haggai’s day messed up, but when God got their attention and declared his intentions they responded in humble obedience. Personally, I’d rather not mess up in the first place but when I do, I want their “listening and honoring” to be my inspiration.
Take Away: Better to do it the Lord’s way all along, but if not, it’s good to at least humbly accept his correction and move forward from there.
The correct focus in worship
Haggai 1: The little you have brought…I’ve blown away.
The people being addressed in Haggai’s short story aren’t pagans who have turned their backs on God to worship another. They aren’t godless people at all. Despite their having ruins instead of a Temple they have worship services. As faithful Jews they bring sacrifices and observe the feasts and regulations of their religion. Yet, somehow, their worship experience is dissatisfying to them. As they leave these events they feel they’ve been faithful in keeping all that which is required of them but they remain empty inside. Haggai puts his finger on the problem. In reframing their religion to suit themselves they’ve blundered into a religion that the God they worship rejects. Failure to rebuild the Temple is the symptom of this larger problem. This situation speaks to me today and its tone isn’t soothing! How much of my religious life is founded on obligation and tradition and how much of it is about a living, vital relationship with God? While I’m busy being sure all the details of worship are taken care of have I forgotten that it isn’t me who’s in charge? What makes me think God will accept a self-centered worship effort from me in the first place? The thing is that as I picture the people of Haggai’s day walking out of a worship service feeling that somehow something is missing, I can identify with them. That, my friends, makes me very uncomfortable.
Take Away: Our religious lives are to be founded on a living, vital relationship with God.
The secret to satisfaction
Haggai 1: Take a good, hard look at your life.
The work of the Temple was put on hold years earlier because people felt they needed to concentrate on the necessities of life. They built homes and cleared land for planting crops. They built walls to protect them in what had become a dangerous land. Meanwhile, the Temple was left in ruins. Now, as they face a devastating drought, God’s man tells them it’s time to take a hard look at their lives. All their building and planting is meaningless without God. Even with plates full of food and warm clothing to wear they’ve faced an inner dissatisfaction with life. Their neglect of the Temple is a symptom of something even more important. Beyond the building, they’ve left the God of the building out on the periphery of their lives. Without him life is empty and meaningless. Their mistake is both colossal and common. The worship of God is not a luxury to be put on hold till “important” things are cared for. In fact, worship is a core necessity and without God, nothing ever satisfies. We can’t be too hard on the people of Haggai’s day because we too tend to view worship as something that can be pushed aside as we pursue things we deem to be more important. The issue isn’t that God’s unhappy with us and will find a way to get back at us for ignoring him. Instead, it’s that when we leave God out, we’re ignoring the central need of our lives. In the case before us, that’s evidenced by their failure to rebuild the Temple. In our case, it might be that we don’t show a proper interest in the worship of God. When we fail here, we find that all other successes in life taste like failures. When we succeed here, we find that everything else in life finds its proper place.
Take Away: Without the Lord life is empty and meaningless.
Amos 8: They’ll go anywhere, listen to anyone, hoping to hear God’s Word.
God warns that a famine is coming to the nation of Israel. This time, it won’t be a famine of food or water, but a famine of God’s Word. Now, Amos isn’t talking about a lack of leather bound Bibles. He’s talking about a time when God, Himself, goes silent. When that happens, the prophet says, people will roam the land seeking a message from the Lord. Amos ties this to the Judgment, a time when the God who has been available to them, reaching out to them, calling them to return withdraws the invitation. Many have abused the prophets, even murdering them in an attempt to silence their voices. Now, one of those prophets warns that they’re going to get their wish and that they won’t like it when they do. I’m reminded today that there’s a measure of God-hunger in every human being. There are times when people long for the touch of God on their lives. In their ignorance, they’ll substitute something else but whatever it is will fail to satisfy. Realistically, why settle for a poor substitute when the Real Thing is available? Happily, we aren’t living in the day Amos describes. Right this moment God is speaking, reaching out to all who’ll come. This isn’t an invitation to join a church. Rather, it’s an invitation to respond to the call of God to fellowship with him.
Take Away: Right this moment the Lord is speaking, reaching out to all who’ll come.
The real thing
Isaiah 55: Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water!
I like to drink my share of coffee and enjoy a diet Dr. Pepper once in a while. But when I’m really thirsty, I reach for a glass of water. Nothing quenches my thirst like a glass of cool, sparkling water. Spiritually speaking, there’s thirst-quenching water. I can turn to a million substitutes that promise satisfaction, but they’ll all let me down. For some reason, though, I tend to turn to almost anything but the Real Thing. No, I’m not talking about Coca-Cola! Into the market place of life Isaiah comes, shouting out his message of hope to those who’ve tried everything else yet are still dissatisfied with life. His message reminds us that there’s a genuine Source of satisfaction. That Source isn’t a “thing.” Rather, it’s a “Person.” Are you thirsty? Come to the water. His name is Jesus.
Take Away: Only Jesus, the “living water,” satisfies the soul.
Searching for answers to the big questions of life
Ecclesiastes 1: These are the words of the Quester, David’s son and king in Jerusalem.
The Greek word “Ecclesiastes” is generally translated “the Preacher” or “the Teacher.” The name of this book of the Bible is taken from the opening words in which the writer, Solomon, gives himself that title. The book is about Solomon’s quest for meaning, how he tries many of the things people still try today, and how he concludes that none of them live up to their promise. In The Message, Peterson picks up on the “quest” of Solomon and calls him, “the Quester” rather than “the Preacher.” In other words, the emphasis is on the search for meaning, happiness, and satisfaction rather than on the proclamation of the result of that search. Solomon wants more than power, wealth, fame, peace, and success. Having tried them all, he’s convinced that they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. Actually, Ecclesiastes doesn’t try very hard to give us “the answer” but it does a good job of asking “the question” concerning the search for answers to the big questions of life.
Take Away: Like the writer of Ecclesiastes people today still search for meaning.
Proverbs 15: First you learn humility, then you experience glory.
Humility has to be learned because we’re all born thinking the world revolves around us. Unless I learn humility I spend my life, not necessarily thinking I’m better than others, but thinking that everything that happens should happen the way I want it to. For me to be humble is for me to realize that I’m not the center of the universe and that the world has no obligation to please me. Beyond that, to be humble is for me to come to the realization the most satisfying life is not all about my getting my own way about things, but is, instead, found as I live with others in mind. Jesus said that I’m to “love my neighbor as myself.” The result of such a life, according to the wise man of the Proverbs, is “glory.” That is, others will be irresistibly drawn to me and my life will influence them in positive ways. Not only that, but God will be pleased with me for patterning my life after that of his own Son who humbly lived and died for others. This proverb reminds me that the route to glory isn’t by my taking power and trying to shape the world to suit me. Instead, it’s achieved by loving others and placing their needs at a level equal to my own.
Take Away: Contrary to what we may think, humble people are some of the most influential people there are.