Who is really first

“”Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?”  Haggai 1:4

As I find myself sitting in the Student Center at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary(NOBTS)  in, you guessed it, New Orleans, I finished my summary of the book of Haggai for the Old Testament Theology class I am taking for my Doctorate in Theology.  I am not attending NOBTS, rather I am getting my degree from another Seminary, however, I joined my son for His trip here as he takes some of his classwork at the seminary, required if you are attending from a hub campus as he is doing.  As I was studying Haggai, God showed me something that I want to share with you that I hope helps you in your Christian walk.  However, before I tell you, I would like to give you some background information that will help you understand my thoughts.

After Judah returned to their home after approximately ninety years in Babylon, they began to rebuild the temple which was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar when he took many of the people of Judah back to Babylon in exile.   He took  those whom he deemed would be useful , as well as plundering the city and leaving it pretty much devoid of anything of value.  The ones taken to Babylon became quite comfortable there, as is seen by the number who chose to remain in Babylon after Cyrus the Great overthrew Belshazzar, then king of Babylon, and took possession of the great city.  Cyrus told the people of Judah they could go back to their home country, and he gave them back all the sacred items from the temple that were taken by Nebuchadnezzar, as well as enough resources to rebuild the temple.

So, many returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest.  Upon arrival, they started the task of rebuilding the temple by laying the foundations upon which it would rest.  Then, they stopped.  There were several reasons for this, and they are described in the book of Ezra, however, I will give a brief overview of the reasons.  Firstly, they received much opposition from their enemies. The surrounding cities were not happy with Judah prior to the destruction by Babylon.  They were not happy to see the temple being restored because it meant that the old differences would rise up and cause them problems.  They saw the rebuilding process as somewhat of a threat to them, and they wanted to mitigate that threat.  Second, the Samaritans wanted to be involved, but the leadership in Jerusalem chose to exclude them due to the fact they were no no longer pure, since they were now mixed racially, Israelite and Assyrian.  They were offended and angry that they were not allowed to participate, and so they decided to hinder the work.

However, Haggai points out the real reason for the delay, and it is found in the verse at the top of this post.  They ignored the rebuilding process in order to get their homes and life back to some semblance of order.  They left a pretty good situation to return home, and now they find everything pretty much in ruins.  There is some understanding about wanting to put their life back together.  However, they put their own comforts and needs above the commands and service of God.  And because of that, they faced difficult times.  They reaped far less then they sowed, their finances did not provide everything, and things were all around difficult.  And Haggai the prophet told them this all was on account of neglecting their service to God in not rebuilding the temple.

Now, lets look at today.  There are many believers and professing believers (I use the term professing believers because I believe many only profess belief without actually believing) who neglect the work of God, or the discipleship that produces growth in their walk, because they are too busy focusing on meeting their own actual and perceived needs over God and what He calls them to do.  We put ourselves first, maybe God second, but often third with family second.  We say God is first, but our actions send a different message.  “Oh yes, God is first, but I can’t give this month because I have to pay for vacation.”  “God is number one, but I cannot spend time in prayer because I need my rest for another day at work tomorrow.”  “I cannot visit that sick brother because I just do not have the time, what with my bowling league.”  Where are our priorities?  Our wants, needs and desires must take a back seat to what God calls us to do.  The returning exiles should have continued building in the face of all the opposition and hardships.  And if they had, they would have been blessed beyond measure.  And after they restarted the effort, God showed himself faithful.

Jesus, in the greatest sermon ever preached, addressed this issue to the people of His day. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Mat 6:33   We do not need to focus on our needs, such as food, water, clothing, shelter, etc.  Christ said these things will be provided to us, if we make His kingdom and His righteousness preeminent in our lives.   If the people of Haggai’s day had put aside their comforts and finished the temple after the foundation was laid, the insinuation is that their crops would have provided a bountiful harvest, their money would have been more than enough for their needs, and they would have lived in peace and comfort in the land.  And the same goes for us.  If we can look beyond our actual/perceived needs, give them to God, and focus on the enlargement and betterment of His kingdom, while seeking after the righteousness of Christ, we would have nothing to be concerned with, for our needs would be met.  Period!  What a wonderful promise.  Now, if we could only get this through our thick skulls and hard hearts.  God has no problem with us taking vacations, getting adequate sleep or bowling in a league.  His concern is where these are on our priority list.  Does God’s purposes and plans trump vacation time?  Does spending time with God in intimate communion trump sleep time?  Does visiting a sick brother, encouraging and helping him in this time of need trump a bowling night?  These types of questions need honest answers.  Do you have things that take precedent over God?  If so, remember that if you keep your priorities in order (meaning God first, all else secondary) then you will be blessed.  If what God calls for will appear to prevent a need from being met, then God will meet that need for you, if you put His kingdom first and seek His righteousness in your life.

God calls us to give it all, putting Him first in every area of our life.  And if we do, He will ensure that all our needs are met.  Do we truly trust what He says, or do we feel we need to  make it happen?  The remnant that returned from Babylonian captivity felt they needed to take care of themselves first, and then they could take care of God’s house.  But God rebuked them, admonishing them in putting themselves ahead of Him, and the end result was that His blessings were withheld.  But when they placed Him first, then the blessings came.  Seek first His kingdom and righteousness.  Do not seek your pleasure and comfort ahead of God’s will.  If you have the means to help someone, do it.  He will take care of you.  If it requires putting yourself in a seemingly difficult position, do it anyway.  Trust God that He will be true to His word.  Now, I would like to end this with a quote by C.S.Lewis regarding giving, which is the area this most affects.  Read it, take it to heart, and decide how God wants you to respond.  With myself, I feel I know what I am going to do.  I pray you do too.

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusement, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our giving does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our commitment to giving excludes them.”  C.S. Lewis

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