“What’s in it for me?” This seems to be the question that drives so much of life today. I sometimes wonder what has happened from the times when I was growing up when everyone knew their neighbor and if word got around the area that someone was in need people came together to take care of the one who was struggling. I remember the day when if a farmer near us was sick or having problems it was normal for others to gather to plow his fields, plant his crop and take care of it until he was better. It wasn’t seen as something to get credit for but of what it meant to be a friend or neighbor to others. In such times churches were ready to go out of their way to meet people’s needs even when they didn’t have big bank accounts to work from. It usually involved people coming together to work rather than offering a contribution and thinking I had done my part.
There is a small two chapter book in the Old Testament that deals with this very point. The children of Israel had completed their seventy years of captivity under the Babylonians and the Persian Empire, under God’s influence was offering for the people to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the walls of the city and rebuild the temple so that people might again gather to worship and serve the God who led them out of Egyptian bondage and had blessed them as a nation until their sin and idolatry led them completely away from the Lord. There were different waves of Israelites to return to Jerusalem to build homes, establish new lives and with the full intent of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem with its temple. But, as with anything one wants to do that is right and good, there was opposition to them doing what God wanted them to do. The people around them raised opposition. They accused them of wanting to destroy the people around them and raise up a king to rule the whole area. Construction stopped on the temple even though God offered them tremendous blessings to carry out his mission.
Haggai the prophet was sent to them with a strong message that they needed to trust God and carry out the mission he had given them. In verse 2 of chapter one, Haggai said, “This is what the Lord Almighty says, ‘These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s temple.” I suppose they had tons of reasons why this wasn’t the right time to do what God said, but notice Haggai’s message, “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 in 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.”
One thing is certain about the work of the Lord in our time and any other time. When God’s people become selfish and lose concern for both God’s will and the care for others who are having troubles we are in for some tough times. Far too often we don’t have the time to help others who are struggling in some way in life because we have filled our schedule totally with our own family and our needs, wants and dreams. When our whole lives become centered on providing for our family and our things, we move into our paneled houses with great jobs making lots of money but can’t figure out why our plans never seem to work out as planned, we may be like Israel putting our money into a bag with holes in it.
His answer for them was to get back on the task he had sent them to accomplish so that His blessings might fall on them again. He told them to go to the mountains and bring down timber and build the Lord’s house, the temple of the Lord. Expecting God’s blessings on our lives when we put our personal desires ahead of His work and his will is always like having money and putting it in a bag with a large hole in the bottom and then trying to figure out what happened to it all
God’s love is overwhelming for his people and his blessings pour on us abundantly when we put him first in our lives and our first thought is what does the Lord want from me rather than asking such a question way down the line after we have accomplished all our own things. The people did follow Haggai’s teaching and came back and rebuilt the temple as he wanted. As long as they served and followed his will his blessings were on them as his people.
Maybe it is time for us to think seriously about what it means to “Seek first, the kingdom of God and his righteousness so that the other things of life might be added to us by his generous heart.