I enjoy preaching from the minor prophets. It’s an unfortunate designation in that the reference is to their length rather than the value of their words. These men came along at pivotal times in Israel’s history to give not always welcome news to the people of God. That’s how it is sometimes with ministry, and I would say that their efforts would in fact be described as a ministry.
Haggai has been my subject of choice this last week, having preached a message out of that book yesterday. He served during a very difficult period for the people of God, as they had been in exile and suffered the destruction of their temple. They were now back in Jerusalem and were trying to get their lives back together. Their temple remained in ruins and based upon the efforts so far, not much progress had been made. One thing for sure, the rebuilt temple would not match the splendor of the first one.
The word of the Lord came to the prophet:, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, O Zerubbabel, Be strong, O Joshua, Be strong all you people of the land” declares the Lord. “and work.” For I am with you. . . and my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear” (Haggai 2:3-5).
This is a great passage, a challenge to apply however. It’s tough to remain strong with you get bad news or are dealing with a disappointment like the people of God back then. It’s hard when you don’t have visible signs of progress and your temple is in ruins, and you question whether your future is going to be worth living in. The tough part is to continue to work, even though you’re not sure there’s going to be any results from it. The Lord reassured his people then that he was going to “shake some things up” (6-10) “in a little while” so they needed to get motivated and on with the task of rebuilding the temple. In other words, don’t stop working.
They encountered a problem that I run into, and probably every one else too: our own stuff. They had good intentions of coming back to Jerusalem after the exile and rebuilding, and I’m sure they thought about it and talked about it. But, they were getting their own houses and lives in order at the expense of the Lord’s house. This is easy to do, and understandable to a certain degree. It’s natural to want to put things in order for ourselves.
The one lesson I received from this small book is a familiar one. When we put God first, our stuff will be taken care of one way or the other. When we put our stuff first, we don’t have time for the things of God. And when this happens, we wonder why things get all out of balance and we live frustrated.
The people of God through the centuries continue to share the same character traits of disobedience and lack of faith. We can also demonstrate confidence and follow the Lord as we adhere to his reminders: “Be strong, I am with you, don’t be afraid.”
Let’s keep working.