[b]Give Priority To The Work Of The Lord[/b]
[i]by Zac Poonen[/i]
The first message from God to Haggai was a call to rebuild the temple (Haggai 1:1-1). We see here the self-centredness of God's people. They kept on saying, "The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord's house" (1:2). The Persian king had only ordered that the city of Jerusalem was not to be rebuilt (Ezra.4:21). He never forbade the building of the temple. But the Jews in Jerusalem used his words to justify their selfishness and laziness and said, "The circumstances are not right as yet to build the temple. So we must wait." The Lord rebuked them saying, "You feel the time is right to build your own luxurious houses, while My house remains in ruins" (Haggai 1:3). There are millions of Christians like that today who seek their own interests and their family's interests first - and not the Lord's. They would be gravely concerned if their own property was encroached upon by a neighbour, but they are not one bit concerned when the Lord's property is encroached upon by Satan? Jesus told us that if we sought the kingdom of God and His righteousness first, everything necessary for our life on earth would be added to us. We won't have to go seeking for them. If we take care of God's family, He will take care of ours. We must be living demonstrations to an unbelieving world that because we honoured God, He has honoured us, that because we took care of God's family He took care of ours. Is your life a testimony to these?
We can apply the questions in Haggai 1:5,6 to ourselves like this: The Lord challenges us saying, "Consider how things have been going in your life. Has there been spiritual fruitfulness? You have planted much, but have harvested little. You have gone to many meetings, read many Christian books and listened to many Christian tapes. But is your home a godly home and a home of peace today? Have you overcome even a simple thing like shouting at your wife/husband? If not, then although you have sown much, you have harvested little. You wear clothing, but you are still not warm. You earn so much money. But there are holes in your pocket and so most of it is wasted. You ask God to fill you with the Spirit. But you leak, and so all the power goes out. Something is wrong." Who will pour water into a vessel that has holes in it? Many believers who come to God asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit, are vessels full of holes. God says, "Close up the holes first." God is eager to fill you with His Holy Spirit. But there are things in your life that need to be set right first. You won't put money into a pocket that has holes in it. Neither will God fill with His Spirit those who have leaky areas in their life. They have not apologised to somebody they wronged, they have not returned money they took wrongfully, etc., These are major holes. With such gaping holes in your life, it is no use praying all night to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Nothing will happen. Instead spend all night fixing those holes. Then the answer will come quickly. One of Haggai's major themes is: "Consider your ways".
Haggai urges them to complete the building (Haggai 1:7,8.) The foundation had been laid many years earlier. But they stopped there. Jesus spoke a parable about a man who laid only a foundation and then did not complete the building (Lk.14:28-30). That parable comes right in the middle of a section on being His disciple. What Jesus was implying was that evangelism without disciple-making was like laying a foundation and not completing the building. Is a foundation necessary? Yes, absolutely essential. That is the first work to be done when building a house. Is evangelism necessary? Certainly. That too is the first work to be done. But if you only evangelise and don't make disciples, that is wasted effort - as useless as a foundation without a building. Hebrews 6:1-3 warns us of such foolishness: "Let us not lay again the foundation of repentance, faith, water-baptism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, and teaching about resurrection and the final judgment." All of that is just the foundation. The writer says that we must then press on to perfection - that is building the house. After we have converted people to Christ through evangelism, we must make those converts, disciples of Jesus who follow Him and press on to perfection.
So Haggai's message is not about laying the foundation. It is about perfection - completing the building, the Body of Christ. What is the difference between a congregation and the house of God? If you cut out 50,000 stones from a quarry and bring them to the building site, that is evangelism. These stones symbolize people who are born again. But they are not a building as yet. They are just a pile of stones. That is what most evangelical congregations today are. These stones must now be built up, being placed next to each other, if they are to be an expression of Christ's Body. That is the difficult part - to build them together into the house of God. Many churches today are mere congregations, where one man (the pastor), like a watchman, has to ensure that no-one steals his "stones". When one of his "stones" decides one day to join another church where he can receive more spiritual help, the watchman will complain that others are stealing "his stones"! But if he had built that stone into a building, it would have been impossible for anyone to steal it. If you build the Body of Christ, you won't have to worry about others stealing your members. When stones are built together and cemented, with stones on top of them, under them, and to their left and right, who can steal them?
Notice the strong rebuke the Lord gives in Haggai 1:9-11. There is a great need in our churches for preachers who know how to speak a word of rebuke in love. There is plenty of preaching nowadays, but very little rebuke and correction. When God allows defeat or constant failure in your life, you need to stop and listen to what He is trying to tell you. Ask yourself, "Why is the fruit of the Spirit missing in my life? Why is my family-life in a mess? Why is there no rain from heaven? Why is there a dryness in my life?" (Haggai 1:9-11). It may be because you are more concerned about earthly matters and your bank account than about your walk with the Lord!
When Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest heard this prophecy, they responded to Haggai's message immediately and said, "We will start building God's house straightaway." Or symbolically, "We will not engage in mere evangelism henceforth. We will make disciples as well. We will build Christ's Body and not a one-man church." The church is to be like a functioning body - and not a pile of body parts, as found in anatomy laboratories - where they have many hands, legs, eyes and ears lying around, but none of them connected with each other by life. And so they cannot function together. Many churches today are exactly like that.
"Then Haggai, the Lord's messenger, gave the people the Lord's message"(1:13). Haggai was first the Lord's messenger, and then he gave people the Lord's message. You can listen to an anointed message on a tape and repeat that - and that may be the Lord's message. But Haggai was first the Lord's messenger. To become the Lord's messenger, you have to allow God to do a work of crushing in you first, as He did with Hosea. Haggai doesn't tell us how God crushed him in his younger days and broke him or what deep trials he had to go through. Many servants of God will never tell us all that they went through. But every servant of God whom God has ever used has had a private history of God's dealings with him, where he was broken, crushed, humbled and taken through loss of money and reputation etc., Only thus does one become the Lord's messenger. There is a difference between the Lord's messenger giving the Lord's message and someone else giving the same message. There will be an anointing of God in the first case which will be absent in the second - because the anointing comes on the messenger primarily, not on the message. The Holy Spirit does not come upon books and tapes. He comes upon people. I know that there are ignorant preachers who lay hands on books and tapes and ask the Lord to anoint them. But what they pray for does not happen. It is people whom God anoints, not books and tapes.
The Spirit stirred these men through Haggai's prophecy to action. "The Lord sparked the enthusiasm of Zerubbabel Jeshua and the whole remnant of God's people and they came and began the work on the house of the Lord" (1:14,15). That proved that there was an anointing on the message. To those who preach the Word, I would say, "Don't be satisfied until your preaching stirs people to act." Don't be satisfied with their shaking your hands and merely saying it was a good message. If your message has not stirred people to turn from their sins and to become disciples of Jesus, then you need to seek God for a greater anointing of His Spirit. Here we see that within 23 days things began to happen that had not happened for 16 years (1:15). That is the difference that one prophet made. The professional preachers among the Jews who preached every Saturday for 16 years did nothing. But one prophet shook everybody up and things began to happen. Be a man like Haggai - be the Lord's messenger.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon