The Time has not yet come
We all know people who have their priorities all wrong. They just don’t seem to understand what’s important and what’s not. I don’t know about you, but personally, I am excellent at working out what needs to be top priority. I could tell you of countless occasions when I’ve had multiple things that needed doing, and every time I’ve been able to easily identify which was the most important. I like to think of it as my special skill…I suppose the only way it could be more impressive is if I had worked it out before all the other tasks were complete.
Priorities. Our reading is all about priorities. The Israelites have been allowed to return from their exile at the hands of the Babylonians, they’ve started to rebuild Jerusalem. They’ve built homes for themselves to live in and they’ve begun to build the temple. After 2 years of hard work the foundations of the temple were finally complete and for the most part, the people celebrated with great joy!
We join the Israelites years later and the Temple is, well, still just the foundations. The Israelites had come up against great opposition from the neighbouring people which had put a bit of spanner in the works and made it extremely difficult for them to do any more building of the temple and all these years later it was no longer their priority and the people of Israel were still saying “The Time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.” (v.2)
At this point, right at the beginning of our reading, the lives of the Israelites are already echoing our own lives. We are more similar than we might think. On the one hand we have the Israelites, who had once been exiled far from home but had now been allowed to return home to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. On the other hand, we have ourselves, once exiled by our sinful ways, far from our God. Now we have been allowed to return home, back into the arms of the Father, because of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the Cross. And now, just like the Israelites rebuilding Jerusalem, it is time for us to build, not a city but the Church. And just like the Israelites, things can start off so well but it’s so easy to lose sight of priorities. We find ourselves thinking “The time has not yet come.” to pray or read our bibles because there’s too much to be done. “The time has not yet come.”to talk to people about Jesus because too much opposition. “The time has not yet come” to put my time, money and resources into what God wants, because my needs are more important right now. Life just gets in the way and our priorities get mixed up. It is an easy trap to fall into and often not so easy to see that we are doing it.
You have planted much, but harvested little
But what’s the result of these mixed up priorities? Well in the reading God speaks to the people through the Prophet Haggai and he pulls them up on where they’ve gone wrong. I have to say, I love the way that he does this- Instead of going straight in with “You should have built the temple.” God is our Heavenly Father and he addresses the situation like a proper Dad, and asks them the rhetorical question “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” It just reminds me of a scaled up version of your average Dad posing the question “Do you really think you should be playing your X-Box when you’ve barely even started your homework?”(v.4) He asks the question, knowing that everybody already knows the answer.
And then it’s like he says, think about it, this is what you are doing to your lives.
““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.” (v.5-6)
God is telling the Israelites and us that when we act in this way, when we don’t have our priorities right, what happens? Nothing. As in, everything we work towards, amounts to nothing and whatever results we do see don’t satisfy us. The Iraelites plant but don’t harvest, they eat but go hungry. For us, we work, we build but we end up with something that looks nothing like the original plan, we end up with something that’s not God’s church. We can work ourselves into the ground doing a million good things but if we have our priorities wrong, it can all amount to nothing.
Build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured
So God has shown the Israelites the results of their backwards priorities and now he tells them to do what they should have done in the first place, the thing that should have been their top priority. He says, “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored” (v.8). Their first priority should have been putting the Temple back where it belonged, giving God his rightful place in their city.
For us, the priority should be the same, except we don’t need to go into the mountains to get timber for our Temple. You see, our Temple built the universe, lived, died and rose again after three days. It is Jesus Christ. And we should make our first priority putting Christ in his rightful place, at the center of everything that we do and everything that we build.
It’s only when Christ is at the heart of it all, that we will harvest what we have planted. It’s only when Christ is at the center that we can really begin to build God’s Church. When we put him in his rightful place, the Church builds itself around him and God takes pleasure in it.
What does this mean on a practical level? It’s all well and good me sitting here telling you we need to put Christ at the centre of it all, but what does that even mean? How do we do that?
Well I think the place to start is getting to know Jesus. Learning about who Jesus is, getting to know him, finding out what he has said and done. Immersing ourselves in scripture. Talking to him and listening to him in prayer. And then following his example, using his life as a template for our own. Giving careful thought to our ways and considering whether our actions and decisions are showing a love of God and a love for others or merely our own selfish desires. When we do that we can begin to build our lives and the church around the person of Jesus.
You have planted much, but harvested little
There’s something else important that we learn from this reading as well. This story of the Israelites needing to rebuild the temple echo’s our own need to put Christ at the centre in every aspect of our lives but as well as this, it also specifically speaks about one particular issue. It speaks to us about our use of resources, such as time and money. The Isralites had been putting their own wants first, allowing themselves certain luxuries while neglecting God – living in their panelled houses while his house remained unbuilt. It’s very easy for us to do the same, to make God an afterthought when it comes to our spending habits and we tell ourselves that the time isn’t right to worship him in this area of our lives because we need to buy this or we need to save for that but sometimes it just that we don’t want to give up our home comforts and put God first. God says you eat but never have enough, he says you sow plenty but harvest little, in other words, the more you have, the more you want, you will not be satisfied. This reading is very much a reminder for us to give careful thought to the way we use what we have, including financially, and a reminder that God wants us to make him the priority in this area of our lives. For us to show our love for him in everything, including how we use what we have. He wants us to build his house before building our own.
So this week, I would love it if we could all take a little time to think and pray about two things –
Firstly, pray and think about whether Christ is the centre of all aspects of your life? And if not, what does God want you to do to restore him to that place?
Secondly, think and pray about your current situation, the way you use what you have, including your money. Does it reflect this idea of Christ being the centre and is God asking you to change your priorities in this area?
The Israelites may have said ““The Time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.” but now IS the time for Christ to be at the center of our lives and now IS the time for his Church to be built.