Imagine being sent to your dream location. You arrive and have a lot of work to do in order to live in that location. Fast forward some 20 years. What if someone came through the area and pointed out to you that you’ve really not done anything. In fact, what little you have done is actually being “blocked” by God, who is angry at you. What would you do?
Well, the Bible book of Haggai is such a story. And while it’s easy to point our fingers at the Jews who had been released from captivity, this book is not just about them. In fact, reading through this two-chapter book left such an impression on it that I’ve been mulling it over for a while.
Yes, the people had returned to Jerusalem. But instead of rebuilding God’s house, they were focused on themselves, their homes, their land and prosperity, and their futures. (This sounds a lot like the American dream, right? You can have it all!) But in the midst of this beautiful dream, they’d forgotten the most important thing of all — to make things right with and for the Lord. (Remember, being sent into captivity was result of the endless times the people had turned their backs on their faithful God for idols and things that took their focus off Him and became their obsession.) Haggai shares God’s rebuke:
“These people say, ‘The time is not yet come that the Lord’s house should be rebuilt.
Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house [of the Lord] lies in ruins?
Consider your ways…! (Haggai 1:4-5)
How often are we like this stubborn people that God spent millennia in a cycle of wooing, loving, blessing, and punishing because of disobedience? God pours out so much on us, but our focus is on us. Great — God gave us a house. Let’s spend every waking hour taking care of this house. Yay — God gave us money, so let’s go do lots of things and spend weekends (every weekend) doing so many things that make our lives full. An hour or two at church each week? We don’t have time for that, and certainly not time for daily reading of God’s word or prayer. Instead of accepting God’s blessings and returning the praise and glory to Him by living lives focused on Him building disciples for Him and spreading His Gospel, we become self-absorbed.
I think of our churches, which are literally falling apart while congregants focus on their own blessings. God’s church — the people — are falling apart and falling away because we are consumed with our own activities. We are comfortable in our own lives while God’s work goes undone. We plead for God to fix our country and our world. We know things aren’t right, and that only God can rectify the situation, but we refuse to put Him first and we absolutely refuse to take action. What a pathetic church we are. How dare we?
Let me say this as gently as possible: “Doing church” is not building God’s house. It’s easy to “do church” and think that we are right with God. We go to Sunday School and the weekly service. We participate in music. We attend events. But all of this is worthless if the thing we are called to do — to build His house — goes undone. Are we going to church to see our friends instead of worshiping God? Are we ignoring the broken and hopeless because it’s out of our comfort zone? Are we neglecting our own spiritual well-being because we are focused on “all those other people”? If all our “work” for God is fruitless, perhaps there is a reason.
“You have sown much, but you have reaped little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you do not have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages has earned them to put them in a bag with holes in it.
You looked for much [harvest], and behold, it came to little; and even when you brought that home, I blew it away. Why? Because of MY HOUSE, which lies waste while you yourselves run each man to his own house [eager to build and adorn it].” (Haggai 1:6, 9)
God isn’t pleased with our self-centered behavior. He needs to be our priority. We need to build His house, which is falling into decay because we’ve lost our first love. Yes, we literally need to repair our church buildings. But more so, we need to build His church — the people of this world who so badly need His saving grace. Until we put our focus in this right place, we will continue to experience God’s wrath poured out on us. He has blessed us with much, but without Him, it is nothing. Consider this, people of God, and change your ways.
Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze
If that’s the measure you must take to crush the idols
Jerk the pews and all the decorations, too
Until the congregation’s few, then have revival
Tell your friends that this is where the party ends
Until you’re broken for your sins, you can’t be social
Then seek the Lord and wait for what he has in store
And know that great is your reward so just be hopeful
Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper
Beg him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open
Then read the word and put to test the things you’ve heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken
We must not worship something that’s not even worth it
Clear the stage, make some space for the one who deserves it
Anything I put before my God is an idol
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol
Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol
Anything that I give all my all my love is an idol
We can sing all we want to
And still get it wrong
Worship is more than a song