It's so easy to get into habits. If you don't believe me, ask the person who has spent some time trying to break a bad one. Odds are, they couldn't even tell you when it was that biting their nails or getting a candy bar from the office vending machine became second nature. Habits just kind of, happen. At least, the bad ones do.
And sometimes, we form bad spiritual habits. Before long, we have developed a habit of skipping our daily Bible reading to watch an extra episode of our favorite Netflix show, or we have foregone prayer for a few more scrolls on Facebook or Twitter. Without even thinking, we settle into a routine of not giving God the time He deserves in our lives. We can go days, weeks, even months in ruts like these without giving a second thought. We have no idea where we are going and before long, we have ended up a thousand miles away from God.
Which brings us to the passage I want to focus on today. It comes out of the Old Testament book of Haggai and it concerns the Israelites who had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their nearly destroyed homeland.
To give you a little bit of historical context, in the year 586 BC the Southern Kingdom of Judah was carried into captivity by the Babylonians. For years the Israelites lived in exile, dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire. Then, when King Cyrus and the Persians come into the picture and take over, they make a decree that all of the dispersed Jewish people can return to Jerusalem to rebuild what the Babylonians had destroyed. That was in 538 BC.
And for a while, the Jewish people do just that! Leaving the relative comfort and protection of the homes they had made for themselves during their captivity, some faithful Jews march back to Jerusalem to begin the rebuilding process, focusing especially on rebuilding God's house - the Temple.
But somewhere along the way, the foreign people groups that had moved into the land surrounding Jerusalem begin to persecute the Jews. Coupled with an unstable Persian throne and myriad political obstacles, just a few years into the building process the Israelites abandon their plans to rebuild the Temple.
In steps Haggai. Sent by God to stir the Israelites back into action, he relays God's message to the Jews, which - when you boil it down - can be summarized by this statement in Haggai 1:7:
"Thus says the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways." [ESV]
Consider your ways, God tells them.
You see, the Jewish people had gotten sick of the persecution that came along with attempting to rebuild their hometown. It took work! They had to import materials from far away lands, deal with the pesky Persian government that always seemed to be butting into their affairs, and fight off attackers from the surrounding countryside. Eventually, they got sick of it and decided to stop what was causing all the persecution.
Instead, they turned to themselves and began building houses and saving money and trying to make their lives in Jerusalem as comfortable as possible. In fact, it's even likely that they took the expensive cedar they had imported specifically for the Temple siding and used it to panel their own homes instead.
They had lost their way and a people group that had once been eager to rebuild what the Babylonians had taken away from them was suddenly more interested in panel siding than in the glory of God.
In response to their laziness and procrastination, God tells them these words through the prophet Haggai:
Haggai 1:5-6: "Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes." [ESV]
He tells them that although they have been busy feeding and clothing themselves - and making their houses comfortable and beautiful - they have really just been putting all of their belongings into a bag filled with holes. Their labors were worthless and they were going nowhere!
In other words, the Israelites had fallen into a deadly rut of bad spiritual habits and as a result, had lost touch with what was really important. How often do we do the same thing? How often do we wake up each morning with the thought, "How can I make myself happy today?" rather than "How can I accomplish God's will in my life today?"
We are so concerned with our own little houses that we rarely give thought to doing the work of building God's house in our lives - and this is to our shame!
So my challenge to you today is the same one God gave the Israelites back in Haggai's time.
Consider your ways.
Take some time today to evaluate your walk with God. Are you making time for His Word? Are you communicating with Him through prayer? Are you killing sin? Are there sins you are struggling with? Do you have a desire to accomplish God's purposes, or are you too busy working towards your own?
Ask yourself these questions and be honest! If there are areas you need to work on, then work on them! The last thing God wants from you is for you to realize you have been failing in a few areas only to give up any hope of improving! With the Spirit's guidance, ask for Him to reveal to you areas you're struggling in and when He does reveal them, work on them!
And take heart! Throughout Israel's history, they weren't known for listening to advice given to them by prophets. Jesus even laments in Matthew, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!" [ESV]
However, this time in history, after continued exhortations from Haggai, the Israelites listen to God's proddings and get back to work. And you know what? They finished building God's house! I challenge you to do the same! Consider your ways and get busy building whatever house God has for you in your life!
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