Contentment The problem which the Israelites experienced in Haggai wasn’t famine or want, but rather a lack of satisfaction and fulfillment, and an inability to achieve goals. There wasn’t a lack of seed or produce, just not enough. They ate, but were not satisfied. They had enough to drink, but their thirst was not quenched. They had clothing, but it didn’t warm them. They earned money and saved it, but it disappeared. In chapter 2 they had storage, but somehow it drastically diminished. While their focus was on security and prosperity, their goal was elusive.
This people’s situation should certainly cause us to draw a parallel with ourselves. Unbelievers focus their time and energy on securing their own welfare, and we Christians are not very different. Although we may not be as deceived as the world about the security of “things,” a close look at how we spend our time and energy reveals that the same root issue is at work. It is so easy to convince ourselves that we value the Lord’s things. We want to spend our lives serving Him. However, our responsibilities – home, family, bills, job, etc. – seem to eat up all of our time and energy. Once things are more stabilized, we tell ourselves, we’ll focus on serving Him.
But the reality is that things never become more stabilized, no matter how hard we try. We need to ask, as ancient Israel should have done, “Is something wrong?” The answer: “Yes.” The Lord asks us to devote our time and energy to Him. And He promises to care for us, providing the joy, peace and contentment which we’ve been seeking through our own efforts and by acquiring more stuff.
It is important to notice that the problem addressed by the Lord through Haggai was not some type of “positive” evil. This time the people were not, as mentioned by Ezra and Nehemiah, mixing inappropriately with the world. Using today’s imagery, they were not partaking in illicit sexual exploits, abusing alcohol and drugs, cheating in business, etc. They simply were devoting their efforts to taking care of themselves and their families. The problem was not, as in the case of Laodicea (Rev. 3:15), lukewarmness. There was no evidence that they were not concerned about the Lord. The fact that the people said that it was not the proper time to rebuild the temple shows that they had concern for the Lord’s things. They simply did not think the timing was right. The essence of the problem was that their focus on their own prosperity left no time for the Lord and His testimony. This is very characteristic of us today.
Another indication of the Lord’s primary concern for their priorities was reflected in the nature of His promise regarding their future work on the temple. He promised that if they worked on His house He would take pleasure in it and use it to glorify Himself (1:8). There is no reference to what state of repair must be achieved, only that they devote their efforts toward the Lord and His things. In fact, later He encouraged them when they were discouraged by the sad result of their work, at least when compared to the glory of Solomon’s temple (2:3-5). But regardless of the outward results, the Lord promised to glorify Himself if they focussed their time and energy on Him. The Lord’s house being a testimony to the world was not so much related to the effectiveness of the people’s efforts, but rather the evidence of their God-centered priorities. In this we learn that we should not wait to serve the Lord until it appears that our efforts will produce results. Rather, He calls us to work now, trusting Him to use our meager efforts for His glory.
A final emphasis on the matter of priorities is that once the people responded to the Lord, He made it clear that He would change their situation. In chapter 2:15-19 there appeared to be a strong emphasis upon calling the people to consider how things were about to change. Not only did the Lord tell them that things were going to change since they had straightened out their priorities, He called upon them to mark this day, and watch how He was going to bless them. Not only were things going to be different, but the Lord emphasized the basis for that difference: they had straightened out their priorities. Now that the people devoted themselves to the Lord rather than worrying about their own things, the Lord showered upon them the things which they had tried to achieve by their own efforts. One wonders what would happen if we took the Lord at His word and devoted ourselves to Him rather than to ourselves. The prophecy of Haggai argues that blessing would result.
The irony of the teaching of Haggai is that the more we devote our time and energy to the Lord, the more He blesses us. In contrast, the more we devote ourselves to obtaining those blessings, the more they elude us. Only as we allow Him to determine what is best for us will we receive the blessings of joy and peace which He has promised. This is totally illogical to the mind of the world. It makes no sense that we must forsake all efforts at securing our own welfare in order to secure it. But this is the teaching of Scripture.
But what is this “welfare” which we are talking about? Is it that if we focus on the Lord and His things, then we will be “healthy, wealthy, and wise?” Not at all. That is not the prosperity which the Lord is speaking about, even to Israel. As discussed above, the problem in their case was not famine or want, but rather the inability to achieve expectations and goals. It is apparent that the shortage they were experiencing was a lack of a sense of well-being which they thought would come from the accumulation of material things. In spite of the fact that the subject in Haggai relates to contentment rather than provision of material blessings, in ancient Israel material blessings were the promised evidence of divine blessing. But that is not the case for Christians in this age. Through Jesus Christ we are “blessed … with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3), and repeatedly promised joy and peace as we go through life (Jn. 15:11; Rom 14:17; 15:13; Gal 5:2; Phil 4:7). While the Israelites recognized the Lord’s blessing in material things, Christians are to know His blessing through spiritual blessings, particularly joy and peace. That is the welfare which we should expect in our lives. And when it is absent we should “consider” if something is wrong.
Thus, although working itself out in a different manner, the message which the Lord had for Israel in Haggai’s day is the same message which He has for us today. He calls upon us to obey and serve Him, and if we do so, He promises to bless us and abundantly provide for our welfare – our joy and peace.
However, we must consider some potential misunderstandings regarding this truth. First, trusting the Lord to provide for our welfare does not mean that we can neglect personal responsibility. It does mean that our primary responsibility is to serve the Lord rather than provide for our own security. In fact, serving the Lord generally displays itself in the godly fulfillment of day-to-day responsibilities, such as a man providing for his own (1 Tim. 5:8), or a mother and wife taking care of children and the home (Ti. 2:4-5). But it is important that even these responsibilities be met as conscious service to the Lord rather than as providing for self.
Now, it is difficult at times to know whether such activities are for the Lord or for ourselves. For example, Christians frequently devote a great deal of time and energy to the spiritual welfare of their families, particularly their children. But often such concerns are self-centered in that personal glory is found in the manner in which children conduct themselves. This type of focus is building one’s own house. However, the same time and energy can be spent on the same things (such as the spiritual welfare of one’s children) but done for the Lord rather than personal interests. This is building the Lord’s house.
There is another potential caution regarding the idea that we should serve the Lord and let Him handle our welfare. Trusting God to take care of one’s house does not mean sitting back and coasting through life, doing nothing. Our time and energy is to be devoted to the Lord’s things, whatever that may mean in each individual’s life. The Lord does not provide for our welfare so that we can pursue our own interests. Rather, He blesses the one who devotes time to Him, providing for the needs which that one, if devoted to himself, would be spending all of his efforts trying to meet.
Faithfulness And Dependence
From our human perspective, this tells us that God’s blessing is relative to our faithfulness. One must understand that this means true faithfulness and dependence upon God, not a cheap imitation purposed to elicit His blessing. Conducting ourselves in a particular manner for the purpose of causing God to respond in a particular way is actually a subtle attempt to control God. By doing this many Christians treat God as a vehicle to get what they want.
But that couldn’t be further from real faithfulness and dependence. The latter is trusting God with our welfare. That means that we don’t even attempt to decide for ourselves what is in our best interests. We leave that in God’s hands. Our concern is to love and serve Him, trusting Him to provide that joy and peace in believing which He has promised. If He leads us into poverty for His glory, we realize that in that poverty we will find that joy and peace. If He allows poor health, we realize that He will provide contentment in that condition to an extent which we would never experience otherwise. Truly trusting God means that we will experience the greatest joy and contentment when we allow Him to decide what is in our best interest while we devote our time and energy to Him.
By Tom Keiser
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org