It’s easy in life to get our priorities wrong and lose focus. Good intentions, even good starts, can fizzle out through discouragement and distractions. So our lives become busy with all the wrong things. One day we wake up wondering what happened to all our dreams. The prophet Haggai spoke into a situation like that. We can learn from how his people got themselves into such a state, and be encouraged by their revival.
It had all started well enough. Amazingly God had ‘stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia’(Ezra 1:1) to issue a decree that God’s people, who’d been in Babylonian exile for years, ‘“‘go up to Jerusalem… and build the house of Yahweh, the God of Israel’”’(Ezra 1:3) – the old temple had been destroyed when they went into exile. God was similarly at work in His people, such that ‘all whose spirit God had stirred… rose up to build the house of Yahweh’(Ezra 1:5). So they got to work, pausing for a celebration service with trumpets, cymbals and singing when ‘the foundation of the house of Yahweh had been laid’(Ezra 3:11).
However, then they faced some opposition, others trying ‘to frustrate their purpose’(Ezra 4:5). So they became discouraged, and ‘ceased the work’(Ezra 4:24). Then by the time of Haggai’s prophesy it appears the problem wasn’t so much discouragement from opposition (by that stage they weren’t actually doing anything to oppose!), instead they’d become distracted by their own interests. God’s accusation, via Haggai, was that His temple ‘“lies waste, while each of you is busy with his own house”’(Haggai 1:9).
It’s important to realise that in Old Testament times the temple represented the presence of God amongst His people. So their neglect was not simply of a building, but indicated a loss of interest in God’s presence amongst them. For us the temple is different, as the apostle Paul taught, our temple is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone… the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord… you also… built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit’(Ephesians 2:20-22), ‘you are a temple of God… God’s Spirit lives in you’(1 Corinthians 3:16) and ‘your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit’(1 Corinthians 6:19). So the people of God collectively and each of us as individuals are a temple of God’s Holy Spirit. The presence of God is within us, we don’t have to go to a building (although such focal points can help to gather our hearts, minds and lives around this reality within).
So the question is, are we neglecting our living spiritual temple, through discouragement or distractions? What can God teach us through Haggai to revive us, so that it can be said of us, ‘Yahweh stirred up the spirit… of the people; and they… worked on the house’(Haggai 1:14).
First we must not procrastinate. The people were saying, ‘“‘The time hasn’t yet come, the time for Yahweh’s house to be built’”’(Haggai 1:2). God was not impressed by such vague future intentions, and invited them to have a rethink, i.e. ‘“Consider your ways”’. However, even when they or we re-think and re-vive, working for God’s kingdom, enthusiastic about personal spiritual growth etc., it’s easy to become discouraged again by small beginnings. God had a word through Haggai about that as well, to spur us all on. A month or so after they’d re-started He said ‘“‘How do you see it now? Isn’t it in your eyes as nothing? Yet now be strong… all you people… and work, for I am with you’”’(Haggai 2:3-4). He’d said that to them before, at the start of their revival, ‘saying, “I am with you”’(Haggai 1:13). It’s a key thing for us to be aware of and encouraged by too, as Paul reminded the Romans, if ‘God is for us, who can be against us?’(Romans 8:31).
So let’s not be discouraged; and lets not get distracted from this great calling either, taking care to avoid becoming ‘“choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity”’(Luke 8:14). ‘“Behold, I am with you always”’(Matthew 28:20) is the great clarion cry of this glorious mission we’ve been recruited into. Haggai saw his brick, our brick, and beyond, when God said through him ‘“‘I will shake all nations… and I will fill this house… The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former’”’(Haggai 2:7-9). That’s where our eyes and hearts should be, rising to eternity, pumping with ‘joy’(Galatians 5:22), and God also ‘“will take pleasure in it, and… be glorified,”’(Haggai 1:8).