Haggai 1:3-9 “Consider your ways…”

I am struck by this passage out of Haggai tonight. Go read it: 1:3-9.

First a short history lesson: The Hebrew people were exiled under King Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BC (Daniel 1:1); he besieged Jerusalem and took all the Israelites captive, reduced their city and temple to rubble, and returned with them to Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar’s son lost his throne to the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 5:31). When King Cyrus of Persia took the throne, he released the Israelites to return back to Jerusalem and rebuild both their cities and their temple (538 BC). When these people returned, they came to a place of rubble – a destitute place without food, homes, or most importantly for this passage, a temple.  According to Ezra, the Jews came out of exile with a drive and excitement to rebuild the temple; however, “the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:4-5).” Thus, Haggai comes on the scene around 519 BC to tell the people of Israel God’s desire for them to resume building on the temple.

This is where we pick up in Haggai 1. Actually. Read Ezra 4:4-5 again. Did you notice why the Israelites stopped building the temple in the first place? Eventually King Artaxerxes of Persia ordered them to cease work on the temple in 521 BC, but that was 17 years after the Israelites had returned from Babylon (Ezra 4:21)!” The Israelites folded from outside pressure: God asked them to do one thing, but they did not have faith that God would take care of the obstacles they faced in their task. God often calls us to do things that seem to have insurmountable obstacles, but when will we learn that those are the places where we get to see God do incredible things? So many times I have been asked why God doesn’t do miracles or why we don’t see God’s work – but here’s the thing: We will never see God perform miracles on our behalf if we never put ourselves in places where His miracles are needed. If we don’t step out in faith to do a task that we know without a doubt that we cannot do by ourselves, when do we give God the opportunity to show His hand?! Like the Israelites, the opposition seems too fierce and we become discouraged and do not finished our work. Discouragement is Satan’s most prized possession. Do not be fooled; when God has led you into a task, discouraging words, discouraging thoughts are the Devil’s way of obstructing the completion of it. See here’s the thing – the ONLY way the Devil wins against God is through OUR WEAKNESSES. If we are willing to have faith enough to see it through – there is NOTHING that can stop God’s will from being fulfilled. Our fears and lack of faith are the only thing that keeps God from using us to do incredible, miraculous things in His Wonderful and Glorious Name! Can I get an Amen?!

Back to Haggai 1. Again :). The LORD told Haggai to tell the Israelites that He was not happy with their lack of progress.

“Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 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. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.” Haggai 1:4-9

These are such hard words. In the Old Testament, people of God did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide them like we do now – that’s why they had prophets in the first place. That is also why we see God withholding success and prosperity from His people – it is a message of God’s displeasure. Once Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave, he opened a way for us to dwell with God, to hear God speak, to know God’s pleasure and displeasure for our actions, to feel the conviction of His ways in our life through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. During the Old Testament times, however, they did not have this and so we continuously see passages like Haggai 1 throughout the Scriptures. God used natural elements and neighboring peoples to convey His pleasure or displeasure with His people. In this case, He withheld prosperity until they learned to put Him first. They had forgotten their true love, they had forgotten to be faithful to Him first. In this passage, Haggai is explaining to them why they are not having any success in any endeavor they undertake: they forgot God first.

I just love the Living Bible Translation of Proverbs 3:6:

In EVERYTHING you do, put God first and he will direct you and crown you with success.

Do not get me wrong: I am not preaching a “prosperity” message here. Neither I nor the Bible promises you without a doubt that if you love God you will have all the material possessions you ever desire. No. Not at all. God is not nearly as concerned with your comfort as He is your character and He will use hard situations to mold your character into His likeness. You are promised trials in this lifetime, some of those may be material. What this does promise, however, is that if you put God first then He will provide all your needs according to His good purpose (Rom. 8:28). If you align your will with God’s, commit yourself to “Your will be done, not mine,” then you will be successful in every situation God takes you into. The Israelites left God’s plan for them to rebuild “His house,” and instead focused on their own houses. What they forgot is that without a temple their path to God, their atonement through sacrifice, or His presence with them, was not possible. So they left His path and were totally unsuccessful in every aspect of their lives.

We, too, are called to put God first. If your path is not successful, like the Israelites, if your crops are not flourishing (metaphorically speaking), then maybe you need to ask yourself why. Check your relationship with God. Check the reason for your endeavor: is it God’s path, or is it one you are trying to cut yourself? Like God said through Haggai, “Consider Your Ways.” Follow God’s path for your life, put Him first, laugh at the opposition, praise God for the incredible miracles He will work for your sake, work towards your goal, and watch as He exceeds any expectations you ever imagined! Hallelujah and Amen!

Acts 21:12-14 Let the will of the Lord be done.

I didn’t plan on writing on this today, but I simply cannot let its beauty go unnoticed. Go read this section (really Acts 21:10-14 for context). What a beautiful scene this is to my heart. A prophet named Agabus had just come from Judea, most likely from Jerusalem and he comes to Paul, took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” Essentially, this man had just come from Jerusalem (Luke uses “Judea” and “Jerusalem” interchangeably throughout Luke and Acts) and God had given him prophetic insight as to what would happen to Paul if he chose to enter its gates. God allowed Paul the unique opportunity to be fully informed before he chose to fulfill God’s plan for his life. He gave Paul foreknowledge of his own demise, should he do as God asked and return one last time to Jerusalem.

Has this ever happened to you? Has God given you insight into something bad that will happen if you did as He asked? Did you do it anyway? What do you think God’s purpose is in giving you this knowledge and did it help or hurt you to receive it? I have never personally experienced this, but I would love to hear your testimonies!

We move on to v12 when the Christians around Paul hear this terrifying possibility and beg him not to go. I love that Luke includes himself in this – he doesn’t hide his plea for Paul to avoid Jerusalem. There is such beauty in this, the love of a friend. Even though it was God’s will for Paul to go and they knew this, it is so hard to accept it when a loved one will face unspeakable pain and trials. I am reminded of Matthew 16:21-23 when Jesus predicts his own death and Peter says, “Far be it from you, Lord! This will never happen to you!” Jesus rebukes him, saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” See, Peter did not understand Jesus’ role in God’s plan for the world. All Peter saw, like us, is a beloved friend being hurt and taken from his life. Luke and the others were so like Peter; they did not see God’s plan but only the pain both they and Paul would endure before it was over. Like Jesus, Paul was quick to respond, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus (v13).”  Can’t you just imagine this scene? Can’t you see the pressure they are putting on Paul to leave God’s path and avoid imprisonment and death? I love his words, “Why are you breaking my heart?!” Can’t you hear his distress at their pleas? Sometimes the call of God is hard enough that it doesn’t take much for us to be tempted to leave his path for our lives. Thank God that Paul was so focused on God’s will that even his friends’ pleas couldn’t force him to stray. It is so important to keep our eyes on God, not looking to the right or the left.

V14 says, “And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, ‘Let the will of the Lord be done.'” Sometimes it takes an exhaustion of all other options before we are ready to accede to God’s will. Can you imagine the New Testament without Paul’s writings? The majority of them were written after this event in Acts 21, after he was in custody. How we are blessed in so many ways because of Paul’s faithfulness – his courage!

Sometimes God’s plans for our lives are so frightening, but He gives in our exact moment of need. Just Google “scripture about courage” and see how many verses come up. It’s crazy! See, God knows that He asks us to do some nutso things – things that simply don’t make sense or are just inconceivable to our small brains – so He provided us with so many words of encouragement, that we may know of His faithfulness and our victory in Him. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged – for the LORD, your God, will be with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9-11.

It is not often that God calls us to imprisonment for His sake – though it does happen – but God often calls us into the unknown, into frightening circumstances beyond our control. Let’s resolve to stand firm in God’s will like Paul and take the courage of the Spirit and face the future with strength and commitment; we know that God is with us through all things and He is working them for our good according to His good purpose (Romans 8:28). Take courage from Paul’s example, and follow likewise. ❤

Daniel 3:16-18 “But if not, O King…”

I have been waiting on God to show me a passage to write about when finally, at 10:30 at night, He finally brings me to this incredible passage out of Daniel. So many of you are probably familiar with this story in Daniel 3, but go read it again anyways! This passage picks up smack-dab in the middle of the story about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace, right after King Nebuchadnezzar (henceforth “King Neb”) had them brought forth for refusing to bow to the golden statue he had set up. In verse 15 King Neb tells them, “But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Oh how I love this question! “And WHO is the god who will deliver you?!” How we humans have such arrogance to believe that we control our little (or even big) worlds. See, Ol King Nebby had yet to meet the God of Daniel; he had no clue the might and power of the One who held their lives in His Glorious hands. But he will – in numerous and sometimes painful ways. Do you run up against people who laugh in disdain at your faith? I am sad but also amused when I hear non-Christian people make excuses for someone’s faith: they or a loved one is sick, they aren’t educated, or whatever it may be. It is so hard for those not of the faith to understand why someone would cling to a god they cannot see, physically hear, or touch. Like King Neb, they have not yet experienced the power and might of the El Shaddai. Pray for them, Beloved, because God has a plan for them and your prayers are instrumental in their lives, though you may not see it; pray for them unceasingly.

We pick back up in v16 and I just LOVE their response to King Neb’s demand:

O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom

we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out

of your hand, O king. BUT IF NOT, be it known to you, O king, that we WILL NOT serve

your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.

Can I get an AMEN?! What strong words! These words make my heart shout for joy, and yet yearn for COURAGE like these men. We in America are not faced with death or torture because of our faith. We here are both blessed and cursed with religious freedom. Let me explain: what an incredible blessing it is to be able to exercise our faith and speak freely of our love for God and His love for others. However, we as a culture (not all – just speaking in generalities here) have become Christians in name only, without the fiery furnace to test our perseverance and conviction of our love for God. Those in other countries, in Africa, in Europe, where we see as the “mission field” because of the pagan religions and poverty – they see US as the mission field because of our lack of conviction in Christ. I grew up in the Bible belt where the culture was to go to church Sunday morning with your family, walk out the door, and never remember God until the next Sunday came around. I lived like this until my mid-20s when God allowed things in my life to show me that I had a DESPERATE NEED for him all day, every day. I moved to DC where the culture was the opposite – and what I saw astounded me. I saw people who filled the church that were on fire for Christ; I believe it is because Christianity in this part of the US is counter-cultural. It is absolutely not the culture to go to church – Christianity is something you keep to yourself here in fear of offending all the other religions that surround you. Even though that type of society is not even close to what others in the world are facing, even that small amount of pressure against Christianity has lit a fire for Christ in those who have accepted him. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, there is a fire that tests the depth of your conviction for Christ and forces you to take a stand on your beliefs. No matter where you live – Bible belt or in the most anti-Christian place you can think of, God will allow tests and trials in your life for two reasons: 1. to test your conviction, your faith in him and 2. to give you an opportunity to see what your God is made of. Hallelujah! Like the three men in Daniel 3, we can choose to break under the pressure, or we can choose to stand firm and let God go to work. No matter what, in a fiery trial God will do one of three things (Moore, Daniel):

1. He will save you from the fire: you will miss the trial completely. He will save you from that car crash, from the bad test results, from an affair in your marriage, from an unplanned pregnancy. He will perform a miracle on your behalf and you will know His might and power!

2. He will save you through the fire: like the men in Daniel, God will allow you to be thrown into the fire. You might have that terrible crash, cancer, an affair in your marriage, an unplanned pregnancy. BUT. Glory be to Him; He will carry you through it. He will strengthen you to heal from the wreckage, he will teach you to lean on him during your chemo treatments and the aftermath, he will REDEEM your marriage, and he will use that pregnancy to teach you to rely all your days upon Him. This, Beloved, This is where God changes you into the person He has designed you to be; this is where He strengthens your faith and your rest in Him. This is where God shows you his faithfulness.

3. God will use this fire to bring you into his ever-loving arms. Sometimes God saves us by bringing us home. Our time here is finished and God just can’t wait one moment longer to have us home. Praise Him who loves us enough to want us home ❤

One thing is clear: like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago, your faithfulness to God does not go unnoticed. When you are placed in the fire, you have a remarkable chance to show others God’s faithfulness to you and the love He has for each of His children. How you react in the moments of testing speaks volumes to those who have yet to meet their Creator. You are a beacon that draws them to their heavenly Father. Join with me in praying that we may be filled with conviction and courage in our fiery trials, and that others may see the One who delivers us!

(Source used: Daniel Bible study by Beth Moore)