Dealing with commitment
Haggai 1: 1-15 (NRSVA)
1 In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house. 3 Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 4 Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. 6 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 you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.
7 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured, says the Lord. 9 You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the Lord of hosts. Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the soil produces, on human beings and animals, and on all their labours.
12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of the prophet Haggai, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, saying, I am with you, says the Lord. 14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month.
The prophet Haggai has a theory, that I think applies to why many of us seldom see growth and development in our Christian lives. He of course is talking to a Jewish community, but the theory still holds for us today. He suggests that by focusing on our own material needs we concentrate less on the spiritual and in doing so our lives are out of balance. We become people full of uncertainty. Always looking for the thing that is unattainable. I love the phrase that is used in the NRSVA version where he says “and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes”.
So how do we deal with the challenge of commitment and obedience on one hand and the uncertainty and fear of not making ends meet? The prophet suggests that God is inviting us to consider how we budget. God, he suggests, is calling us to do something not for ourselves but for him. All this resonates with the teaching of Jesus. Remember when he was being tempted in the wilderness he says to his tempter, “Human beings cannot live by bread alone” and on other occasions he talks about “Seeking God’s Kingdom first.”
All this teaching has important implications for the growth and wellbeing of Christian communities. We do not give to God’s work to become wealthy. If we do we have engaged with the wrong motives and as we noted earlier this week, God is more interested in the motives behind our actions. However when we begin to take seriously the work of the Kingdom of God seeking justice and mercy, living out generous selfless lives, sharing our wealth, our lives fall into a balance. And that is how Haggai and Jesus suggest we deal with uncertainty.
I don’t wish to be a burden on others
I see it as my responsibility to look after myself.
Forgive me when I focus on self
At the expense of being generous to others
Help me to be more generous
To trust more in you
Than my bank balance
To seek out your Kingdom
To make my contribution to bring about justice
Give me the heart to believe my gift will count
Give me the will to make the gift
Give me the grace not to count the cost
Give me the joy of the giver
Knowing what I have given
Has been blessed by you.