The other day I was talking to my co-workers about the way my brain works. It came up because we were all in the same meeting, but our takeaways were actually quite different. What it came down to was this: we talked about several ideas as part of the conversation in clarifying our next move. When the conversation ended, I discarded all previous ideas and focused in on what was said last. To me, those previous things were no longer needed, so why even think about them? As the conversation later unfolded, it seemed that others were still lining up all parts of the conversation rather than just focusing on the end goal. I couldn’t quite understand why at the time, but in looking back now I see how each of our perspectives beautifully rolled into a full on team effort to create something pretty great.
That said, reflection does not come easy to me. I tend to be very task oriented. I set a goal, meet it and then set another goal. I’ll do a little reflecting on what I could have done better to achieve that goal, but as far as self-reflection where I have to analyze all the pieces — and especially emotions — that go into it…thank you, I’d rather not.
This is not particularly healthy. All it does is lead to a spiraling surge of emotions that eventually spill over into a chaotic version of myself and the fallout isn’t pretty.
I know this to be true, and I am working on it (I promise!).
Maybe that’s why the messages in Haggai tap into a real part of my soul and help me want to do better.
Haggai is another prophet that I truthfully haven’t paid a whole of attention to over the years. This book is buried deep in a list of names/titles that are hard to pronounce and intimidating especially if you have already struggled wrestled with Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Haggai’s message pairs with Ezra and Zechariah, encouraging a returned people to rebuild the temple that was destroyed when the Israelites were carted off to Babylon 60 years earlier. For those of us who don’t know the history, or simply get bogged down by it, this may seem outdated and overwhelming, but the messages of Haggai are every bit as relevant today as they were when he first preached them.
What it comes down to is 4 main ideas:
- Consider your ways.
- Look up.
- Look within.
- Look ahead.
Consider your ways
Twice in the first few verses of Haggai chapter 1 we are told to consider our ways. I can understand why. We often go through the motions of living without ever taking time to really consider why we do things we do. As Tevye would answer, we do it because “it’s tradition!” or at least the way we’ve always done it. Why, you may ask? Well, Tevye has the same answer we all often do… “I don’t know, but it’s tradition!” Now there is nothing wrong with a good tradition. I’m down with that as much as the next person. However, Haggai’s main message is that no matter how hard we try at something or how much work we put into it, we will (like Hamilton) never be satisfied unless our heart posture is in the right place with God front and center.
Side note: I firmly believe that musicals can pretty much teach you any life lesson. Best teaching tool besides the Bible. Prove me wrong.
Which is why God asks us to consider our ways.
He doesn’t want us to just think about them, mediate on them or even study them. He wants us to consider them.
Consider is a heavy word, really. It includes thinking AND action.
One way to follow this command is through regular self-reflection.
Self-reflection is a great practice, often neglected in our go-go-go world, but if we practice it daily, we can learn to shift our priorities to what matters and stop wasting time on what doesn’t. So, what exactly are we to consider about our ways?
Good news. Haggai breaks that down for us, too.
Often when we consider our ways, we are looking to the wrong things to guide and fulfill us. The Israelites were looking to their material wealth and social standing to complete their lives and had stopped looking to God. They spent gobs of time rebuilding their own homes, perfecting them and making them shiny and new, but they completely neglected rebuilding God’s temple.
This was a direct indicator of what they believed about their lives: Me first, God second.
We still see this mentality today with the ever popular self-care movement. And yes, we need to be careful with our own mental health, but not in the way the world would have us do by putting our needs above all else. Christians are not called to put ourselves first, or to love ourselves first. We are called to love God first and foremost. To put him above all else, including ourselves. In fact, we are called to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23), renounce all that we have (Luke 14:33), and even crucify our passions and desires (Galatians 5:24-25).
So as part of our self-reflection, when we consider our ways, are we looking up to God, or looking out for ourselves?
When things don’t go as planned or seem to be spiraling out of control, I’ve noticed that we are quick to complain and ask God, why me? Rarely do we look to ourselves and consider what we can change to change our circumstances. I’m not saying that we can always change something, because let’s face it: we live in a sinful and broken world, and sometimes life likes to kick us in the shins without warning. BUT, often we can at the very least, change our approach and reaction to these (often quite painful) circumstances. When reading Haggai, we can extract the following plan of action:
- Look up to God who promises to be with us and to enable us with his spirit.
- Choose to face the problem(s) head on, with our eyes wide open and our hands spread out to Jesus.
- Make confessions, not excuses. Sometimes circumstances result from our own sin and we have to get right with Jesus before anything else can move forward.
- Declare your strength and courage is in God (Joshua 1:9).
- Lean on the promise of God’s presence rather than on the false hope that you can do it all yourself.
- Claim your peace, given to you by Jesus (John 14:27) and rest in it.
Again, we can ask ourselves, are we looking within to the choices we can make to live out God’s purpose and plan for our lives? Or are we complaining and excusing our own behavior because the hand we’ve been dealt is just ‘not fair’?
We aren’t asked to consider our ways so that we will feel bad about the choices and decisions we are making, but to look ahead to the promises God has made for those who are actively pursuing his purpose, plan and holiness. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been given a purpose and you already know what it is: Spread the good news to all nations, and do everything to bring glory and honor to him.
And here’s the deal: God always provides for the needs of what he has called you to do.
The Israelites returned to their homeland, provided with all materials they needed to do God’s work and rebuild the temple, but somehow by the time Haggai comes on the scene, the supplies had either disappeared, been misappropriated, or run dry. When we rely on earthly powers to supply our needs, there is never a guarantee, but we can trust that God’s promises will never run dry. Sometimes it may feel like God is not moving, but his promises come in His time and not ours. We can look ahead and trust God to provide for our needs every day.
I’ll confess that I’ve been hanging out too much with my nephew lately, so I’ve got Mario on the brain, but the game truly does work as a metaphor for the next part of our plan of action. Check it:
- Always read the instructions first. We’re tempted to skip through the rules or explanations, but there is more than just a plot line hidden in those words. The instructions help us succeed where our own intuition would lead to failure. The word of God will always be our instructions, giving us a good start, sustaining us through the challenges, and leading us to success.
- Choose your companions wisely. Mario and Luigi are talked about in tandem for a reason. They trust one another and help one another, lifting each other over goals and obstacles in ways they could not do on their own. We can’t do the work of God alone. Community matters. Find your tribe and hold on tight.
- Sometimes the challenges seem too hard and we “die” 76 times in a row looking for the way out. However, when things seem impossible, there is always a way if we keep trucking. Often it’s in what we overlooked the first time: a hidden block to jump on, a cave, a passageway… Haggai gave us the best instructions: we consider our ways by looking up, looking within, and looking ahead and we count on God to provide what we need.
- Mario’s motivation is never for himself. Sure, he gets to collect coins and have great adventures, but the only reason he goes in the first place is to save the princess. Our goal, to bring glory and honor to God, should always be our motivation in all that we do. And let’s face it, putting God first will guarantee us the best blessings. Does it mean it will be easy? It wasn’t for Mario, so we shouldn’t expect that either. But is it worth it in the end? You bet.
- The journey to save the princess would be impossible if Mario didn’t have ways to power up. He uses all the resources available to give him power and strength to complete the goal. We have similar powers (no, not magic fire flowers, though I admit that would be cool). We have the Holy Spirit and without tapping into his power and strength, none of this would be possible.
Ultimately, Haggai’s point is that we need to stop making excuses for why we can’t do what God asks us to do and start serving the Lord with selflessness and dedication. Once that becomes our priority, our actions become intentionally focused on God’s purpose and plan rather than mindlessly following a tradition.
In Haggai 2:9, the Lord promises to give greater glory in the future than they have ever seen in the past and that he will give us his peace. And he for sure fulfilled that promise through Jesus; not only did Jesus bring ultimate glory to God, but he left us with his promise of peace too. John 14:27 reads:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
In a world where everything seems to be more chaotic and out of control with each passing day, knowing that God promises us peace should bring great comfort and joy. This peace doesn’t mean that our lives will be perfect or even calm by any means, and anyone who says it does is lying. No, this peace means that in spite of the tumults and tempests of life, we are able to respond with the assurance and calmness of Jesus who promises to be with us, which is the greatest promise of all.
Yet now be strong...declares the Lord. Be strong...Be strong all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts....My spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. (Haggai 2: 4-5)