Haggai 1:2 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 paneled 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 honored, 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.
The Israelites were in exile for many years before some were allowed to return to Jerusalem and re-inhabit/rebuild the city. The passage tells us the people built houses for themselves, replanted the fields and cultivated orchards – but did not rebuild the temple of God in the city. It didn’t go well.
The temple was where God’s presence resided before the destruction of Jerusalem. Without the temple God was not present in the same way, hence the labors of the people were mostly in vain. “You have sown much, and harvested little.” God is challenging them to focus on building the temple again and their fortunes would improve. I’m reminded of the first verses of Psalm 127:
1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.
At the church I lead in suburban Dallas, and at most churches in North America, we have seen tried-and-true ministry forms become less and less effective. Doing more of the same, or a better version of the same idea, is not getting us where we want to be. So 2018 will be a year of experimentation for us. A key question for us will be, “Is God the one building this house or am I laboring in vain?” Are we seeing evidence of God’s grace going ahead of us or not?
A friend asked me recently, “How do you know if God’s grace is going ahead of you?” Great question. My answer suggested that when God’s grace is going ahead of us the outputs/fruit of our efforts are far beyond whatever we put into it. Imagine 2+2 = 10.
Verse 6 above says, “You have sown much, but harvested little.” That’s like the OPPOSITE of what I’m talking about. When we put so much into a work, to see little fruit in return, we’re probably dealing with something that sounded good on paper but that God did not ordain.
Consider the things you’re investing in right now. Is there evidence the Lord’s grace is going ahead of you? Are the outcomes exceeding your inputs? That’s a good question for all of us this morning, don’t you think? Lord give us grace to follow after your lead rather than where we think we should go. Amen.