Measuring Up…Pressing On
Last night we continued our study of Haggai by focusing on the first nine verses of chapter two. The people of Haggai’s day had turned back to God and were obeying him by rebuilding the temple. But they were discouraged. The new temple was a far cry from the glorious first temple. In their discouragement, it seems, they were tempted to disobey God and stop the work.
God’s message through Haggai was a message of encouragement. Don’t quit! Press on! Persevere no matter how things may appear. The people looked at the new temple and saw how poorly it compared to the original. They were ready to give up. But they were making a false comparison. God wasn’t judging them based on the results of their work. He wasn’t looking for a bigger or better temple. He wanted their obedience. He wanted their hearts. If there was a comparison to make, it would have been between their lives when they were living for themselves over and against their lives doing God’s will. When they were living for themselves, we saw in chapter one, all their work and effort amounted to nothing. But when they obeyed, God promised to be with them (Haggai 1:13).
Not only were them making a false comparison, their idea of success was not God’s. Again, they thought God wanted a temple like the one before. The first one was covered with gold and silver. The people didn’t have gold and silver. But, again, their success was not to be measured by how fancy or big or beautiful the temple was. It was measured by how obedient their hearts were. They had considered their ways; they had seen where they fell short; they were living for God.
We do the same things, don’t we? When we recommit to following Jesus and begin a renewed walk with him, we can become easily discouraged. We may compare ourselves to how things were before – when we’d enjoyed intimacy with Jesus. We might compare ourselves to others we think “have it all together” spiritually. And we’re discouraged because we don’t measure up.
Or we think that “success” in following Jesus should look a certain way. We might think successful Christian living means we have good jobs and big houses; nice cars and perfectly happy families; that good Christians don’t get sick or have any struggles. If our lives don’t fit our expectations of what success looks like, we become discouraged.
But God’s definition of “success” is different than that. God is more concerned with what’s happening on the inside than external appearances. He wants faithfulness. Jesus said good trees bear good fruit; bad trees can’t (Matthew 7:15-23). Seeking after God with perseverance; seeking to be faithful in following after him…this allows us to open our hearts and lives to the Holy Spirit that we may become good trees…bearing good fruit.
I believe it was Charles Stanley who suggested that a spiritually growing person is a person who hungers to know God and His truth more and more; who is increasingly aware of sin and has a readiness to repent and a desire to become more Christ-like; who views life’s struggles, trials, temptations, and failures as opportunities to grow instead of as obstacles; who is ready to obey no matter the personal cost; who is growing in faith and trust in God; who wants to be used by God in the lives of others; who thirsts for personal times of devotion and prayer; who increasingly wants to do God’s will more than please self; and who is growing in love for God and an awareness of His presence.
I’m sure we could add lots of other things to this list. These are the kinds of things that should be growing in us as we follow Jesus. We won’t be growing in all of them at the same time. We may have three steps forward and two steps back many times. But if we are being faithful in seeking after Jesus, these are the kinds of areas where we will be growing.
Ultimately, we have to remember, we do not produce spiritual fruit – only God does. And spiritual fruit is not produced instantly. It takes a lifetime of the Spirit’s work in us to begin to become all that God intends. But we can open our hearts and lives to the Holy Spirit’s work through establishing spiritual rhythms that nurture our souls.
The Lord said to the people through Haggai, 4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel…Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak…Be strong, all you people of the land…Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, 5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not (Haggai 2:4-5).
To be strong when you feel discouraged is an act of trust. It requires us to have an attitude that truly believes God when he says, “I am with you!” It requires that we believe that his Spirit is in our midst. That attitude that trusts God and takes him at his Word comes out in our actions. For the people of Haggai’s day, God told them to work for he was with them. They needed to trust and obey. They need to be strong and keep pressing on in the calling God had given them.
God even makes a promise. He tells them that a time is coming in the future when there will be a temple even more fantastic than the first one. The heavens and earth will be shaken and the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:9).
Again, I think there is a lesson in this for us. As we seek after Jesus and long to be made into his image, we need to trust that even when we don’t see progress in our own lives, He’s at work. We need to press on and continue to open our lives to the Spirit’s work. We need to “work” too. We need to trust that if we do the spiritual practices God has asked us to do that he is with us and will bless those activities. We don’t produce the fruit, he does. We need to be strong in attitude and action and keep moving forward believing that our labor for the Lord is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).