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Priorities: Seeing Things Differently

PRIORITIES: Seeing Things Differently

Haggai 2:1-9


“I took my family to a high school football game,” says pastor Ed Young. “During the third quarter, my daughter Landra said, “Dad, can I have some money to buy some candy?” Now I’m not a big candy guy, but I said, “Landra, here’s $5. Go and buy some candy.” She came back with a sack full of Skittles. As I watched her eat them, I said, “Landra, can I have some Skittles?” She said, “No.” I said, “Landra, just give me a couple.” She said, “They’re mine.”


My little daughter didn’t understand several things. Number one, she didn’t understand the fact that I was the one who bought the Skittles for her. Number two, she didn’t realize my strength. I’m strong enough to forcibly take those Skittles from her and eat every one of them. If I wanted to, I could have done that. Number three, she didn’t understand that I could have gone to the concession stand, put 300 packages of Skittles on a credit card, come back to her, and given her so many Skittles that she couldn’t have eaten them all in a year.


We all have Skittles. Some of us have a pretty nice size pile of Skittles; others have a medium-size pile of Skittles; and some of us have little bags of Skittles. Our loving God comes to us and says, “Would you bring me some Skittles? Just a few Skittles?” What do you think our reaction is? “No! They’re mine!” God says, “Just bring me some Skittles.” But we still say, “Uh-uh. I made those Skittles. I own those Skittles.” Like my daughter, we don’t understand several things. God is the one who gave them to us. They’re his Skittles. He bought them. In an instant, God could take all of our Skittles. Also, we don’t understand that God could rain so many Skittles on our lives, we wouldn’t know what to do with them. We couldn’t possibly spend or enjoy all of them.”[i]


Today we’re in part three of a four-part series on priorities from the little Old Testament book of Haggai. And we’re asking two critical questions as we walk through this book: What IS important to us, and what SHOULD be important to us? If I want to know what is really important to me, I need to look deeper than just how I feel about something or someone. I need to look at how I invest my time, my talent, and my treasure in relation to that person or thing. The proof’s in the pudding and my calendar and bank statement speak volumes about what is important to me. You see, we have limited resources. There are limits on the amount of money that we have. Even the deepest pockets will reach their limits. There are limits on our time. We all have 24 hours a day. None of us gets more. None gets less. And there are limits to our talents. Each and every one of us brings some gift or talent to the table that God can use, but each one of us also has limits on our talents and abilities.


Now, it’s important to remember that God wants us to live balanced lives. He knows that we and our families have physical needs that we must meet. And he wants us to take some time to enjoy the world he has put us in, to play, to rest and recharge. God wants us to stop and smell the roses, to enjoy ourselves, to replenish ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This life is a gift from God and God wants us to live balanced, healthy lives. The problem for most of us, though, is that God doesn’t really figure in as a priority. Instead of turning to God first and saying, “I am placing my trust and my hope in you. So here is the first of what I have earned. And here is how I plan to use my time and my talent for your glory.” Instead of giving God our best, we give a little bit of what’s left.


Turn to Haggai 2:1-9.


The first time Haggai spoke to the people, they were going about their business not really thinking all that much about God. They were focused on their own lives, decorating and expanding their own homes, while the Temple they had returned to build had lain in ruins for 40 years. The generation before had started, but that was 40 years ago, and they hadn’t gotten very far. They had to stop, and they’d just never restarted. They’d moved on and focused on other things. So Haggai called them to repent of their apathy and indifference to God and restart the work. And the people responded! In less than a month they were ready to go, ready to rebuild the massive temple. But as work began, they quickly became discouraged. The project was immense. This was no small building. The completed Temple, dedicated four years later, would be roughly the size of six football fields. All this without the benefit of any construction equipment even remotely modern.


And their resources were scant. They had returned to the project in the fall, shortly after the harvest, and the scarcity of the harvest, the result of an ongoing drought in the land, was clearly on their minds. How were they going to take care of their families, much less put in the time, effort, financial commitment necessary to rebuild the temple. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. But the problem wasn’t the size of the temple or their meager resources. The problem is in where they were looking. Or maybe, who they were looking to. They had the idea that it all depended on them. Yes, God had called them to do this. But that was as far as it went, right? They had no sense that the God who had called them to this massive undertaking would empower them to finish it. Their focus was in the wrong place.


For starters, they were looking backward. Look at V. 3. The once magnificent temple was a pile of rubble. They’d all heard the stories of the splendor of Solomon’s Temple and the glorious presence of God, tangible in the Holy of Holies. Ezra tells us that when they began work on the foundation, “many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away” (2:12-13). Some were shouting in joy that the temple was being rebuilt. But many wept. They wept because they knew the magnificence of the temple before, and now it was a pile of rock. Even if they did manage to pull off this project, it would never match the temple in its heyday. God was calling them forward, into what he had in store for them. But they were looking backward, at what they had lost.


How often do we look backward, reminiscing about the “good old days?” A time when, in our minds at least, things were better. It’s okay to look backward, at all that God has done in the past. Throughout Scripture, God was constantly reminding people to look back at his faithfulness in the past. Their festivals and feasts were designed to reenact and remind them of God’s saving work in the past. If you were at the Seder Dinner here last spring, you know how intimately tied that meal was, and continues to be, to the Exodus from Egypt. The meal itself is a reenactment of sorts. And that was the meal Jesus was celebrating with his disciples when he told them that he was fulfilling all that the Exodus itself foreshadowed, and as he refocused the meal on himself and instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper. “Take and eat, take and drink, in remembrance of me.” We need to look back, to remember God’s faithfulness in the past, not to rehash or relive the good old days, but to remind ourselves that the same God who was powerfully at work in the Exodus, who was powerfully at work in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is at work in us today. He has not suddenly left us to our own devices but will give us all that we need to be his people, and to build his kingdom, to make disciples of Jesus Christ. When we look back in the wrong way, with longing instead of seeking a reminder of God’s goodness, we’re in danger of being crippled by comparison. What we had then was good. What we have now doesn’t measure up. It’ll never measure up. What’s the point of moving forward?


Not only were they looking backward, they were looking inward, and they were afraid. Look at the last two words of V. 5: “Fear not.” We can’t do this. It’s too much. The project is too big. Our resources are too small. There’s no way we can accomplish this. Fear is the great paralyzer. And coupled with the sadness that came from looking back, longing for the good ole’ days of the temple, comparing where they once were with where they were now, they were in danger of stopping again. They were looking backward, and they were looking inward, but they weren’t looking Godward. They weren’t looking to God. And so again God spoke to them, this time with words of encouragement.


Look at V. 4. Be strong and work. Why? Because they were strong people? Maybe some of them were, but that isn’t the reason. Because they had all that they needed, and just needed to believe in themselves? No. Be strong and work, “for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt.” Do you want to look back? Fine. Look back, and remember. Remember my faithfulness to you. Remember my faithfulness in the face of your faithlessness. Remember that I am with you. But didn’t the prophet Ezekiel see the glory of God depart the Temple before it was destroyed? Yes he did. And God’s presence made visible through the words of the prophets in exile, and at work in the lives of his faithful servants in exile, people like Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were proof that the presence of God had indeed lifted from the temple, and was going with them into Babylon. God was disciplining them, but God never left them. They felt abandoned, but they were not. They felt alone, but God had never left their side. And he was with them now. They simply needed to look to him. Be strong, and work.


God started not with what he wanted them to do, work, but with the trait they needed to do what he wanted them to do: be strong. They needed courage. They needed to be resilient. Their faith and trust in God needed to grow. God always starts on the inside. And that is where their problem lay. Their problem wasn’t in their lack of ability to do the job. It was in their lack of trust in God. And the primary evidence of that? Back in chapter one: “You yourselves dwell in your paneled houses, busied with your own house, while this house lies in ruins” (1:4, 9). One of the primary ways that we show our trust in God is through our willingness to trust him with our resources. To give him the first handful of skittles. And truth be told, it all belongs to God anyway. Look at V. 6-9. “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts.” It all belongs to God.


Pastor Randy Alcorn, author of The Treasure Principle, learned firsthand about losing and gaining possessions, and about heavenly priorities: Back when I was pastor of a large church, making a good salary and earning book royalties, the material possessions I valued most were my books. My money went toward many great books. Thousands of them. Those books meant a lot to me. I loaned them out, but it troubled me when they weren’t returned or came back looking shabby.

Then I started to sense God’s leading to hand over the books, all of them, to begin a church library. I started looking at the names of those who checked them out, sometimes dozens of names per book. I realized that by releasing the books, I had invested in others’ lives. Suddenly, the more worn the book, the more delighted I was. My perspective was totally changed.

God was teaching me a key to understanding the treasure principle: God owns everything. I’m his money manager.[ii]


We need to realize that when we are doing what God wants done, he will provide from the vastness of his resources. But here’s the key: we have to be willing to trust him, individually and together. And trust leads us to do something. To act. To do what God wants done. As long as the people stayed focused only on themselves, on their comfort and security, on their lives, nothing got done. God works through us. He provides, and multiplies, through our generous hearts. Once when Jesus was teaching great crowds his disciples pointed out to him that the people were getting hungry, that he should shut down and let them go find food. And Jesus turned to them and said, “You feed them.” So they turned to the crowd to see if anyone had anything they could use, and they found a boy willing to offer what he had, a few loaves and a few fish. Nowhere near enough to feed the great crowd. But Jesus took the offering, blessed it, and told the disciples to disperse it among the people. And after everyone had eaten their fill, no had a bite to eat, but had eaten their fill, the disciples collected the leftovers, enough to fill twelve baskets. One for each of them. They had forgotten who they were with. They had forgotten that the one who told them to feed the crowds was Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. I am with you. Over and over again he reminds his people, he reminds us, that he is with us. Look at V. 5: “My Spirit remains in your midst.” In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon specific people or groups of people for a specific purpose, and God made sure they knew that the Holy Spirit was with them. But for us, the Holy Spirit is always present for those who are following Jesus. In John 16 Jesus said “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (v. 7). It is through the Holy Spirit present with and at work in the people of God that God fulfills his promise, “I am with you.” It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus keeps his promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). God promises us his presence, and invites us to trust him with all that we are, and with all that we possess.


You see, very command of God is built upon a promise from God. Every divine call to action (obedience) is, at the same time, a divine summons to trust in God’s promises (faith). The promises of God are commands in disguise, and vice versa. God commands what he commands because he promises. After the Exodus, God promised Israel that it would rain bread from heaven every day except the Sabbath. God therefore commanded Israel not to gather more than their daily ration, except on Friday. God’s promise was inextricably linked with a prohibition. Conversely, trust in God’s promise would mean obedience to his commands. Disbelief always shows up as an act of disobedience, since every promise carries with it a command. Every time we disobey God, it is because we are not trusting his promises.[iii] May we be a people who trust God, with our time, with our talent, and yes, with our treasure. Let’s be a people who give him our best, not some of what’s left.

[i] Ed Young, from “Skittles,” a sermon given at Fellowship Church, Dallas, Texas (11-13-04)

[ii] Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle (Multnomah Publishers, 2001), p. 22-23;

[iii] Scott Hafemann, The God of Promise and the Life of Faith (Crossway, 2001), pp. 86-87