“Now, the Lord of Armies says this: ‘Think carefully about your ways: You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to be happy. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm. The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it.’ The Lord of Armies says this: ‘Think carefully about your ways.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever watched someone try and do something the wrong way and struggle with it? There are some tasks for which the path to successfully accomplishing them is straight and narrow. If you don’t do them a certain way, they are going to be all but impossible to complete. What Haggai was trying to help the people understand here is that life is one of these tasks.
There’s a great Far Side cartoon that features a kid pushing desperately on a door in order to open it. Out in front of the door is a sign that says “Midvale School for the Gifted.” On the door itself is another sign that reads: “Pull.” The joke is obvious and funny, but in the bigger picture, we often try to do things one way, oblivious to the fact that we’re not doing it the right way.
The people of Israel were well on their way to getting resettled in their homes once again after enduring basically two generations of captivity in Babylon. But in their efforts to rebuild, they had let all of their attention become focused on the practical aspects of the task. They were focused on getting fields and olive groves back in harvesting shape once again. They were making sure they had enough to eat, enough to drink, enough to wear. They were building back up their personal incomes so they could face the various unknown challenges that a rebuilding project inevitably brings along with it.
In all of this, though, they were forgetting about their relationship with God. And the thing they had forgotten was that it was their relationship with God which was the glue that would hold all of those other efforts together. It was the oil that would keep things running smoothly. It was the foundation that would give stability to all these other things they were doing. Right now, they were trying to build a house of cards on a blanket. They needed a firmer base than that. Or, to keep all of these metaphors thoroughly mixed, it was the path down which these other things needed to be pursued if they were ever going to bring the success the people were seeking.
So God called them to think.
“Think carefully about your ways,” He said. Twice. In between, He listed out the kinds of basic, life-sustaining efforts they were pursuing. Do you see what He’s doing here? Think about your ways. All of these things are not working. You’ve said, “It’s not time to rebuild the temple.” That is, it’s not time to really invest ourselves in a relationship with God. We need to focus on these other things. But they’re not working. They’re empty. They’re futile. Why do you think that is? Think carefully about your ways.
They were forgetting about what mattered most. Or, to put that more simply: They weren’t doing it right.
In our own lives, there are far too many occasions when we aren’t doing it right. And what’s right? Jesus said it best: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be provided for you.” The way to do life right is to put God first. If He’s not in first position, nothing else will work like it’s supposed to work. If He is, it will. It really is that simple.
The challenge, of course, is that sometimes that doesn’t seem to be true. Sometimes–often even–it seems like folks who are not putting God first have everything together. Everything is right for them. Meanwhile, we who seek to put Him first never catch any breaks. Everything is hard for us. What gives?
What gives is that we are using the world’s rubric for understanding when life is right and when it isn’t. When you use the wrong measuring stick, inaccurate measurements can seem like they’re right. You won’t realize the problem, then, until it’s too late. Trust me on this one: The way to do life right is to put God first. Do that and the rest will eventually fall into place. Into place may not look like you imagined, but when it gets there, it’ll be better than you could have possibly hoped.