In the little book of Haggai, one of the shortest books in the Bible, the prophet Haggai is sent to the nation of Israel with God's message to rebuild the temple. They had started the work 15 years before, but troubles had come, discouragement had set in, and they had ceased this important work. Now God sends them a wake up call exhorting them to resume the work which he has called them to do.
He gives the Children of Israel some step by step instructions on how to rebuild the temple. I want to examine these instructions, and see if we can't apply them to our own process of rebuilding the ministry of our church here in Merced.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.
Before we can build the church, before we can help others, before we can reach others for Christ, we must first consider our ways. The Hebrew for "consider your ways" means literally "set your heart upon your ways." In other words, really examine yourselves. Do we just want to start new programs, or do we genuinely want to rebuild Gods house? Where is our heart in this matter?
This is what the Taking the Name of Jesus program from the Regional Office said in the Introduction, "With so much emphasis being placed on programming, many of the basic disciplines that lead to spiritual health and growth have gone without sufficient nurture. As exemplified in the history of the early church, a return to the disciplines of Scripture study, effective prayer life, and solid proclamation of the Gospel will generate the health, energy, and vision which are vital for a growing church."
Too often we get ahead of God. We need to spend the time to consider our ways. Where are our priorities? Do we make time for God, to speak to him in prayer and listen for his voice to find out what he wants? Or are we so busy doing church programs that we leave God out of them? We can be busy, very busy: building up our own kingdom, our own church, our own ministry. What we should be doing is building up God's kingdom, God's church, and God's ministry.
There is a difference. Are we doing things, maybe very good things, to please ourselves, or are we doing them to please God. When we are doing things to please ourselves, we will get easily frustrated and discouraged when things don't work out the way we want them to. We will become upset with others and start berating, in our minds at least, other members of God's family.
This is why Haggai encourages the people to consider their ways. We need to allow the love of Jesus to take control of our thoughts, and we need to be looking to God for guidance in any rebuilding project that we might start.
Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.
Notice that God tells the people to do three things: first, go up to the mountain; next, bring wood; and last, build the house. Now these steps were necessary for the nation of Israel since the temple lay in ruins, and they would need lumber to begin the process of rebuilding it. So God speaks through Haggai to tell the people to climb the mountain, cut down the trees and bring the wood down, and then rebuild Gods house.
Our situation at First Christian Church is different. We dont have to physically rebuild the church, but we do need to rebuild the ministry spiritually. I want to look at each one of these stages and see how we can apply it to rebuilding Gods house here in Merced.
Stage 1. Go up to the mountain. This is the stage of commitment. When they began to climb the mountain, they were committed to complete the job. What kind of commitment do we need to make in order to climb the mountain? We see in Matthew 14:23 that Jesus "went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone." And we see from 1 Kings 19:11-12 that it was at Mount Horeb that Elijah heard the still, small voice of God. Moses received the Ten Commandments from God at Mount Sinai, and Abraham heard Gods voice on Mount Moriah.
In fact throughout scripture we see men going up to a mountain to get alone to pray to God, to enter into his presence and to be encouraged. I believe this is the first step in our rebuilding process we must spend time praying. There are two reasons we need to pray.
First, when we pray, we are renewed in our spirit. As we enter into a time of communion with our Creator, we discover our spirit soaring with praise, our mental attitude being transformed, and our faith growing. It is during those times of prayer when we are encouraged and when we feel Gods peace and rest filling us. We need those times of prayer. It is good for us.
Second, when we pray, God will respond to us. This is a mystery and difficult for us to understand how the mighty ruler of the universe would not only listen to our feeble requests, but would also act on our behalf. But it is a true fact prayer changes things. James 5:16 tells us, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."
In Acts 12:5-11 we are told of the time Peter was arrested and placed in prison. Herod had just executed James, and he was planning on doing the same thing to Peter. But verse 5 tells us, "Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him." This time the church got serious about praying, and Peter was miraculously delivered from his bondage.
James tells us that Elijah was a man just like ourselves. He wrote in James 5:17-18
"Eli'jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit." Elijah was just like us, but he prayed, and God answered. As Luke 1:37 tells us, "For nothing is impossible with God."
This is what Adam Clarke wrote in 1825, "When God designs to do some particular work in his church he pours out on his followers the spirit of grace and supplication; and this he does sometimes when he is about to do some special work for an individual. When such a power of prayer is granted, faith should be immediately called into exercise, that the blessing may be given: the spirit of prayer is the proof that the power of God is present to heal."
Stage 2. Bring wood. Before Israel could rebuild the temple, they had to make some preparations. Before we can rebuild, we need to make some preparation. Now we could apply this to all the planning and programs we intend to do. But I want to look at spiritual preparation.
Both Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, founders of our denomination, wrote that the Bible is the constitution of the church. I like that. My brother is an engineer, and no one would consider building anything without first consulting the blueprint. This is fortunate for my brother since it keeps him employed. I think we should be the same way. We shouldnt consider rebuilding the church until we consult the blueprint, the constitution the Bible.
There is a cleansing effect from reading and meditating upon the words of the Bible. This cleansing is two-fold: outward and inward.
First, as we read Gods word, we learn to identify outward areas of weakness in our life: sin, bad habits, wrong attitudes, harmful thinking patterns. Upon recognizing them, we become more aware of their damaging effect on our life. The result is we slowly learn to turn from these sinful things that have entrapped us for years. As the psalmist wrote in verse 18, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law."
Second, there is an inner cleansing that takes place in our soul as we meditate upon Gods holy word. We dont understand how this happens, but our soul is being fed and nourished and is growing spiritually stronger. We understand the need for physical food. And few of us skip too many meals, but we dont appreciate the need for spiritual food. As we feed on Gods word, our spirit is refreshed.
Stage 3. Build the house. In other words, get to work. We can spend time in commitment and prayer to God, and we can spend months or years of preparation, reading the Bible and making plans, but there comes a time when we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work. As James 2:17-18, "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
The nation of Israel had been neglecting the Lords work for too long. Thats why the Lord had to raise up Haggai to stir up the people from their inaction. Sometimes we need to be stirred up, too.
Remember, Stage One and Stage Two are what leads us to Stage Three. Sometimes we feel we have to become more committed in our prayer (stage one), but what we are really seeking is a perfection of dedication. This will never happen, not in this lifetime. Our commitment to the Lord is made in faith, not in our own ability to perfectly carry it out; but in Gods ability to help us keep our commitment to him in spite of our human frailty.
Sometimes we are not sure were prepared well enough, and so postpone the work until we are perfectly prepared (stage two). We need to make preparations, but not be so over-prepared that we have anticipated every and any possible contingency. We will never be perfectly prepared. In the book of Exodus we learn that God sent Moses into the wilderness to prepare him to lead the nation of Israel out of Egypt. But even after 40 years of preparation, when God called Moses from the burning bush, Exodus 3:11 shows us Moses feelings of inadequacy, "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh..." and again in Exodus 4:1, "But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice...." Moses did not feel prepared enough, but God said it was time to go. We may not feel ready to do the Lords work, but when he says go, we must be willing to go and build the Lords house.
So how do we rebuild the Lords house? Obviously, there are church programs that we can become involved in to help reach out to others. But I think the most effective way of rebuilding Gods house is when we spend time with others sharing our faith with them, or encouraging them to join us in church. There are people you will come into contact with every day who are searching for meaning in life, who are confused and frustrated, who are open to you coming along side them and sharing with them Gods love. If you will look for people to talk to, you will find them.
When Israel went through the process of rebuilding the temple, they did it in the three progressive stages we mentioned: first, they climbed the mountain, then they gathered the lumber, and finally they built the temple. They had to complete one stage before they could go on to the next stage. But its not that way for us. As we are spiritually rebuilding Gods house, we may start off our first day praying in the morning, reading the Bible in the afternoon, and sharing with someone about God in the evening. We are not limited in what we can do for the Lord. As we spend more time in prayer, we will gain a greater desire to learn from the Bible. And as we read more from the scriptures, we will have a greater desire to share with others the wonderful blessings that we have experienced from the hand of God.
And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God.
This verse tells us that all the people came and did the work in the house of the Lord. But notice how this occurred. It says "the Lord stirred up" their spirit. We may try to do things in our own strength, and try to rev ourselves up into being excited about Gods work. But then after a little while we find ourselves slowing down, worn out and exhausted. It was God that stirred up the people. Allow God to stir you up. He will do a much better job than you can do yourself. As Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 , "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Allow God to be the one to give you strength.
Notice also from this verse who the Lord stirred up. He stirred up Zerubbabel, the governor. He was the civil leader. The Lord needs to stir up the board, the leadership of the church. The spirit also stirred up Joshua, the high priest. He was the religious leader. The Lord needs to stir up the ministers of the church. And the Lord stirred up all the remnant of the people. Thats everyone else. God needs to stir up everyone for his work. Are we ready to allow the Lord to stir us up to do his work?
The Disciples Study Bible tells us , "God's faithful remnant listens to His word and follows His leadership. The remnant in Jerusalem obeyed Haggai's message and rebuilt the Temple. God always has a purpose for His remnant. We need to listen to Him, learn His purpose, and go to work."
This verse ends with the words, "and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God." Are we ready to get to work rebuilding Gods house? Allow the Lord to minister to you. He will stir you up. He will give you new ideas, he will give you renewed energy, he will show you new people to share your faith with, he will help you see how you can use your gifts and talents to build his kingdom.
Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying, Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts: According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.
Apparently what has happened that prompted this further message from God is that the people had become discouraged. They had been laboring hard to rebuild the temple, but as they compared their present feeble efforts with the noble and grand temple that Solomon built, they began to feel their work was far inferior.
Some of the people who had seen Solomons temple may have reacted as described in Ezra 3:12, "But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice...."
Ryrie points out, "A few...older ones, who could remember the larger and more beautiful Temple of Solomon, wept when they saw the smaller, plainer Temple of Zerubbabel. Coupled with the slim harvest, this sight also infected others with discouragement."
Applying this to our present situation, it would be easy for us to compare our present efforts with those of the past. We could say it was better in the past, we had more programs, more doctors and lawyers in the church, and a better looking pastor. The Lord assured the nation of Israel that he was with them in their efforts, even though they appeared feeble and inadequate. Church, God is with our efforts today, even though they may appear feeble and inadequate. As he said at the end of verse 5, my spirit remains among you, fear not. Gods spirit is here. He will help us in rebuilding his church. Fear not.
The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.
This is the promise God gave Israel. The glory of the latter house was indeed greater than the former. It never had the silver and gold like Solomons. It was smaller and plainer. But it was in the second temple, the one that Zerubbabel and the people had rebuilt, in which Jesus came and ministered almost 500 years later.
Our church may never be as large as it used to be. It may never regain its former prominence. But this latter house will be filled with Gods glory as long as we allow Jesus to be here. I firmly believe that God is rekindling the flame in First Christian Church of Merced. Are we ready to rebuild Gods house? Let us build on the foundation of those who have gone before us. Let us reach out in love to those who have helped with this ministry in the past. Let us reach out in faith to new members to help us in the work ahead.
Let us get to work, and see Gods glory once again fill this church. Let us spend time in prayer, spend time in Bible study, and spend time in telling others about Christ. God will rebuild his church. As we are obedient to him, we will see Gods glory once again not only bless this church, but also bless our lives.
This study on the book of Haggai © 1997 by David Humpal. All Rights
Taking the Name of Jesus, pg. 1
James 5:16 from the New International Version © 1973, Zondervan Publishing Company
James 5:17-18 from the Revised Standard Version © 1971, A. J. Holman Company
Luke 1:37 from the New International Version © 1973 Zondervan Publishing Company
Adam Clarkes Commentary, electronic version © 1996 Biblesoft
James 2: 17-18 from the New King James Version © 1982, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Philippians 4:13 from the New King James Version © 1982, Thomas Nelson Publishers
The Disciples Study Bible, electronic version © 1991, Criswell Center for Biblical Studies
The Ryrie Study Bible pg. 411 © 1978, Moody Press