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Paneled Houses

Haggai 1:3-4: “Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?"”
“Ready in just 10 minutes!”  Wandering through the food aisles at the Super Walmart, you can’t help but notice just how many products promise to speed up the dinner-making process.  In the hardware department and fitness sections you’ll see the same trend:  tools, equipment, and gimmicks that guarantee great results in the least amount of time.  The marketing world loves to convince us of how busy we are.

Interestingly, the same store has no golf clubs promising they’ll help us play 18 holes more quickly.  There are no timesaving tips on the big-screen TVs, video games or DVDs…  and no quick-use info on the lawn chairs or beach umbrellas.  Simple logic tells us we only want to save time doing things that we consider tedious, right?

Let’s reflect on those thoughts in a spiritual sense.  Do we enjoy spending our personal time with God in the same way we would look forward to good movie, sport or hobby?  Or is our life so busy that we find ourselves looking for ways to cut corners in our relationship with Him -- squeezing God into our tight schedule like a microwave dinner?  Has serving Him or having a daily devotional time become as tedious as a run on the treadmill?  At the heart of the matter is the question of our priorities.

In the first chapter of the book of Haggai, the people of Judah were struggling with this same issue. Their priorities had slowly shifted, and they began to care more about their own personal interests than their relationship with the Lord.

The Jews in Haggai’s day initially had a great excuse to be distracted and busy with life.  They had recently returned to Jerusalem after a 70-year captivity in Babylon.  Their city had been left in ruins.  They were starting from scratch -- building, planting, fabricating, jump-starting their economy.  Imagine what our state of mind would be if our town were suddenly destroyed by a storm or disaster.  Our immediate interests would probably center around repairing our homes and getting back to “normal” before anything else.

Despite these significant difficulties, the Jews had tackled one of their most important spiritual tasks right away:  they rebuilt the altar.  The altar of sacrifice was their means of gaining and maintaining the critical connection to a holy God.  Even in the midst of putting their lives back together from the ground up, the people made a priority of putting time aside for God.

Enthusiastic work for the Lord continued as they quickly laid foundations for a new temple.  Excitement and celebration were in the air, and the people had a mind to work for the Lord (Ezra 3:8-11).  But when opposition to the building project arose, the entire operation came to a standstill(Ezra 4).  Their enthusiasm and motivation faded.  Over time the nation got used to the routine of life without the temple.  Deserted like an abandoned neighborhood lot, the foundation was overgrown by weeds, and the temple was soon forgotten.

Has this ever happened to us, spiritually speaking?  Excitement for the Lord fades in our life, and the foundations of our faith are slowly overtaken or forgotten?

Over the next 10-15 years, the people apparently became preoccupied with the construction and improvement of their own homes -- building beautiful houses with decorative woodwork for themselves.  This concept isn’t really a stretch for us to visualize, is it?  Imagine the “Home Depot” of Haggai’s day – lined with exotic timbers, ornate tapestries, and fancy rugs.  How many of us would have gotten caught up in the allure of redecorating right along with the rest of the crowd?  But the Lord spoke to the people through the prophet Haggai about refocusing their attention on the temple project:  “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” “...Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.”  (Haggai 1:4-8.)

In Haggai’s day, “building the house of the Lord” actually implied much more than just the physical building. The temple of the Lord pictured the people’s connection with God.  It was the focal point of the entire spiritual life of the nation – the basis of their relationship with a holy God, their worship of God, and their service and work for the Lord.

Well, how can we apply this passage of Scripture to our lives today?  There’s a powerful spiritual parallel in this story for us.  When we trusted in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our salvation, we “established the altar” in our lives.  We were excited about following the Lord, and we began construction on a spiritual foundation for a solid Christian life and walk.  But what about now?  Are we continuing to build, or have we gotten sidetracked?

A few simple challenges might help us evaluate where we stand:
- Do we spend hours on our own projects and hobbies, but barely make it through a few minutes of personal devotional time?
- Do we find excuses to skip church or Bible study, while planning to do other “more interesting things” on the very same day?
- Do we routinely watch TV and/or surf the web each day, but give very little time to serving the Lord - at church or in other areas of Christian service?

If these thoughts are challenging, you’re surely not alone.  Many Christians struggle in this area.  But when we examine our lives, the bottom line is this:  if the time we spend with God is low on our priority list, the only logical conclusion is that He’s really not that important to us.

The people of Judah reacted properly to Haggai’s challenge (Haggai 1:14).  They quickly refocused their energies and began to work on the temple again.  What are some simple ideas to help changeour mindsets and our routines?  How can we set our priorities straight?

1. Pray about it. 

Sometimes we overlook praying for the most obvious things.  Who better to discuss our relationship with God than God Himself?   We can ask Him to revive our interest.  He’d love to help out!  God is not a killjoy who demands we skip all the fun to grind through a painful ritual each day.  He simply desires our devoted company!

Our prayer life is also a great indication of where our hearts and relationships with God are.  Would we consider someone an important friend if we rarely communicated with him or her?  So how often do we talk to God?  Is prayer even a priority in our life right now?  What do we pray about?  Maybe the first thing we need to pray about is being motivated to pray!  Talking with God should be a joyful priority in our lives.

2.  Spend time with God in an area that’s also really interesting to you

Years after Haggai’s time, one of Nehemiah’s strategies to motivate the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls was to have them work in locations that were closest to their own houses.  Nehemiah was essentially commissioning them to build in the areas that were of the most interest to them. (Nehemiah 3:23-29)

Many people today might associate making time for God with a boring activity that’s totally divergent from their normal routine or personal interests.  But remember, God has purposelycreated all of us differently!  Just because your pastor says he reads 10 chapters of the Bible every day doesn’t mean that’s a perfect plan for you.  Maybe listening to a devotional talk on your iPod while taking a walk is more your style, and it would allow you to quietly reflect on what you’re hearing.

Think creatively, and use today’s technology to your advantage in a godly way. It doesn’t take much discipline to do the things we enjoy, so let’s spend time with God and serve Him while doing things that interest us.

- Ron Reid

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