Distinguished American preacher, Haddon Robinson points out that one old recipe for rabbit stew starts with this injunction: "First catch the rabbit." Robinson notes: "The writer knew how to put first things first. That’s what we do when we establish priorities -- we put the things that should be in first place in their proper order.
In recent years a head coach of an American football team divorced his wife of 26 years when he left coaching a college team to become head coach in the National Football League. He said he needed a wife while coaching on the college level for social functions and to show families that he would be looking out for their sons. In pro football, however, she was unnecessary and a distraction to winning. He said winning football was his number one priority and his two sons second. How tragic!
In contrast to this, Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas cowboys said, "The thrill of knowing Jesus is the greatest thing that ever happened to me ... I think God has put me in a very special place, and He expects me to use it to His glory in everything I do ... whether coaching football or talking to the press, I’m always a Christian ... Christ is first, family second and football third."
When talking about his success as a coach he said, "In 1958, I did something everyone who has been successful must do, I determined my priorities for my life — God, family, and then football."
As we look at Haggai tonight, we’re asked the question: “What are your priorities?”
Too often we spend way too much time on the urgent and the immediate, leaving what’s really important with very little of our time.
Sometimes we have problems with the volume of demands on us: After doing a time management course at work we were all told that if we were working efficiently but still couldn’t do everything we needed to in a working day, then we had too much work! (It never actually worked that way in practice).
Sometimes it’s just bad time management, but ultimately it all comes down to what is truly important to us.
What’s important to us is actually reflected in how we use our resources: time, money, effort and talent!
Are the majority of your resources channelled towards what you say is most important to you?
So let’s look at Haggai and at the historical background first so we can get a good understanding of what’s going on here.
- Small number return to build temple (about 50,000 Jews)
- Laid foundations of the temple but stopped because they faced opposition, lost funding from Persian kingdom when Cyrus was replaced by Darius, and basically tried to survive themselves
- 15 years later God uses Haggai to kick them into gear and remind them of what’s important
The people had given up on the temple because life was a little difficult for them. They’d returned to a desolate land that hadn’t been touched since it was ravaged 70 years earlier and all they could think of was getting themselves set up again and surviving.
I love verse 4. God says, ‘Hold on a minute, how come you’ve built yourselves nice houses when mine’s only a load of foundations?’
Their houses were wood panelled at a time when wood was quite a rare commodity after the Babylonians had chopped all the trees down and so it was probably expensive cedar wood, imported from places like Lebanon.
And so they’ve confused their priorities and actually begin to pay the cost for that.
Note first of all would you in verse 8 where it says that the building of the temple is God to take pleasure in it and be honoured. He’s not just getting them to build it for fun, but so that He would be honoured, and everyone would be able to see that He kept His word and brought them back from exile.
Is your first priority to honour God in all you do?
Haggai shows them how they’ve got their cause and effect the wrong way round.
They thought that it wasn’t the right time to build the temple because they couldn’t afford to give their money or their time because all their efforts went on battling the worsening conditions – droughts, crop failures etc.
When actually the truth was, these worsening conditions were happening because they weren’t putting their efforts into building the temple.
They’d got it all completely the wrong way round and God was in fact holding back on the blessings to try and bring them back to putting Him as their main priority.
But they’re a bit stupid (like we all can be) and so God has to raise up Haggai to tell it to them straight.
I’m sure that like me, when you’ve found yourself going through a difficult time you’ve cried out to God, asking him ‘WHY’? Well maybe the answer could be ‘because you’re not putting me first’!
When you’re losing all those things that you’ve put your security in, maybe you need to look at your priorities and see if it isn’t God taking things away to bring your focus back to Him!
Is your focus on Him?
He does it with churches too. When nothing seems to work and the church just isn’t moving forward, perhaps it’s God calling the church to bring their focus back to Him.
When other things crowd around us we can lose our focus on the main thing:
Loch Ness Pictures – out of focus, in focus.
Hooray, the people have listened and worked out what their priorities are and have started work on the temple again. And you see what happens – God began to bless them and it says He began to stir up their spirits.
Then in Chapter 2 and verses 1-9 God promises to look after them and keep them in peace while everything else around them is going bananas. Read 2:1-9.
When we’ve got the main thing as the main thing, everything else falls into place and God blesses us.
What does Jesus teach in Matthew 6? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
This was how the Jews had got their priorities the wrong way round and so often how we get ours the wrong way round. We think that when we’re sorted, then we’ll be better able to serve God. But God says differently, he says ‘serve me, and then you’ll get everything else you need and you’ll be a better person’.
But just like the Jews, we don’t learn!
God tells the Jews that from now on, they’re all responsible for their own consecration. No longer will a temple cleanse them of their sins.
He says, ‘can something dirty be made clean by touching something clean’? Of course not!
If I rub a dirty cloth onto a clean cloth, the cleanliness of the clean cloth doesn’t make the dirty one clean! The dirt stains the clean cloth.
These Jews were continuing to sin while building a consecrated temple and thinking that they’d be ok because they’re doing what God wanted them to do and that the temple would make them clean.
But parts of their lives weren’t clean, and so the dirty parts were nullifying the clean part!
What was the point of building a temple if they weren’t living holy lives? Their sin was defiling the temple.
And so God reminds them that they needed to clean up their whole lives and then He would bless them, because he had still been holding back on some of His blessings up to then because they weren’t living holy lives.
So have you got your priorities straight?
Are you making the main thing the main thing?
Have you got God as your prime concern?
Are you motoring on full steam ahead with the things that God has asked you to do?
And is your whole life matching up to this? Or are their areas of your life that don’t fit?
Are there things that perhaps even today you need to consecrate to God so you’re living a completely holy life?
David Pawson makes these two points:
“Too often we tend to put making a living or keeping alive first, and we give God what is left”.
“God is not so much concerned about what we do for him, but whether we’re clean to do it”.
Is Christ the centre of your life?
Does everything else match up with that?