Summary: Putting God first requires resetting our priorities.
Have we ever promised something to the Lord and then we failed to follow through on our commitment? We promised to give a certain amount to the mission pledge card last year but reneged on that pledge? At that time, our business was doing well. Then, the oil crisis came. The peso-dollar exchange went crazy. Our business suffered. We are thinking of letting go of our employees. We even entertained the thought of closing down. Then, we saw the pledge card in our Bibles. We look at it and sigh, “Maybe the Lord would understand…”
Or, we prayed and prayed for a job. We promised to give our tithes. We finally landed into a good position. We started to give. Though the tithe was already big, we were glad to give. Then, we got promoted. We got a bigger salary. Then, another promotion came. So, we started computing again. Our tithe is now equivalent to our salary when we started. Bigger button, bigger button hole. Our expenses also went up with our salary. Bills are piling up. Now, we stare at the tithe envelope and think, “I could use the extra amount to pay off some debts.”
Or, we started a business. We committed to run the business according to God’s Word. We resolved to pay the right taxes and give the right salary. We declare that God is the real owner, we are just managers of His resources. Then, the extended value added tax came. Add to that the economic woes I just mentioned. We look at our competitors. It was such a cutthroat competition. They brought their prices down, even lower than our prices. We know why. They cheated the government by not paying the right taxes. We cannot afford to match their price. We look at our rising overhead expenses. We look at the taxes we are forking out. We now try to convince ourselves, “I need to tweak with my books to keep my business afloat.”
Or, maybe our business is doing really well despite of the economic crisis. We are getting busier and busier. Our schedule is packed with back-to-back meetings. Every morning we wake up tired. We leave for office while it is still early and we leave the office already late. Now, our clients wanted to meet with us for a power breakfast or a round of golf. Then, we realize that it is Sunday morning. We convince ourselves and say, “Just this once… I cannot afford to miss this meeting… Next Sunday, I will attend.” But, Sunday after Sunday, we find it harder and harder to say no to our clients.
If we are honest to ourselves, we know God is no longer first in our lives. We have misplaced priorities in life. According to the dictionary, the word “first” has two meanings. One meaning says, “coming before all others in time or order, earliest” as in “first time” or “first come, first served.” Another meaning says, “foremost in position, rank or importance” like when we say “first things first.” So, when we say, “Today God Is First” we are talking about the second meaning. When we say God is first, we are not talking about a list where we think there is a number two or a number three. What we are saying is that He is foremost in position, rank or importance. Our lives revolve around Him. The question now is, “Is God really first in our lives?”
This morning we will look into the challenge God sent forth through the prophet Haggai to a group of people who started well but almost did not finish well because they failed to put God first.
Allow me to set the stage before we dive into the book. God exiled His people to Babylon due to disobedience. But He promised, “This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
God fulfilled His promise. Exactly on the 70th anniversary of their captivity, King Cyrus of Persia issued a decree. Let us read Ezra 1 starting with verse 1. “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm… Anyone of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.’” Almost 50,000 Jews went back to Jerusalem.