Consider Your Ways

This morning I was reading Haggai. I was struck by the repetition of the command to “consider your ways” (1:5, 7), and “consider” (2:15, 18). Haggai was one of the returnees after the exile. He and Zechariah were the prophets, Zerubbabel was the governor, and Joshua was the high priest. I have taught through Ezra and Nehemiah, and surveyed the post-exilic prophets and so there is no need to rehearse all the details here, except to mention that the people returned to the land with great joy and expectation only to lose focus of why they were there. They had built houses for themselves and were trying to resume their lives, but they had neglected the Lord and His house (1:4). God then tells them to “consider their ways.” The call is literally to “set your heart on your ways,” which conveys the idea of “think carefully,” it is “an injunction calling for the utmost degree of reflection and attention.”[1]

The reason God calls them to reflect on their ways, to think about their choices and their actions, is because they had pursued the things of life and it all seemed to be frustrated with failure. This failure is classically stated, “He who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes” (1:6). The Lord then tells the people what the problem is,

7        Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways!

8        “Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the Lord.

9        “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the Lord of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.

Haggai 1:7-9

They had not given priority to what should have been a clear priority, the Lord and His house. They lost focus of their primary calling. They got caught up in work, food and drink, clothing and making money. God would not bless their daily endeavors for the simple reason that He was not their focus.

The wonderful news is that the leaders and the people heard God’s voice and they repented and obeyed (1:12). God then gives them the blessed promise that He is with them (1:13), and then, most wonderfully, stirs their spirits so that they did what they were supposed to do (1:14).

The lessons here are manifold. Their lack of success in everyday life was a signal from the Lord that they needed to stop and consider their lives, their priorities, their decisions, and their choices. God often gets our attention through providentially hindering the basics of life. The reality is most of God’s people don’t think of God’s hand as present in all their affairs of life, so they look to other solutions to their frustrations. Stop! Consider your ways! Push the pause button long enough to think about something more than daily life. Where is your heart? Where are your priorities? Answer those questions with facts, not platitudes. Answer those questions by looking at the real direction of your life, the real passions you pursue, look at the actual decisions you make, the relationships you cherish, the real actions you have done. Frankly this stung me this morning, but how I needed it.

The great hope is that when we heed God’s Word, and seek to obey, He will “renew a steadfast spirit within us… and sustain us with a willing spirit” (Psa. 51:10b, 12b). This is not some key to success in life, but it is key to a happy walk with God.

Consider your ways today. The Lord may be trying to get your attention.

[1] Eugene H. Merrill, An Exegetical Commentary – Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Minor Prophets Exegetical Commentary Series (Biblical Studies Press, 2003), 26.

A Scripture Passage and Good Memories

I wrote earlier this week about a Scripture verse and a sad memory. This morning I had just the opposite experience. In the mornings I read the Word to Ariel. Mark 2:1-12 was our morning reading. As I was about to read it, a flood of good memories came back to me. I shared those with her before I read.

First, this is the first passage that came to my mind in 2007 when I awoke from back surgery. For the first time in nearly three weeks I was not in excruciating pain. As I began to realize the agonizing pain was gone, Jesus’ words from Mk. 2:5 came to mind, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” I was overwhelmed with the grace of God in Christ at the forgiveness of my sins. The surgery and the relief I felt only underscored the beauty of “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Second, Mark 2:1-12 was the first sermon I preached after I recovered. The themes were that sin is worse than suffering, therefore forgiveness is more important than healing. I preached it out of my own sense of immense gratitude to the Son of God.

Third, I almost immediately re-ruptured the disk and I was in pain. It was depressing to have my back hurt again, although not to the same degree. One night we had driven to Reno, and on the way back I began to feel quite a bit of pain. As a walked gingerly into the house I felt overwhelmed. I sat on the couch and began to cry. I felt like I would never get better. Ariel sat down next to me and cried with me. I got up, walked into our bedroom and Pilgrim Radio was on, and was playing the sermon I had preached from Mark 2:1-12! I laid on the bed and listened to the sermon as God’s Word to me. It brought me out of the depression and encouraged me. Yes, God used my own sermon from Mark 2:1-12 to help me.

Fourth, I was in Israel and we were going through Capernaum. Galilee was my favorite part of the trip. I was assigned to preach a few short sermons at different sites. The synagogue in Capernaum was one such assignment. I preached Mark 2:1-12, because it was in Capernaum that our Lord healed the paralytic. It was a surreal experience and one of great joy. To be standing in that synagogue, a stone’s throw from the house where the paralytic was let down through the roof, was amazing.

This passage, Mark 2:1-12, is woven into my Christian experience and my walk with Christ. He has used it in many ways. As I came to it this morning, the experiences came back to my mind, but most importantly, I was reminded, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Sin is worse than suffering, therefore forgiveness is more important healing.

A Scripture Verse and a Sad Memory

I am reading through Jeremiah in the mornings and, except for the book of Consolation(chapters 29-32), the book is a sad one with very few bright notes in its melody. There are fascinating sections that I would love to preach through. But as I was reading yesterday morning, I read a verse that brought back a flood of memories to me.

The verse was Jeremiah 32:20, “Obey now the voice of the LORD in what I say to you, and it shall be well with you, and your life shall be spared.” Over 20 years ago I used to meet with a man in our church every week. We would memorize Scripture, pray, and on occasion go and evangelize together. This is one of the texts we memorized, Jer. 32:20.

The context: King Zedekiah calls for Jeremiah, he wants a word from God. Jeremiah gives him the word: submit to Babylon, go into exile, and God would spare Jerusalem from being burned to the ground. The king and his family would survive. This was the promise, although it was hard. The threat however made clear the cost of disobedience. If Zedekiah disobeyed, the city would be handed over the Babylonians, it would be burned to the ground and the king and his family would not survive. When Zedekiah expresses concern over the Jews who were already in exile, Jeremiah promised the king that he would not be given over to their hands. That’s where Jer. 32:20 comes in. “Obey now the voice of the Lord.” Zedekiah’s obedience was to be immediate. But the promise of obedience was shalom and a spared life. Submitting to Babylon was hard, disobedience was harder. My friend and I memorized this verse among many.

In Jer. 39, Zedekiah and his family try to flee Jerusalem. They were going to secure their own safety. Zedekiah did not obey the voice of the Lord. He and his family were captured, his sons were killed in front of him, and then his eyes were gouged out. God’s threats are never empty.

That friend, a man with whom I prayed and memorized Scripture, went the way of Zedekiah. This friend of mine seemed to be blessed by God, until he wanted to go his own way, choose his own idols, and worship at the altar of immorality. He rejected the very call to obedience from Jer. 32:20. His life is empty now. He has sown to the flesh; he is reaping crops of bitterness and pain. He may eventually reap the crop of eternal judgment. I hope not. I pray not. But God is not mocked.

God gave His Word of promise to Zedekiah to spare him from something worse than submission to Babylon. God gives us His Word of promise to save us from eternal Hell. Will we hear it, heed it, and live?