How many of you, if you were sitting at breakfast tomorrow morning, laying in bed, or sitting in your cubicle and all of a sudden there was a lot of shaking, the wind started blowing, a bright light like fire appeared before your eyes and you could literally see the clouds and they started rolling up like a scroll and during all of that a voice told you to go do something would do what that voice said?
I can imagine it now… buy that stock! Drive to California and await further instruction! Call your mom… ehhh for some of us that might cause some hesitation.
How many of you would hesitate during all of that to decide whether or not you should listen to and do what that voice said to do? Wouldn’t you all immediately be in? If you literally heard God tell you to do something, you would do it pretty much no questions asked. So, I gotta ask: Do you believe God still speaks?
Well… if He is speaking why is there so little doing? So I guess the question is… Are you listening?
Check out this passage and I want you to look for what God says and how his people respond to hearing from God.
Haggai 1:1-6 (ESV) says,
In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
Haggai 1:12-14 (ESV) says,
Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.
What did the people do regarding the voice of the Lord in this story?
They heard from God and they obeyed!
But wait… let me provide some context for this story for a minute. It’s not so simple… it wasn’t always like that!
The context for this story is that God’s people had been exiled for decades. They had been deprived of the temple and it was killing some of them. So much so that when Emperor Cyrus said they can go back to their homes, they start the trek home and begin building walls and the temple. But then guess what… life.
Life got in the way!
Sure, some of it was hostile neighbors, but it was more just everyday busy-ness.
You know what I’m talking about! There were kids to take to ballet, tee ball, booster club, grocery shopping, grass to mow! Think about it! There are always doctors appointments to schedule, that concert you really want to see, vacation, and … well, life.
So let me ask again… Do you believe God still speaks? Are you listening? Or is there too much other stuff competing for your attention, dedication, and time?
In his book Directions, author James Hamilton shares this insight about listening to God:
Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses had thick walls, no windows and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer.
One man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn’t find it. His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile. A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch. Amazed, the men asked him how he found it.
I closed the door,” the boy replied, “lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.”
Often the question is not whether God is speaking, but whether we are being still enough and quiet enough to hear. Yes, Jesus assures us that our heavenly Father always listens to us, but do we really listen to God? Do we follow the instructions of Psalm 46 where it says, “Be still, and know that I am God”?
Are you listening? Or is the pattern of life not allowing you the opportunity to hear?
My first point is:
WE MUST HEAR THE VOICE OF THE LORD
Luke 15:11-24 is a story we’ve all heard. It was a parable of Jesus that I think many of us can relate to. It goes like this,
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
Let’s take look at this story for a moment. In these times the younger son was ritually entitled to 1/3 of the inheritance of his father after his father’s death. This son wanted it before. He was inpatient. He “knew” better than his father about what to do with the inheritance he was promised. Despite the breathtaking audacity of the younger son’s request, the father grants it!
Is that not amazing!
This reflects the amazing indulgence that God shows toward us. Even when we are acting as selfishly as the prodigal son, God indulges us. He yields what is His and allows us to misuse it out of respect for the freedom that He has given us.
After the son gets 1/3rd of his father’s estate, he takes everything he has and goes “into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living” (v. 13).
In context, this means that he abandoned the Holy Land to go, voluntarily, into exile and into a pagan country where he could live recklessly without being under his father’s hand. He wanted to get out of God’s land so that he could live in sin and fund his sinful lifestyle by what he took from his father.
Do we do that? Do we misuse what God has blessed us with? I did! I do! Think about what God has given you… and think about how you are using it.
But what happens in this story? The money runs out. The good times ended. The consequences of a reckless lifestyle caught up to him. The resources he had were exhausted. In this hard time the son recalled how his father treated even his hired servants better than his current reality. Verse 17 says,
How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!
The son plans to return to his father and say three things:
1) “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (v. 18),
2) “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 19a),
3) “treat me as one of your hired servants” (v. 19b).
Even being treated as one of his father’s hired servants would be better than the treatment he was receiving in the world. The son had ventured from where he belonged. He ventured out from under the care of his loving Dad.
The father wanted the best for his son. Sound familiar? He had laid up an inheritance for him. He had indulged his ridiculous request for 1/3 of what was rightfully his. While the son was away what do you think the father did?
I’m not a parent yet… but I can imagine what it must be like to sit up and wait for a kid who is running late for curfew. Sitting up with a single light on going from window to window waiting for that car to come down the driveway, the knob to turn, and the child to slide in hoping not to get noticed.
I believe the father in this story did exactly that. I believe he looked down the road for his son! Surely he called out his son’s name… but the son just wasn’t listening. The son had wandered off to a far away place. There are some of us, at this very moment, that are in far away places. How many of us have wandered at times? We all do it! We pursue life. We pursue dreams. We pursue success, happiness, education, financial security and stability, self-satisfaction, acceptance from our peers, family, and co-workers.
Hear me now. It’s not that the Lord, our Father, has not stopped calling or stopped speaking. The real issue is that we have stopped listening.
Like the son in the story, the farther we get from the Father’s loving care, the worse off we will be, and our best course is to return to God and His forgiveness. He’s there waiting. He’s there calling. We just have to listen for Him!
But what happens to the son in the story? He grows tired of his sin… he grows tired of his situation and where he’s at. So what does he do? He heads back! He returns to his father… to his home. He opens his ears and follows the voice of his loving dad all the way home!
The part that astounds me is that when the prodigal son returns to his father, something significant takes place. While he is still at a distance, the father sees him, has compassion upon him, runs to him, hugs him, and kisses him.
How do you think the son felt? He must have been astonished!
The son begins to recite his pre-scripted speech to his father. You know… the script we all have rehearsed over and over again in our heads when we know we are going to get busted. Being the older of two boys I always had a story and a built in excuse. “He did it! He broke it! He ate it!” He manages to get the first two parts of it out. He says:
1) “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (v. 21a),
2) “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21b).
But before he can say the third part, before he can ask to be treated merely as a servant, the father interrupts things and takes the conversation in a very different direction. Rather than treating his younger son as a mere servant, he turns to the actual servants and orders a celebration.
Hear this point… when we begin to hear and sit under the voice of the Lord we get to take on our identity as a son or daughter of the most high God.
You see as we head to this next point we need to understand that hearing the voice of God is only half of the equation. We have to come back from that far away place and submit ourselves to God. We have to sit under that voice. We have to hear it, And we have to do what it says.
WE MUST OBEY THE VOICE OF THE LORD
God sent the prophet Haggai to preach to the remnant of Israel to urge them to get on with the work of rebuilding God’s temple. The people had been previously unmotivated to build the temple since, for the last 15 years, they experienced great opposition when trying to rebuild it. The people eventually began to prioritize other things above rebuilding the temple. They began to prioritize, in particular, looking after their own homes.
Haggai, like most prophets, did not mince his words. He didn’t tickle the people’s ears. Haggai’s rebuked the people, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (1:4).
In modern terms, Haggai essentially told the people, “It’s time for you to stop thinking about yourselves. It’s time to get up off your couch and get on with the work of the Lord.” The amazing thing is that the people did what Haggai told them to do.
After hearing Haggai’s message, the text says in (1:12) that,
Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.
Haggai told the people to do something and they did it. Trust me, this is a preacher’s dream! One of the great discouragements of ministry is when a minister preaches from the Bible with power and conviction only to be greeted with yawns and looks of indifference.
Keep in mind how many people we are talking about here. It says that “all the remnant of the people” obeyed the words of Haggai. ALL. Nobody was too important. Nobody was too young or too old. ALL took part. Haggai preached a message to 50,000 people and 50,000 people did what he asked of them.
These people did not blindly follow Haggai either as if he was simply some charismatic leader or out of fear or respect for man. The text says that the people not only responded to “the words of Haggai”, but they also “obeyed the voice of the Lord” and the NASB says that they “showed reverence for the Lord” (1:12). I love that translation. In short, you could say that when the people heard Haggai’s message, they responded by honoring God.
So the first thing that happens is Haggai preaches the Word of the Lord, and in response to this preaching, the second thing that happens in this text is that the people begin to honor God. And finally, in response to the people’s decision to honor God, the third thing that happens in this text is that God sends a message back to the people: “I am with you” (1:13).
For the people of Israel, assurance of God’s presence was the pinnacle of encouragement. It’s like the five year-old whose parent walks with them to their first day of school. Suddenly, because mom or dad is there, school doesn’t seem so scary. It’s like us, as adults, when we go to an important doctor’s appointment accompanied by our spouse. Suddenly, our fears are eased by the comfort that we are loved. In the same way, when the people in Haggai’s day were assured that the Lord was with them, the obstacles to building the temple became small.
Hear this: Obedience is an action word.
Hearing the voice of the Lord is merely the starting point! Without action we might as well have heard the voice of the God at all.
Imagine a runner by the name of Joe at the starting line of a big race. He has prepared and trained. He is at the peak of his physicality. All the runners stretch and get down in their blocks. The starter yells, “Runners take your marks, get set!” BOOM… he fires the gun. All the runners take off except Joe! What was the point of all the training if he wasn’t planning on running the race when he heard the gun go off!
Haggai 1:14-15 (NASB) says,
So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.
When you hear someone call that out what do you do? You watch your head! Something has caused that person enough concern to cry out so that you don’t get your head smacked by something. Now it’s one thing to hear the warning… it’s another thing altogether to take heed of that warning and prevent yourself from experiencing the very thing they were warning you about.
Let me ask you… what kind of warnings is God giving you currently?
“Heads up!” Change your priorities!
“Heads up!” Don’t make that choice!
“Heads up!” Be patient! Wait on me!
The question is not “is God speaking? Is he warning or guiding you?” The question is… what are you going to do with those warnings? What are you going to do with His guidance?
What is clear in this text is that the people of Israel honored God by obeying what He was telling them to do… His command to rebuild the temple. Our question is, “Are we going to honor God by being obedient to His voice?”
Allow me to provide you with some motivation to accept this challenge. When the people of Haggai’s day accepted the challenge to obey God, God promised them three things. If we choose to honor God with our obedience, these are the three things we can expect to receive:
1) God’s presence
2) God’s provision
3) God’s peace
Before the people began the work on the temple God assured them of His presence, “I am with you” He declared. God’s promise of His presence was enough motivation to get the people started on rebuilding the temple.
It seems, through the story however, that at some point, the people began to get discouraged.
Haggai 2:3-9 says,
‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’”
The people began to wonder how they could build a temple as beautiful as the previous one. You see… some people were around to see the old temple. They remembered how things used to be! Some of us might be in the same boat! We might remember the way our church used to be. We might remember how life used to be. We might remember how this country used to be. We might remember how our culture used to be! Like the remnant of Israel we might look back and impose the way things used to be onto the way things are now and we might get discouraged or give up.
The people wanted immediate results. They had agreed to meet the challenge, but after experiencing initial results that they were less than pleased with, they began to get discouraged.
This is important to note because many churches that strive to honor God will experience initial disappointment. Many Christians who strive to honor God will experience initial disappointment. Think back to the first time you severely messed up after your salvation… did you get mad at yourself or discouraged?
We may experience disappointment if we invest time and money into youth ministry and find ourselves still lacking teenagers. We may experience disappointment if we go to great lengths to evangelize the “unchurched” only to have no one join our church.
But notice how God responds to His people’s discouragement. God doesn’t say to the people of Israel, “Well thanks for trying.” God doesn’t console them by saying, “You did your best.” No, God continues to tell them to press on. He motivates the people to meet the challenge of rebuilding the temple. Haggai 2:4 (NASB) says,
But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the Lord of hosts.”
Not only does God tell the people to “be strong,” but He also orders them back to work (v.4). Why should these people “take courage” Why should they go back to work? The Lord repeats His promise, “(go back to) work; for I am with You… verse 5 continues with:
According to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.
Like the people of Haggai’s day, we must learn to approach our challenge of obeying the voice of God courageously knowing that the “Spirit” of the Lord is in our “midst.”
You see… obeying the voice of the Lord isn’t always about the short term, sometimes it’s about what needs to take place in the long term and where God wants us to land. Where is God’s voice taking you?
We like to be rational. We like to be in control. We like to evaluate our bearings and adjust according to what makes sense to us. What lines up with our goals, our dreams, and our visions. We are experts at being in agreement with God when we agree with His plan. We are even better at “amending” what He says to line up with what we want!
But here is the thing. We aren’t God. We don’t have the heart of God. We don’t have the vision of God. Sometimes His plans for us aren’t about the short term that we can see and understand. Sometimes they are about the long term that we have no way of seeing and understanding because we aren’t Him!
For those of you that don’t know me… I am a competitive shooter. I shoot guns nonstop! Part of that means that I am constantly changing parts and optics. You know the things you look through to line up your target. Sometimes when you mount a scope and it looks right you line up your shot and end up off about an inch at 25 yards. No big deal right? It’s only an inch. Unless you are shooting a very small target you are still going to hit what you want to hit… at 25 yards. But… being off an inch at 25 yards can push your trajectory off 4 inches at 100 and so on and so forth.
What doesn’t mean a lot in the short term can mean everything in the long term. What can be an indirect hit at close ranges can be way off at distance.
Throughout Scripture, God commands us to do many things. He issues us many challenges. But here in Haggai, as well as elsewhere in Scripture, we learn that when the Lord asks you to do something, He helps you do it. I wonder how many churches have failed in ministry by simply neglecting to call on God for help. As the Psalmist has said in Psalm 127:1,
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
So the Lord promises us His presence, He promises us His provision, and there is one more thing that He promises us… the Lord promises us His peace. After describing how He would provide for the people of Israel, the Lord concludes His encouragement by stating, “in this place I shall give peace” (v.9 NASB).
I’d like to encourage you by reminding you that while we carry on out of obedience we can count on God’s presence, God’s provision, and God’s peace. Let that motivate you to serve Him more faithfully.
WE MUST HEAD IN GOD’S DIRECTION
I deal with a lot of young adults on a weekly basis. People going to college, people that have recently graduated high school or are preparing to, people heading into the work force for the first time, and people who are making the transition into adulthood.
Often times their main question is, “What is God’s will for my life?”
We all want direction regardless of age. But… some time ago I was told something that revolutionized the way I followed the will of the Lord. Several years ago when I was transitioning between churches I was seeking the will of God and felt like I was coming up dry. Has anyone been there? Anyone there right now? It’s frustrating! During that time a mentor of mine told me that “the will of God for your life isn’t like a tightrope that you have to tiptoe across fearing every step could be the one that throws you off balance and sends you tumbling off the rope. Instead, the will of God for your life more resembles a highway in the direction in which He wants us to go.” Doing the will of the Lord is as simple as this… being submissive to His will each and every day. If you do that He will steer you in the right direction.
Yes the pathway to Jesus is narrow compared to the ways of the world!
Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV) tells us that. It says,
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
In that passage Jesus compares the narrow gate to the “wide gate.” Those pictures stand in contrast to each other! The wide gate, the easy path, leads to destruction and hell, and Jesus says that “many” will be on that path. And by contrast, Jesus says that “small is the gate that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
For a long time I misinterpreted that passage to mean that the will of God for my life was so narrow that it was going to be easy to miss! But what we need to understand is that this passage isn’t about the specific will of God for our lives… it is about His will for your eternity, our salvation! Understand this… Jesus is the Gate! Jesus is the gate through which all must enter eternal life. There is no other way because He alone is “the way, the truth and the life” like we see in John 14:6.
The gate to eternal life is small because it is restricted to just one avenue… Jesus!
Many will attempt to find an alternative route to God. We see it in our culture. They will try to get there through manmade rules and regulations, through false religion, or through self-effort… by being “good” enough. Those who are “many” in this passage will follow the broad road that leads to eternal destruction, while the sheep hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him along the narrow way to eternal life
John 10:7-11 (ESV) says,
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Entering the narrow gate is not easy. Jesus made this clear. The instruction for us to enter is a command to repent and go through the gate and not to just stand and look at it, think about it, complain that it’s too small or too difficult or unjustly narrow. We are not to ask why others are not entering; we are not to make excuses or delay. We are not to be concerned with the number who will or will not enter. We are to enter! Then we are to submit to God each and every day.
We are to hear his voice, obey His voice, and head in His direction which is to put His commands into action in our lives.