September 22, 2015

A bag with holes

Haggai 1:1–2:23, Acts 20:1–38, Job 28:1–11

Those of us who are easily distracted find this quality is a big hindrance to spiritual growth. I’ve gone through testing periods, tough events, failures, and a few successes. In all of that, keeping my eyes on Jesus and my heart tuned into His voice is a huge challenge. Walking in His will should be a straight line, but I often feel like an inebriated sot that cannot walk, never mind walk straight.

Distraction was a problem for the Jews too. God brought them back from exile in Babylon. They were to rebuild the temple, and they started well. But they were side-tracked. Haggai the prophet told 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 . . . .  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 1:1–6)

They were distracted by rebuilding their material, physical lives. God said, “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?  . . . . Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.” (Haggai 1:9–11)

I can relate to this. Whenever I’ve felt knocked down and disciplined by God, it seems much easier to do my own thing than try to bring my spiritual life back into order. I know that the discipline is designed to teach me to NOT attempt this on my own, but even relying on God seems too difficult. I wonder if the Jews felt this way too. Rebuilding their temple (mine is my body where He dwells) seemed too much of a challenge even though the prophet told them, “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.” (Haggai 2:9)

But God also said, “I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me.” (Haggai 2:17) This is an explanation for my struggles. When I rebuild, it cannot be without total dependence on God. Yet I have learned that when I am totally relying on Him, I feel weak and helpless. I don’t like that feeling. Doing something that I CAN do is tempting — but sadly, my efforts are fruitless without His blessing.

Job seems to speak in a riddle when he said, “Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold that they refine. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from the ore. Man puts an end to darkness and searches out to the farthest limit the ore in gloom and deep darkness.” (Job 28:1–3)

However, it seems to me he is referring to the tendency of humanity to try and find the most precious things by ourselves. I want the good, will dig deep for it, but unless God is given lordship of my life, all of that is a waste of time, a bag with holes.
This does not mean that relying on God will make success come easy. Paul did not experience a care-free life as he served God in submissive obedience. He describes some of it:

“I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me . . . . I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again . . . . I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:22–32)

Other passages tell of beatings, imprisonments, and a host of other trials that Paul experienced, but he refused to be distracted. He knew what God wanted.

How did he avoid the distractions? In the above passage he also said: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God . . . I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God . . . . And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

Paul set his goal, stuck to it, and relied on God for the results. This is what God wants for me too. My problem is throwing away that bag with all those holes.

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