Each morning we wake up and a thousand and one thoughts come rushing through our minds. You maybe one of the lucky ones that actually made it through the night without being awakened by a few of those thoughts. These thoughts are like wild animals. C.S. Lewis says, “The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life coming flowing in” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 168). Designing Purpose is not automatic. If we want to pursue our biggest dream, no matter what they are, we are going to have to get in front of the busyness beast and slow it down or feed it less.
Many of us in the modern world are doing more than we should and are leading busy, hectic lives. This kind of pace is the kind of pace where men and women survive by living off of adrenaline and stress. Our companies and our churches are just fine with us producing. However, the first thing to be left by the wayside is soul work. What many call time to sharpen the saw. We live with a preoccupation with what is seen and give little thought to what is unseen. Lewis encourages us to push all that back and listen to the “other voice” and allow God’s quiet strength to come flowing in.
Lewis’s insight points the way for us to break out of this cycle and begin to grow in our lives. If we want to Design Purpose, then we must start with the foundation; our understanding of satisfaction. The reason most people live at such break neck speed is because they want to be satisfied. This process takes time to produce change in us, but over time it has a profound effect. As Lewis goes on to say, “We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments a new sort of life will be spreading through our system because we are now letting him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface and a dye or stain which soaks right through” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 169).
The Secret of Satisfaction and the Message from Haggai 1
The Book of Haggai, second shortest in the Old Testament, has a powerful message. It tells us to put first things first in our lives. It was written to people who would have told you that God must be first. They may have forgotten that message being held captive for 70 years in a foreign land and needed a reminder. But they believed that and we believe that. This is the foundation for which Lewis says takes time to soak into our lives. They had drifted into a way of life where their intellectual belief in the supremacy of God was not reflected in the way they were living. We drift when we do nothing with the LORD. They gave lip service to the priority of God, but in fact they lived with other priorities. God sent Haggai to help His people get their priorities in line with what they knew they should be.
The historical setting is the early chapters of Ezra (see Ezra 5:1). In 536 B.C., a remnant of about 50,000 Jews had returned from Babylon to Judah under the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia. They quickly rebuilt the altar and began offering sacrifices. Two years after returning, they had laid the foundation to rebuild the temple. Their Samaritan neighbors had offered to join in the work, but the Jews refused their offer. The Samaritans, in turn, threatened the workers and sent men to Persia to lobby against the Jews, bringing the work to a halt.
At least 14 years had passed. The people got caught up in the routine of life—farming, building houses, raising families, and that sort of thing. They got used to life without a temple. Even their leaders, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, had gotten used to things as they were. Into that scene, God raised up Haggai and (two months later) Zechariah to proclaim His message to this returned remnant.
We pick up the story in Haggai 1:1:
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: 2 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” 3 Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 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.
7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. 9 You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 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.”
This message is simple. The people said, “We can’t afford to rebuild the temple.” God said, “You can’t afford not to!” What was the issue? They had plenty of excuses but out of sync priorities. Excuses have been around since Adam and Eve. Adam said, “It was the woman’s fault.” Eve said, “It was the serpent’s fault.” We say, “I know I am a little overweight but I worked hard and deserved those donuts on the smorgasbord line, it isn’t my fault I am heavy.”
It is always easy to make an excuse when we don’t want to obey God.
- God wants us to take care of our families, doesn’t he?
- The job is way to big, we will never finish it.
- Someone else will do it if we don’t.
- We need to spend more time praying about doing the work before we start.
- What do we need a temple for anyway?
- The time just isn’t right.
Today this is the same as someone saying, “I will get to work on my marriage soon but first I need to make sure we make ends meet at work.” Or another who says, “I will figure out how to get back in shape once we get past the holidays.” Another says, “I know I lack depth with God, I’ll get to that once I figure out things with my girlfriend.”
This was the Lord’s house. To leave the Lord’s house in disrepair was the same as showing disrespect for the occupant of the dwelling. Consider this: They were saying, “We don’t have the time.” But this is false, remember, we all have the same amount of time. We all have 168 hours/work. The issue is not time, the issue is priority. They were pursuing their comforts and God says, “Is it a time for you to live in luxury while my house remains in ruins?” Please don’t answer that. That may be the biggest rhetorical question ever.
Paul reminds us in Phil 2:21, “That everyone seeks their own interests rather than the interests of Jesus.” This is foundational stuff in the making. If Lewis is right and wild animals come at us in the morning, then we will need a plan to keep them back. I want you to consider what that might look like each day. Every morning when you awake there is a figurative committee meeting. You are not even dressed to impressed. You are still in bed and are starting the process of distributing your time for the day. What do we give our time to?
The problem we face is simply one of priority and satisfaction. We tend to divvy out time to what we think is most satisfying. Then God comes on the scene. His love is everlasting and full.
He reasons with the people of God two times in this passage, “Consider your ways.” Take careful thought to your ways. Literally set your heart upon your ways. How is your life going? How is it working out for you? This reads more like an imperative, consider your ways. Is it possible to be oblivious to the source of satisfaction in our lives?
- They planted much…but not much harvesting.
- They ate much…but are still hungry.
- They drank much…but are still thirsty.
- They wear clothing that doesn’t keep them warm.
- They make money for it only to burn a hole in their wallet.
Here we come to the sobering reminder that what happens in our hearts effects every other part of our life as well. Because the people had pushed God out of the center of their lives, they are now suffering in every other area. They had fields but no produce, action without satisfaction, labor without profit, fruitless toil, fleeting riches, unsatisfied hunger and futile defenses.
This the law of the unproductive harvest. It happens to us over and over until we learn that God will not be mocked. Why would God do this? He allows us to suffer the results of our wrong choices and wrong priorities in order to get our attention, to convict of sin, and to lead us to repentance. God knows how to ring your phone. He knows where you live and knows how to reach the private line of your heart. Here is an awesome thought:
God could have his hand on the valve of satisfaction in your life. We could work our fingers to the bone and be working against God. He has his hand on the spigot of satisfaction.
Consider your life currently. Are you satisfied? Are you frustrated? Do you have peace? Do you want the things that God gives, peace, joy, power, without investing in the things of God?
What is the Solution?
We often define our lives around what we want our future to be like. We want a car so we go get a job. We want to get into a good college, so we work hard to get good grades. This is great but don’t forget God’s business and your investments into His work. God gives us the solution. God says, “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified” (1:8). This is not a suggestion. This is a command.
In all of life there is a time to talk and a time to act. There is a time to consider and a time to stop talking and start doing. This was the time to act. Today is the day to do the right thing in life. Because they had not honored God, every area of their life was suffering. The only remedy was to stop making excuses and start doing what God had told them to do 16 years earlier.
All great actions start with beginnings not excuses. Designing Purpose must have a beginning. Become the leader of your life. You may need to step up and lead your family or relationship. Zerubbabel and Joshua committed themselves to stepping up and honoring God and everyone else followed. Everything in Designing Purpose rises and falls on leading oneself or leading others. God will honor those who do His work. Check out the stories ending:
12 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. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord‘s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” 14 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, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
Do everything you can to make God look good. Put first things first. You and I can always get started again. These Israelites needed a second chance and God gave it. Don’t every line yourself up with small things.
Robert Jaffray was an intelligent and well educated in Toronto at the turn of the 20th Century. He was heir to the Globe and Mail, a successful Toronto newspaper and was fleuent in Chinese as well as English. Despite having family fortune and ample political connections he knew a worthy task when he saw one. He was offered a huge salary by the Standard Oil Company of New York and was asked if he would help them set up an office in Hong Kong. He said, “No thank-you.” They later returned and doubled the salary offer. “No thank-you” Finally they sent him a telegram with one sentence: “Jaffray, at any cost.” He replied with one line, “Your salary is big. Your job is too small.” Robert A. Jaffray was instead a missionary in China for more than 35 years. He worked in translating the New Testament into Cantonese and He wrote for and edited Bible Messenger, published by South China Alliance Press He used this publication to send training materials to Cantonese Missionaries and then later to others, reprinted in their “colloquial language versions.” He was arrested in 1942 by the Japanese, he was kept in internment camps, until he died in 1945 from illness and malnutrition. Jaffray said, “The supreme and crying need of this lost world is the gospel. Shall we not rise at Christ’s command to carry the blessed saving news to every perishing one?” Don’t ever let yourself get distracted into doing a job that is too small.