Friday, January 20, 2012

Fruitless Prosperity

"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."

Sometimes it seems as though my life is a bag with holes.  I keep stuffing it with all the things that I deem worthy and interesting, but somehow they disappear on me.  I work hard to attain things, whether for pleasure or status, but they fail to satisfy.  And in my cheap American prosperity, there's very little solid fruit.

I'm reading Haggai today (I've become very interested in the minor prophets recently), which is a short two chapters--six messages delivered by Haggai to the Judeans.  God's temple lies in ruins while the people bustle about their personal business, trying to increase their prosperity.  But they find that they seem to be running in circles--working so hard and actually achieving and producing so little.  God calls them to put the same effort they give to creating their comfortable world toward creating a place for God to be glorified.

"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.  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."

The last sentence of that paragraph smacked me in the face today.  If I could calculate all the time I've spent on Pinterest or, or even just being busy around my house looking for ways to make it more stylish, I'm sure it would add up to more time than I spend on most any other single activity.  And I know it would add up to more time than I spend building my relationship with God.  I give such a piddly effort to learning about Him, meditating on His Word, and spending time in His presence in worship; but I spend a massive amount of time busying myself with things to do around my house that I can't afford and that I probably will dislike and change in a year anyway.  And then I wonder why my life feels like a bag with holes.

The thing is, relationships take work--building anything of serious significance takes time, talent, and treasure. And real fruit is only produced through the hard work of sowing seed and patient, persistent cultivation.  My energy level is much better-suited to a materialistic splurge on the internet and a quick DIY craft that makes something pretty to look at.  The whole digging, contemplating, confessing, focusing on God requires a deeper spiritual energy that I just can't seem  to muster on a daily basis.  That's why I reserve it for spiritual weekend retreats or those "God moments" where I have some sort of epiphany that "changes my worldview" but never my behaviors.  I can imagine the Judeans hearing Haggai say these words, feeling convicted, and desiring change, but then feeling terribly discouraged when a week later they realize that if they already felt tired from their own "busyness" of life, adding on the work of building a temple would exhaust them.  Oh, and by the way, if they already were working so hard and producing so little, how would they have enough resources to complete the task?

"Yet now be strong all you people of the land, declares the Lord.  Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of 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...and in this place I will give peace."

This amazing promise gives me hope!  The promise is based on an understanding of Israel's history, though: the former house (temple) was exquisite--highly decorated with gems and gold and silver and innumerable valuables.  People would come from all over the world and travel hundreds of miles by foot just to look at it.  Now, we spend hours upon hours looking at (and coveting) people's houses through pictures online.  But can you imagine spending six months of your life traveling by foot across a desert just to look at the outside of one of these houses, maybe to be allowed to sit on the three-season porch?  That was the glory of the former, and God promises that the glory of the new house will be even better than that!  And the new house/temple is Jesus and our new covenant with Him (which is another amazing Bible and theology lesson in itself).

As we work (hard) at building a relationship with God, He promises that (#1) He will be with us, and His Spirit will give us the courage and strength we need; and (#2) the result of our hard work will be so much more precious and glorious than anything we could imagine.  That gives me hope.  I can trade my endless Pinterest-ing and web surfing for the lasting glory of intimacy with God.  I can stop running in circles, working at things that really don't satisfy, and find fulfillment in Christ.  I will find peace in the hard work rather than frustration.  Now to figure out what that work looks like on a daily basis...

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