“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. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” ~ Psalm 127:1-2
I will never be able to hide the innerworkings of my heart from the LORD. No matter how hard my weak heart and soul tries to. I acknowledge the vanity of my flesh that drives my desires. This very pining is the foundation below the misplaced affections of my heart that continue to foster out of control. I recently have been sitting under the teaching on the book of Haggai. Honestly, it has wrecked me, leading me to identify with the people of this book more than I ever want to admit. My complacency in pining has been unveiled when met with the truth of my sowing for self-gratification. A sowing that will never satisfy.
The book of Haggai takes place in 520 B.C. To set the context, the Jews returned to Judea after decades of being in exile in Babylon. The Persian ruler, Cyrus, captured Babylon and then permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Upon their return from exile, they were instructed to rebuild the temple. However, they stalled their rebuilding due to their own misplaced affections. Instead the people focused on building their own homes, seeking all that they could see. Therefore, they remain restless as they sought what is below.
“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 1:5-6
Just like the people in this time, our focus is on our comfort and our achievement. Our human minds and hearts long to build a life of comfort and then allow our relationship with Christ to fit in where it may. For me, I desire to believe that Christ is at the center of all that I do. However, I must face the gut-wrenching truth that my striving would cease if this was so. My pining is a depiction of my yearning affections for man, for acceptance and for achieving my own personal standards. We must recognize that his thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. Our thoughts cannot take over what is true. If we do, it is utter rebellion against God when we are ensnared by the cares of this world and distracted by secular interests.
A vice is defined as immoral and wicked behavior. Amidst our depravity, we are utilizing vices. Vices are directly in opposition to the word and the truth to our calling in Christ. Therefore, it is so important that we are ourselves these questions: What vice am I utilizing? What is holding me? What is distracting me? This self-evaluation of considering our ways must always be present. When laying my vices down in light of the eternal and abiding word of God, I am confronted with my preoccupation with dust. I am dust, I will return to dust and I live to cling to dust that will blow away into eternity. I have been chasing the dust of acceptance, affirmation, academic success and achievement to increase my name. I challenge you to ask yourself, what will you have left on that final day before Christ? Dust? We must heed the words in Haggai, that we are laboring to add to a bag with holes unless we are working for the Kingdom.
“What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also, that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil- this is God’s gift to man.
I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:9-14
I continue to meditate on the question: what gain has the worker from his toil? I continue to think on what it truly means to have God at the center of my pursuits. For him to be the center of all our life, we are pursuing his word and the manner worthy he calls us to in all circumstances. His will for us is ultimately our sanctification above all else. If we place our allegiance more in the ideal of certain opportunities and a path to pave, we take away from God’s pursuit of our sanctification. We place an emphasis too heavily on vain toil as our affections take over, instead of daily focuses on growing in our conformity to Christ. For God’s work and timing is always sufficient. As his children we must discover the natural tension of being 100% responsible for our stewardship yet must learn to be content in all circumstances.
Looking at verse 12, we are commanded to be joyful and to do good as long as we live. The entire written word is divinely inspired, for they are the words of God. Therefore, the same authority that God spoke the earth into existence with, he commands us as his children. Our fear of this authority must be a healthy one to read his word in light of the commands we are given. We are commanded to be joyful, not the fleeting feeling, but the strong eternal hope of the promises we have received. To do good is not to act that we may receive the favor of God, but to respond in obedience to the great salvation we have received.
The purpose of every second of our time is to be conformed to the image of his son. I pray for my own pursuit of conformity that would rejoice in affliction, with confidence and assurance that all things are for an eternal weight of glory. But we are preoccupied with what does not satisfy, therefore, we reap little. All things are under his control, so as my distractions are first, discipline is necessary. For our human nature is infatuated way to simply. Therefore, our desire and pursuit of Christ is weak. I loved the analogy given in one of the sermons that we pursue Christ as if we are walking around holding a broken cistern that can never hold water. Our hearts are “idol factories,” according to Calvin. What do we want with all our hearts? Self-examine all areas in which Christ is not the center. Pray and meditate on:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” ~ Psalm 139:23-24
Our relationship status with him will always be revealed, we cannot run from a casual relationship. He reveals our lack of fear and our complacency. We often value the created over the Creator, but he will strike against what we have put before him.
Our lack of fear in our life places us in direct personal opposition from him. We must consider our ways because all his flock we are accountable for how we follow. Our fear is to be healthy, one of concern with my preoccupation and fear of man. There can be no such thing as spiritual neutrality for he has promised that he is with us in all circumstances. In spiritual maturation we must elicit a response. Therefore, our direct pining for what is of this world and not of him must be brought low in submission.
I am deeply comforted by the truth that my defining moment was when I was bought with a price. As I daily, in all my finite nature, work to build my own kingdom and my own name, I will never be able to reach the defining moment we are all searching for. I will never reach an ultimate point of arrival. For I have arrived, I have been defined and I have been foreknown. The only proper response to such a gift of piece is obedience.
We are to have only one motive and that is action in loving response to the grace and mercy poured out on us. A zeal sufficient, a heart sincere and healthy fear that cultivates true conformity in our pursuit of holiness instead of clinging to the restless hopes on this side of eternity. These areas of my heart have been laid bare, completely exposed and I am incredibly grateful for how our God reveals our sin to us. I long to rest fully in that no work of my hands will ever satisfy, no house I build will ever withstand a storm and no name I create will ever stand. My defining moment was when I was bought on the cross and I never have to rely on the work of my hands for satisfaction, rest or my identity. I pray that I would no longer work in vain and learn the balance between my responsibility and contentment in all things. I will not eat the bread of anxious toil, for he gives his beloved sleep.
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore, my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.