No Satisfactionby Ed de la Cour on August 11, 2014
Haggai 1: 1 - 11 "No Satisfaction" 08/10/14
If you were to construct a bookcase, if you were to build a house, or complete a painting or a sculpture, you might look upon your finished work and feel a justifiable sense of pride and satisfaction in a job well done. Satisfaction is an inner reward that wells up within us, that congratulates the industriousness of our efforts. It comes as a result of hard work and of taking great pains to get something of value accomplished. I believe that kind of satisfaction is a gift from God.
There is another kind of satisfaction, one that is perhaps the exact opposite, found in complacency. The person possessed of complacent satisfaction thinks whatever has been done is good enough. There’s no need to do a job well, but just enough to get by, to squeak across the finish line. That’s slacker satisfaction, the contentment found in a person who simply doesn’t care.
If you are proud of your home, the house is clean and the yard will not be littered with debris. It’s not a matter of having money, but of personal responsibility. If you don’t care, of you are satisfied with good enough, if mediocre is fine with you, then you are satisfied with being a spiritual slacker and that false contentment is your number one spiritual enemy. You think you are happy and at peace, but you have settled for much less than God’s best.
God is always seeking to bring us up to the next level in our relationship with Him. God is never satisfied with good enough, or with our just getting by, or with complacency. God certainly is not happy with slacker satisfaction. Instead, He seeks to create in us a hunger and a thirst for more of His presence. He wants us to know more of His righteousness in our lives, and to desire something considerably more than we are currently experiencing in our walk with God. That is the reason Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1: 6, and encourages us “to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.” Paul knew how easy it is for us to see our enthusiasm for the things of God wane, how easy it is for us to fall behind and allow our relationship with God to rest on the back burner of our lives. Without moving to a next level, we become easily satisfied and content with the prospect of getting to heaven “some day.” We find ourselves enjoying an easy faith and a cheap Gospel. We forget eternal life does not begin when we die. Right now, we are living eternally. Right now, we are in God’s presence. Right now, we are enjoying God’s forgiveness. Our eternal life is the fruit of the hard work of the cross of Jesus and the power of His resurrection.
Haggai came upon the scene in Jerusalem at a moment of just that kind of slacker satisfaction. Some of the Jews had returned from exile to live once again in Jerusalem. Some of the reconstructive work on the city had been done, but only some. Homes were built, workplaces had been constructed, but the temple of God lay in ruin. The people of God were satisfied with life as it was. They were content with the low level of spiritual maturity in which they were living, but God was calling them to rise up to the next level in their relationship with God.
The word of God came to Haggai on the first day of the sixth month in the second year of the reign of Darius the king. Throughout this brief, two-chapter book, careful note is made of the dates when God spoke and when the people obeyed. Notice is taken because when God speaks, we need to pay attention.
Haggai pointed to the poor and broken down condition of the temple and then described the “paneled houses” of the people. God was calling the people to account for their spiritual laziness. The fact their homes were paneled shows they had plenty of time and plenty of energy to build their own lives. They had plenty of money and were willing to spend serious money to make their own homes beautiful. They were happy and self-satisfied and content, but they did not care if God was pleased. This speaks to the strong component of selfishness in the human heart: I want to take care of me and mine. And it speaks to our own worldliness. When we go to church and carry on our Christian lives publically but we are unwilling to undertake the serious nature of a life that is committed to God, what does that say about us? It says we are not the followers of Jesus we claim ourselves to be.
The people of Jerusalem were apparently willing to live like this indefinitely. The house of God may be in ruins, but I have my life to live. I can see the problem. I can sympathize that the problem is real, but it doesn’t bother me enough to cause me to act to make any necessary changes. Haggai 1: 2 contains a very convicting confession in which the people reply to Haggai’s demand they pay attention to God. They said, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” They are saying what I say too often in my own life: I’m too busy right now. I’m pre-occupied with me and my needs and wants. Let’s put it off for now and maybe we’ll do this later.
They were willing to live like this for the rest of their lives so, in order to gain their attention, the Lord provided an attention-getting remedy. He began to disturb their sense of slacker satisfaction. He began by withdrawing the blessing of God upon their agricultural efforts. The things they loved and sought after in life lost their ability to please and satisfy. They had found pride in working hard and making money for themselves, but now their money disappeared almost as soon as it was earned. They had lost satisfaction. Their contentment with life dwindled away. You may have never considered that loss of satisfaction you feel might be a remedial judgment of God on your life.
This passage can certainly be used to speak to the need of taking care of the house of worship, but this isn’t a pitch to get our church building whipped into shape. From a godly point of view, it is possible that a beautiful and well-kept church campus is fruit that speaks to a growing walk with God. It can be one of the results of people finding satisfaction and joy in God. They will take care of the place of worship because they find their joy, their peace, and their satisfaction in God. But it can also be a well-kept church is only a desire to have an expensive and beautiful building, an edifice that’s devoid of God’s Spirit and full of the worship of man.
The call to rebuild the temple is not just a summons to attend to brick and mortar. The feeling of joy and spiritual satisfaction has to be rooted in a strong relationship with God. From there those feelings easily translate into a church campus that physically and spiritually radiates the presence and power of God.
While we can see there can be a correlation between a well cared for church and a lively and vibrant walk with God, I would like for us to consider more than the physical condition of the local church building as symptomatic of the spiritual condition of the house of God. As we look at the local church situation here on Cape Cod, we see people and pastors working hard, laboring in the vineyard, sweating and straining in order to bring a precious few to faith. For all that work and expended energy, what does the church have to show? Do we see the whole region awash with the blessing of God? Do we hear regular accounts of the mighty works of God? Are there stories of spiritual victory that don’t require embellishment and exaggeration to make them compelling? God says, “You have sown much, and harvested little.”
God went on to say, “God’s house lies in ruins.” That’s a clear and convicting description of the spiritual state of health of the church we see today. Yes, Haggai was speaking to a physical condition, but that was only the visible symptom of the true spiritual condition of the house of God in Jerusalem.
The fact is this passage is true of us. It’s not about whether our building is beautiful. There is a slacker satisfaction abroad in the church today. While a lot of people are working themselves into an early grave, many others are sitting back to watch the show. If you are at all like me, you also possess a strong and complacent contentment with things as they are. It’s just human nature. We work hard and we have little to show for all our labor. How are we to interpret this, except that God is withholding His blessing? And why would God withhold His blessing? Haggai said it was because, for all their hard work, the people of God were self-focused. They were self-satisfied and they ignored the things of God. Life lived as usual simply does not include seeking after the presence of God.
“Consider your ways.” What are the reasons for why there is so much work for so little harvest? Why are we so hard to motivate? For that matter, why is there so little joy in the body of Christ? And why does the joy we do see so often seem to be manufactured rather than God-birthed?
When Jesus is not at the center, real peace is lacking. Joy is far away. Real satisfaction is not to be found. Even the contentment we purport to have is unsatisfying. We have been distracted by how the world defines success: big, expensive, brash, and bold. Because we are looking through this glass darkly, we took the wrong meaning from what’s happening. God said in verse 9, “I blew it away.” What seemed fulfilling, what seemed successful in our eyes became just a wisp of smoke. We have seen a lot of remedial judgment in our lives. God is seeking to gain our attention in order to encourage a change in our hearts.
God blew it all away. The flow of events of the agricultural year usually moves seamlessly from planting to rain, to sunshine, and then on to harvest. Where we want to blame climate change for the lack of harvest, God says, it’s not the climate changing. God is the author of this lack of blessing. He withholds the rain. He calls for a drought. He withholds the harvest. He even arranges our lives so the money we earn falls to the ground. If we won’t be holy unto God, then we will have holey pockets. God says it is done so we might consider our ways. Nothing causes a desire for growth more than a drought. Nothing makes you want to eat more than hunger. Nothing makes you want water more than thirst. You can just sense the plants straining through the weak soil, the vines pushing against the trellis. But there’s no energy for it and there’s no power behind the desire. I don’t want my life to be characterized as a bag with holes through which all my efforts fall to the ground! Through Haggai, God was saying, everything suffers when God withholds His blessing. Being self-satisfied is a precursor to the loss of blessing.
Why did God withhold? The people were relatively happy. Their homes were relatively comfortable. The house of God may even have been relatively functional. It’s a hard concept for us to grasp, but God’s primary interest is not our happiness. God is seeking our wholehearted allegiance.
I am finding that I have my own sense of slacker satisfaction. I am far too easily satisfied with good enough. It’s not wise to be content or to be satisfied when the spiritual house of God lay in shambles. Haggai says the house of God, which is a picture of our own spiritual health, is a wreck. Of course, we disagree and raise our hands in protest. We don’t believe that. We Cape Cod Christians think we are doing pretty well. If we are doing so well, why is God withholding His blessing? It’s not just a few churches that are not growing. It’s not just a few churches that work hard but do not see the fruit of harvest. This is what God is saying to us: The house of God on Cape Cod lies in ruins. That’s why God says to you and me, “Consider your ways.”
We are living right now in a Haggai moment. Some churches are beautiful on the outside, but are in spiritual need of repair. I believe the people to whom Haggai ministered may not have been always aware that their lives lacked the blessing of God. They were unaware because they lacked the spiritual perspective necessary and because they had never experienced God’s blessing. They may well have thought that this is life; it is what it is. Haggai came on the scene to declare to them the counsel of God; to say what is happening is far from God’s will and far from God’s best for us. Consider your ways.
Think about what you would want God to do in your life. Think about what you’d be willing to change in order for that work of God to happen. Think about what you are powerless to do on you’re own and what you must have God’s help to do. If there’s no willingness for change in your heart, then you will continue to sow but not reap. You’ll be satisfied and content with being a spiritual slacker. You might work hard, but you’ll never have enough and you’ll never be warm enough. Your money will fall through your pockets to the ground and you won’t be able to stop it, because God is holding back blessing. Consider your ways, church. God is inviting us to find our satisfaction in Him and not in our own lives.
Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.
298 Barlows Landing Road
Post Office Box 1080
Pocasset, MA 02559