The higher way is the way that leads to heaven. For some of us, the walk of faith is a formality that does not affect anything that we do in our daily lives; we have become casual with God. Yet those that have encountered Christ have a deep longing to walk with Him; they desire to experience, to encounter, to love and serve only Him. Such people have seen and recognized their sinfulness and unworthiness in the eyes of the master and this realization draws them to God. One cannot be near the holy one and not see his or her own unworthiness. When the prophet met with the Lord in Isaiah 6, he drew back aghast and declared, 'Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty'. The Lord recognized Isaiah's humility and drew him to Himself.
New believers tend to have lot if energy and passion to serve the Lord, yet, this excitement can be short term if not nurtured and therefore shatter the dream of getting to the higher way.
The book of Haggai was set at a time when the children of Israel had been in captivity for a long time. During the reign of King Darius, a decree was issued that allowed them to go back and build the temple of the Lord. Excited, they set out to do the same in the shortest time possible. They settled in the towns and got ready to build the Lord's altar. No sooner had they started doing so, however, than trouble arose and work ground to a halt.
In the Old Testament, the manifestation of God was physically seen in the temple. However in the New Testament we now learn that God dwells inside us and that we are now His temple. This is why we are cautioned against defiling our own bodies- for this is the dwelling place of the Lord. The obstacles that the Israelites encountered are the very same that we too encounter when we try to build the house of the Lord (ourselves) these are public pressure, prolonged procrastination and poor priorities.
From the book of Ezra 3, we see how the children of God arrived in Jerusalem with a hope of rebuilding the temple. Their work attracted great attention. In Ezra 4:1 we see this, 'When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building the temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the head of the families and said, "Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to Him since the time of Esarhaddon, King of Assyria, who brought us here".
In our world, people will want to be associated with Christianity when it is thriving. Politicians and leaders will move closer to be associated with the good they see emanating from within the church. In our own lives will be relatives who will want to associate with us in certain times of our glory but when things go bad, they will be the first to cast stones at us. In Ezra 3:4 however, the Israelites refused to have anything to do with the 'helpers'. They knew that these people would only be obstacles to what they had purposed to do. Like the Egyptians who had accompanied the Israelites into the wilderness, they would soon start complaining. This irked the purported helpers who now set out to discourage them.
Nehemiah had the same challenge when he set out to build the walls of Jerusalem. But he remained focused and instead carried a sword in one hand and a spade in the other. We too as Christians should arm ourselves against detractors; our weapon is the Bible-the living Word of God. Not all who praise us are for us. Paul and Silas were followed a round by a spirit possessed girl who kept on shouting that they were men of God. Disturbed, and discerning that they were dealing with evil spirits, Paul commanded them to leave her.
The people in Ezra 3-4 did not stop their discouragement, when denied the opportunity to be a part of the activities, they worked against the Israelites. In Ezra 4:5 we see that they 'hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus King of Persia and down to the reign of Darius King of Persia'. They kept at it through King Xerxes until the King Artaxerxes who wrote a letter that finally brought the work to a standstill. In our own lives may be people who will stop at nothing to stop the good work we are doing for the Lord. The enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy and he will stop at nothing to accomplish his purposes. But we must have a discerning spirit and be vigilant enough to see when he is coming up against us through the people around us. We should always remember that He who is in us is far much greater than the enemy is. Christ came that we may live our lives in abundance and not in slavery.
Like the children of Israel we are all faced with public pressure; the young to conform, the younger adult to compete, the older generation to conform to tradition, cultures and rituals which make it hard for them to embrace new ways of doing things. The older people will be heard rigidly declaring that 'It was never done that way'. They remain averse to new ideas and put God in a box yet our Lord is God of surprises, never doing the same thing in the expected ways. The older generation is also under pressure to compare themselves with others; 'Where is your grandchild these days' they will ask, knowing well that yours is a rebel; not because they really want to know but because they want to boast about their own. If we are not careful, public pressure can suck at our joy and leave us dry and dissatisfied. These are pressures that can derail us from our journey to the higher way. Nehemiah was a man who refused to be distracted and it took him 52 days to do what had been lying in ruins for 16 years.
In the book of Haggai 1 we see how the discouragement of the spoilers got to the children of Israel that they settled to doing other things. They procrastinated in rebuilding the temple firstly due to loss of urgency. They lost the zeal with which they had come from Persia; their time was filled with other things that, according to them, needed to be done first. We too have lost the sense of urgency with which we received Christ. We no longer passionately seek Him but instead drag our feet in as far as His work is concerned.
Secondly, the children of Israel found that they no longer had resources for their project; their passion had died down. In Haggai 1:3, the Lord asked, 'Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses while this house remains in ruins?' As a result of what they had failed to do, the Lord withheld His blessing from them and they found that they were always in lack; planting much but harvesting little, eating but never having enough, drinking yet always thirsty, dressing but never quite warm, earning wages but putting it in a purse with holes in it. We may have seen a similar pattern in our lives and it is also because we have failed to give the house of the Lord attention; we have failed to give ourselves the spiritual nourishment that our bodies require. We may even have been prayed for but we continue languishing in lack, indebt ness and poverty-it is time to first put the house of the Lord in order. It is time to stop our prolonged procrastination on matters to do with living right and according to God's will.
The last obstacle that the children of Israel had to face was that of poor prioritization. The Israelites had prioritized their own lives over God's will. And God told them that He would blow away even the little they had. When the Lord zeroes in on you, He will deal with you. He will show His displeasure with you by blowing away whatever little you may have because you have left His house in ruins. In Haggai 1:11 He confirms, 'I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle and on the labor of your hands'. If your own business is more important than God's, then He will call a drought on that which you put before Him. Proverbs 11:28 says 'Whoever trust in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf'.
Most of us work hard but have nothing much to show for it. Our resources come in but are soon eaten away by medical bills, errant children whom we have to take to rehabilitation centres and pay dearly for; the funds come in but are soon eaten away. We do not thrive, we work harder, get second and third jobs to fill the gap but we remain constantly broke. Why? We have neglected the most important person: God.
The church is generally silent. Few of us readily testify that we are Christians. We compete with the world for riches yet we have been asked to first seek the Kingdom of God and all else shall be added unto us. We live among the unsaved, yet no one can tell the difference because we are as mean, as competitive and as hard as they are; maybe more! We are not the light nor the salt of the world anymore. We have lost our zeal for our first love- Jesus. Unless we rise up like Nehemiah and build God's internal dwelling place (ourselves), we will continue living in the avenue of lack. Unless we arise and build the body of Christ (church) to be strong and Christ-like, our pockets will continue having holes in them. We must arise from our complacency and lethargy. We must stop being familiar with our God and revere Him in worship and in the way that we live for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We must be seen to be different; we must live like Christ, we must be seen to be Christ-like. It is the only way that we will be transformed into His image.
In Haggai 1:7, the Lord Almighty cautions, 'Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored'.
Arise, for the house of the Lord is in ruins and needs to be rebuilt. Remove the obstacles that are making it difficult for you to get to the higher way-! The time is NOW! Who else do you think will do the work He created you for?
May these words (sermons), from various men and women of God be a blessing to all.
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