January is coming to a close, which typically means our big resolutions for change have sputtered to a stop, too. For most of us, New Year's resolve is too flimsy. What we need is a big view of a big God to continue pressing in for change and growth. So that's why I'm posting this week's sermon notes from Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. The sermon's title was "How to End Well: Prioritize." It was given by assistant pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, based on Haggai 1:5-6. "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."
I also want to highlight the soul-searching questions included at the end. If you decide to use them in your own devotions, I would highly recommend journaling your answers and prayers for change because I'm certain that within the year you will be surprised to see how the Lord has worked in some areas.
Finally, I want to gently spur on the woman reading this who is discouraged and feeling overwhelmed by apathy. It may be that there is a loving diagnosis in this sermon--the kind of hard truth that is truly releasing. As Thabiti Anyabwile says, "Emptiness and vanity do not happen by accident; they are byproducts of our deliberate choice to undermine God’s role in our lives. God cares more about the focus of our lives than the trappings of our lives. God instructs the Israelites to rebuild the temple so He will be glorified. The emptiness of our lives is not random chance. God will oppose our vain pursuits until we turn to Him. This is blessed evidence of His willingness to pursue us."
May God be our greatest treasure this year! Now for the sermon notes...
We’re now getting around the time of year when we get a glimpse of whether or not our New Year’s resolutions will be successful. Resolutions are sometimes funny, oftentimes serious, and they are almost always much easier to make than they are to actually follow through on. Such resolutions reveal our aspirations, our priorities, and our hope for what we want our lives to be. Resolutions often show that we are more preoccupied with ourselves than with God, other people, or eternal matters.
Haggai presents a good example of a people who start out with good intentions but drift. The account presented in this book leads us to three serious questions about our resolutions:
1. Where does God rank in our list of priorities and resolutions?
This passage is set in 520 BC, which was a momentous time for the Israelites. God was speaking to them through a prophet for the first time since they returned from the Babylonian exile. God had opened the ears of His people to hear His word and urged them to fulfill their promises to Him.
The exiles had returned for the express purpose of rebuilding the temple, and they had started out well on this path. They built an altar, observed the feasts, and seemed to seek the Lord. They even got so far as to lay the foundation of the temple. However, they were distracted. The people started focusing on their own creature comforts. Their leaders grew weary when opposition to rebuilding the temple arose, so they became complacent. So while the House of the Lord, which was to reflect His glory and be a venue used to display the atonement for sin, was in shambles, the Israelites pursued their own material gain.
The Israelites had come from exile with a purpose, but were diverted. In fact, it seems they had completely inverted their priorities. We learn several important lessons from this:
· Wrong priorities tend toward excess. The Israelites hadn’t just built houses for themselves, but they were fancy and excessive. Make it a regular habit to ask those close to you where you tend to be excessive, be it in a material or emotional sphere.
· Wrong priorities tend toward idolatry. We cannot put off or make excuses when God has commanded us to do something. Jesus said, "take up your cross and follow Me." We cannot replace God’s agenda with our own. We excuse our failure to obey God by saying "not yet." What pride to say that we know the correct timetable! Where have you said "no" to God? What has God told you to do that you have left undone?
· Wrong priorities lead to cowardice. The two leaders in this text (and the Israelites) caved into the pressures and difficulties they faced, placing the fear of man over the fear of God. Courage takes work, courage breeds change. Pray that you will have an "unavoidable impatience" for doing the work of the Lord.
· Wrong priorities affect how we relate to God. When is it ever justified to forsake worshiping God, to not honor Him by doing His will? Are we really interested in living in God’s presence and having His priorities?
2. Is there compelling evidence that God comes first in our lives?
Haggai charges the people to "give careful thought to your ways." He also observed that they have "planted much but harvested little" their lack of satisfaction is evidence against them! Their labor was empty and vain because their priorities were wrong. There are few greater pains than those of a life marked by missed opportunities. Israel’s pain is common to all those who do not have God as their highest priority.
Emptiness and vanity do not happen by accident; they are byproducts of our deliberate choice to undermine God’s role in our lives. God cares more about the focus of our lives than the trappings of our lives. God instructs the Israelites to rebuild the temple so He will be glorified. The emptiness of our lives is not random chance God will oppose our vain pursuits until we turn to Him. This is blessed evidence of His willingness to pursue us.
3. What do we need to do if we discover that God is not our priority?
God’s word to His people in Haggai is the same for us today: "I am with you." If we have wrongly ordered our priorities, repent. Turn to God in submission. Repentance is more than feeling sorry; it is a deep contrition, and attitudinal change of the heart and life, not only of the lips. Obey the will of the Lord.
Verses 8-15 present a path we can emulate whenever we find our priorities out of whack. Praise God for His willingness to oppose us when we are wrong! Jesus Himself is the One who finally and completely brings God the Father the honor and praise He deserves. "I am with you" is the essence of Biblical religion. What a gorgeous, complete, and irreplaceable truth! God desires a relationship with his people that is the point of redemption. When the Word became flesh, He promised all those who followed Him that He would be with them, even to the very end of the age.
What are some resolutions for making God first? These are some good questions to ask.
1. What command has God given me that I have left undone?
2. What single thing can I make plans for that will matter most in ten years and in eternity?
3. How can I do this year to increase my enjoyment of God?
4. What great risk will I take specifically and intentionally for God's honor and praise?
5. What is the most helpful new way I can strengthen my church?
6. For whose salvation will I pray most fervently?
7. What can I do to enrich my prayer life?
8. How can I use my finances to please and honor God?
9. What must I do to leave an enriched spiritual legacy to the next generation?
10. To what ministry will I devote an unprecedented amount of time?
11. What one doctrine do I want to better understand in order to know God better?
To finish well we must start with the right priorities and it’s never too late to make God your priority.