2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’” 3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” 5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” 7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD. 9 “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 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.” 12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD. 13 Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: “I am with you,” declares the LORD. 14 So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “He who is good at making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” Someone else said, “Excuses are the enemy of progress.” Excuses allow us to negate accepting responsibility for our actions and inactions. Excuses provide us with a window to escape the hard cold reality that we are the cause, the reason, or have played a role in why things are the way they are.
One of the problems with excuses is that after awhile they become things we believe. As we continue to internalize our excuses they become self-fulfilling prophecies. There was a sales rep that was experiencing futility in getting customers to purchase products within his department. After a while, he began to rationalize the reason products were not selling were because the prices were too high. The result, he had a dismal sales record. Another sales rep in the same department who after hearing customers complain about the prices of the products decided to take action. He accepted responsibility for the fact that he had not justified the value of the product to customers and therefore they did not understand the higher product prices. The result, he experienced higher sales and better relationships with customers. The difference between these two sales reps is that one allowed an excuse to be the stop sign that permanently halted his progress and made him irrelevant.
Excuses have always been a problem for people, societies, governments, families, etc. In fact, it became so much of a problem that God had to draw the Nation of Israel’s attention to the fact that he was tired of their excuses. God speaking through the prophet Haggai following the return of a remnant of the exiles that had been carried off to Babylon, he let them know that the time for excuses was now over. The Lord said, “These people say, the time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.” The question is, if not now then when? Isn’t it interesting that we always seem to have so little time for the things we need to do, but we can always find time for the things we want to do? We will always be able to find reasons for not doing something if we look hard enough, but we need to ask ourselves are our reasons, reasons, or excuses? To blame inaction on time is an excuse. It is hiding the fact that we either do not want to do it, or it would cut into something else we want to do. Israel was essentially blaming God for their inaction. They felt that if God wanted them to accomplish His work he would not have allowed them to be in the situation they were in and He would have provided the resources they needed to complete the work. Reverend Seawood, the former President of the Reformed Church in America General Synod once said, “Money should never be the issue or reason why something is not done.” There are two things that can overcome any condition, the first is desire and the second is creativity. Anything we really want to do, we will find a way to do it or get it done. Desire will drive us to find the resources to make things happen.
In response to the exiles’ excuse making, God responds by asking a question, making a statement, and offering an explanation. God says, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” In verse five God says, “Give careful thought to your ways.” And, in verse six God says, “You have planted much, but have harvested little.” In these three verses God poses three questions to the people, a) you are taking care of your needs, but what about my needs? B) Think about how things are going for you and the results you’re experiencing. C) Have you stopped to consider why things are not working out for you? One of the things about priorities is you do not know they are out of whack until they are out of whack. If things are not working out for us or we are not experiencing the results we think we should be receiving, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our priorities. Perhaps we need to look inward and stop looking for the answer outside of ourselves. If we are spending an inordinate amount of energy in something and it feels like we are just spinning our wheels we need to stop or we will burn out our engine. It’s like a car stuck in a ditch, no matter how much we step on the gas the car will not move. The fundamental question here is why are we not achieving our goals and objectives? Priorities can often be divided into two categories, things we need to do and things we want to do. If we place the things we want to do above the things we need to do, we may get some of what we want but we will also get very little of what we need. If we want to change our outcomes then we need to change the order of how we go about our business. The late Dr. Carolyn Holloway used to say, “If you do what you need to do when you need to do it, you will be able to do what you want to do when you want to do it.”
Human nature is such that when things are not working out for us or we encounter a problem, we proceed to search for a reason and solution to the problem. God provides an explanation for the people’s situation. Again, God says, “Give careful thought to your ways.” Whatever is going on with you it is because of you, the choices you have made and the actions you have taken have contributed to your current malaise. God says, Go…and build the house, so I may take pleasure in it and be honored.” When you find your ministry you will also find your blessing. If we bless God, God in turn will bless us. God says, I have a job for you and in that job you will not only find fulfillment, but you will also bless and honor me. You keep waiting for later, but God is saying now is later. Stop sitting around waiting for something that may never come and go make something happen. The Lord points out that “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why? Because my house…remains a ruin, while…you are busy with your own house.” The truth is that when we cheat God we invariably cheat ourselves. Whatever God calls us to do He has packaged it with inherent blessings. Our blessings are within our ministry. So, when we decide we do not have enough time, or we are too tired, too busy for what God wants us to do whatever blessings God had earmarked for us get blown away.
One of the deep piercing questions this text asks us to consider is, are we better off? We work longer and harder, yet we seem to fall farther and farther behind, or our buying power is getting less and less. I want to suggest to you that God is trying to get our attention. God is speaking to us through our situation and circumstances. God wants us to understand that we cannot accomplish anything without Him, and trying to will only lead to frustration and futility. God proposes that we change our paradigm. Gone are the days of the old Burger King slogan, “Have it your way.” Instead, we need to realize that wherever we are God has planted us there to accomplish God’s will, plan and purposes. Wherever we are we will find God has prepared a ministry for us. Rather than seeing a job we can’t stand see it as a place where God wants to do something powerful through you. Rather than seeing an environment as hostile see it as an opportunity for God to use you as an instrument for change.
Haggai reminds the people that, “God is with them.” However, prior to the reminder came a stirring. Before God changes our situation, God has to change us. It is amazing what we can accomplish once we are open to what God wants to do in and through us. Once we stop hiding behind our excuses God can step into our situation and our circumstances. Once we get rid of the excuses we will also get rid of all of the roadblocks that have hindered us from doing what we should have done a long time ago. Part of the problem with these people was they felt distance between God and them. Once they got rid of the excuses they closed the gap and removed the distance between God and them. God was able to stir them and bring them together to make things happen. As God stirred them and they realized the reality of God’s presence in their midst, they also realized now is later.
What about you and I, are we doing what God wants us to do where God has placed us, or are we doing what we want to do for ourselves? Are we putting things off that we know we need to do or should have done a long time ago? Are we blaming God for something that happened five, ten, fifteen years ago? The truth is that we cannot change the past, but we can shape the present and impact the future. However, as long as we continue to make excuses for the way things are they will never get better. As long as we wait on someone else to do for us what we know we need to do for ourselves we will continue to be like the car stuck in a ditch going nowhere. The time for excuses is over, now is later. When we find our ministry we will find our blessing and when we engage in our ministry we will receive our blessing. Now is later.