Have you ever had that feeling like you’re spinning your wheels? Does it ever seem like you work work and work and don’t seem to get anywhere? You know you make as much as a bunch of people, but it just doesn’t seem like you can ever get ahead? God’s Word for us today in Haggai 1 explains why that happens.
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. 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… Why?" declares the Lord Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house."
God here is speaking to the Israelites whom he had brought back to their land after he had let the Babylonians destroy them and take them away. He had told his people to rebuild his temple. But you see what happened. They got busy taking care of their own stuff, first.
You know that feeling, don’t you? "God, I’ll give you huge gifts if I win the lottery, but for now, you’ll have to settle with the leftovers because I’ve got all these bills to pay." Or, "God, I’ll get around to getting more active in doing your work by getting more involved at church once my life settles down."
Do you see what God is saying to us today? He’s asking, "How’s that working out for you?" It’s like you’re spinning your wheels, isn’t it? It’s like you’re putting money away, but it disappears. Where did it go? Satan wants us to think that we have to take care of everything else first before devoting ourselves to God. God says, "Putting me first is the only way you’ll ever get any fulfillment out of any of those things." Otherwise, we’re just spinning our wheels.
Now, is God saying this as some sort of mind trick because he needs your money, or your time? Of course not. He’s God, remember? He doesn’t need a thing from you — that’s what it means to be God. But here’s the thing: While he doesn’t need you to give to him — he knows our hearts, and he knows that we need to give — for our good.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be." In other words, what is important to us is where our heart will be and where our heart is, there you’ll see our time, efforts, energy, talents and even treasure (our money) going. Where your treasure is your heart will be.
So look at your life. Where is your treasure? All too often, our ways show that we only treasure God in our words. Our actions show our job, or our money, or our family to be our greatest treasure. And to that, God should say, "Well, then I don’t treasure you anymore."
But he doesn’t. Instead he comes with a promise. In Haggai 1:13, he says something so powerful that it instantly changed those Israelites’ priorities and suddenly they gave themselves fully to God’s work and everything else turned out as well. What did he say? In the original Hebrew, it was just two words, and it translates to four: "I am with you." Even though they had been putting him off for 16 years, he reminds them of who he is, the faithful, true and gracious God. "I am with you."
Do you realize what that is? That is Jesus. Remember what the angel told Joseph about his fiancée Mary? Luke records: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’ which means, ‘God with us.’ I am with you."
Because we are too dead by nature that we can’t see true treasure if it blazed across the sky, because we are so foolish in our own wisdom that we put temporary stuff ahead of the eternal, God gives this promise: "I am with you." He sent his Son Jesus to be "God with us," to show us his heart, in a way we can see. So Jesus loved us, laying down his life for us, redeeming us, not with the things we so often think are treasure. God’s Word says he paid our price "not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent sufferings and death."
That payment put on your record guarantees you an eternity of riches in heaven. That payment placed on your ledger assures you peace with God and hope and joy and confidence. That payment he made is your greatest treasure. May God grant that more and more your heart follows. Amen.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.