In the Old Testament book of Haggai there is an interesting account of extremely troubled economic times. Some of the children of Israel had returned home after 70 years in captivity. They were trying to re-establish themselves in their homeland, but everything they touched seemed to turn to dust. They couldn’t understand why.
Enter the Prophet Haggai. Jill Carantini reminds us that the Hebrew prophets "were messengers sent by God to a world hard of hearing, whether by suffering or stubbornness, sin or shame." Such is the case in the days of Haggai. God had instructed the returning exiles to rebuild the Temple, but they were too busy with other things — too busy fixing up their own places to be concerned with God’s place. The result was, everything they did was being blown away because they were under God’s judgment (See Haggai 1:9).
T.M. Moore writes, "It’s not like the people had forgotten the Lord or were beginning to set up pagan idols in their homes and gardens. Rather, they had simply co-opted the Lord’s plan, hijacking his sovereign glory for their own selfish gain. And, as a result, he had begun to oppose them and to frustrate all their efforts to achieve prosperity.
"We can imagine that Haggai’s message to the governor and priests, and through them, to the people, must have come like a slap in the face. ‘Say what?’ many of them must have gasped. But it was so. God was keeping his own people from being fruitful because his own people had tried to use his grace for personal gain rather than the pleasure and glory of God. Watch almost any television preacher. Look at the books most Christians are purchasing, and the seminars, workshops and events they attend. The primary message of many of these seems to be, in one form or another, ‘God wants you to be happy and fulfilled, and he exists to help you realize your personal dreams.’
"Well, he does not; and God has not changed since the days of Haggai and the returning exiles. He will oppose his people and keep them from prospering until they recognize that their great hope and privilege is to seek, know, glorify, and enjoy God as their highest calling in life."
Good words. Still we have to be careful that we don’t go down the wrong path here. Last week I wrote about this modern version of the gospel which is really no gospel at all. Some seem to have forgotten Paul’s warning in Galatians 1:6-8, "I can’t believe your fickleness — how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head. Let me be blunt: If one of us — even if an angel from heaven! — were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed" (Galatians 1:6-8, The Message).
What sparked my writing this two-part series was the words of a pastor who claimed that a woman’s unbelievable financial good fortune came as a result of her giving sacrificially to the church. Now I don’t have a problem realizing God’s blessing as a result of obedience, what I do have a problem with is the hijacking of the message for the purpose of personal, temporary financial gain. One popular television program airs weekly stories of great financial blessing that have befallen people for giving to their particular ministry. Such ministers have turned the gospel into a spiritual lottery.
The bottom line on all of this is simple: keep the message straight. Don’t think something is wrong with you if you are suffering. Realize that despite the popular notion of some, that God’s servants do and will sometimes suffer. Don’t let suffering cause you to loose your faith. Don’t assume hard times are a result of personal sin. God doesn’t play hide and seek with his children, if there is sin in your life, you will know it and you can deal with it. Being faithful does not exempt you from suffering, it guarantees you will suffer.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. He can be heard Thursdays on the radio on WMVV 90.7 (FM) at 8:30 p.m.