New Year – Old Focus

New Year – Old Focus

New year is often a time for looking ahead at what we want to achieve and setting new goals. But it is also a time for looking back and reflecting on what has been in the previous year. 

In this message for the New Year I’d like to take you back, way back, long before 2018, to a somewhat obscure book of the Bible, found near the end of the Old Testament – the book of Haggai. 

Haggai is only two chapters long. It was written by a ‘minor prophet’ after the Israelites had suffered a long period in exile i.e. away from their homeland and under foreign leadership. Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and shortly after he issued a decree allowing any captive Jews who so desired, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. Haggai’s words were spoken roughly 18 years after this.

The return of the Israelites from exile was the fulfilment of one of God’s promises. However, upon arrival to the promised land, they found that the Temple had been destroyed. It was merely a shell of its former glory.

The people quickly got to work building an alter for their sacrifices, but neglected the rest of the temple building, in favour of developing their own houses and planting crops.

Harvest time came and the Israelites collected much less than expected. Their crops had been battered from blight, mildew and hail.

Blight was the result of scorching hot easterly winds from the desert; mildew from damp westerly Mediterranean winds; hail of course from the heavens above. In this triad of inflictions God showed his control over east and west, sky and ground – space, humidity and temperature. (M. Boda, NIV Application Commentary on Haggai and Zechariah)

Haggai told the people that God had brought this upon them – because they had neglected him and busied themselves with their own houses while his lay in ruins.

God also declared through Haggai that, because the rest of his temple lay in ruins, the sacrifices they were making to him on the alter were defiled. Their meagre offerings meant little to him when they were more concerned with their own livelihoods than his glory.

However, God did not want them to remain in this way. 

He wanted to bless them. But first he had to re-orientate their focus. He wanted them to put the Temple first.

In the Old Testament, the Temple was the dwelling place of the presence of God among the people – prioritising the building of the Temple revealed hearts that longed for intimacy with God. 

The Israelites responded immediately to Haggai’s words and began work on the Temple. As a result, God promised to be with them, give them strength and bless them. 

Back to 2019. Because of Jesus, God has promised to send his Spirit to dwell within us when we choose to trust and follow him. Therefore, we no longer need a physical building to know God’s presence. Our bodies, where his Spirit resides, are his temple.

However, just as it is possible to neglect a physical building, we can neglect the temple we have within us. If we don’t spend time filling our hearts and minds with God’s word and his will for us – if we don’t spend time in prayer enjoying the fruits of God’s presence with us – and if we don’t make every effort to keep our lives pure, fleeing immorality – our temples will lay in ruins. 

As the New Year kicks in, things get busy very quickly. People return to the daily grind of work. Kids are back in school. All the groups and extracurricular activities are back on. It can be tempting to push out time with God – reading his word and praying – in favour of doing something more ‘practical’ like getting on top of chores. Just like the Israelites who busied themselves with their own households.

But God controls the outcome of all our work – whether in school, in an office, or in the home. He can bless and multiply, but he might also withhold. If we first aim to focus on him, everything else will fall into its rightful place.

As 2019 moves into top gear, let’s not allow ourselves to be swept along without taking time out each day to be with God.

One more point from Haggai – as the Israelites began to rebuild God’s house, some became discouraged remembering the previous glory of the Temple, compared to its current derelict state. Haggai empathised with these feelings, but encouraged the people instead to be inspired and motivated by God’s work in the past. He is capable of such power today and he promises even greater blessings in the future than were had in the past.

When we make a commitment to dedicate more time to intimacy with God, we may be tempted to look back at a time we walked particularly closely with him – or to look back at other Christians who went before – and feel discouraged by what we perceive to be the cheapness of our present faith. However, when you start building foundations – reading God’s word and prioritising him – regardless of how small the steps may seem, God will be with you. He will give you new strength and blessing. And he is reserving his very best to delight his people with on that day when we shall see Jesus in all his glory.

What is to come is so much greater than what has gone before.

Craft/Recipe

The aim of this blog is not to get you working harder so I won’t be including a craft or recipe this time – instead I would encourage you to spend any spare time you might have reading your bible and praying to God.

Wishing you a happy New Year and every blessing for 2019 and beyond.

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