Haggai 1:6 (ESV) … “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.”
In the opening verse of this chapter that the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai with a personal directness in the particular situation in which he found himself. That situation concerned the rebuilding of the temple, which had lain in ruins for the past sixteen years. In his message to the leaders and the people Haggai did some very straight talking.
Although the people may have been scratching around for some reasonable excuse as to why the time was not right to start building God’s house, the truth was that after sixteen years of inactivity, a spirit of apathy and indolence had crept into their thinking from which they simply could not rouse themselves. It was Haggai’s intention to break through that inertia and get the people moving again.
Anyone with experience in leadership, especially in church life, will appreciate the enormous challenge facing the prophet. A lethargic, apathetic spirit, or that ‘I cannot be bothered’ feeling, is a dreadful thing to break, once it gets a grip on a person’s mind and inclinations. It is like an insidious disease that erodes the will and destroys motivation. Today we are seeing a lot of that attitude in local church life. One growing sign of it is the gradual decline of the Sunday evening church service. And the blame for this cannot be laid wholly on the secularization of our day. It is largely the responsibility of Christians in the local church.
The most sinister aspect of an apathetic spirit in the spiritual life is the manner in which it creeps up on us almost unawares. It is not as if we make a definite decision to stop attending the evening service, or the weekly prayer meeting, or to minimize the time given to Bible reading and private devotions. Rather, it is a spirit that, like a fog, stealthily and quietly envelops us until we lose our sense of direction in these things. And if something occurs to disturb our conscience and make us say to ourselves, ‘It really is time I started attending evening worship again,’ somehow—as for the people of Haggai’s day—the time never does seem to be right, and the desire to move in that direction never really grabs us.
It all boils down in the end to a matter of personal discipline and a determined act of the will. Too many Christians are content with a flabby laid-back kind of Christianity, and do not give sufficient importance to the place of the will in the spiritual life. They seem to think that growth in grace happens automatically. It does not. One has to work at it! If we want to get our Christian life together, then we have to bring the will into action and put some effort and determination into it. When it came to building their own houses, the people of Judah were extremely active and showed plenty of determination and will-power.
From the Christian perspective, this question of priorities is a very important one. When our homes, families, work, pleasures, etc., begin to displace and jeopardize the centrality of Christ in our lives, it spells spiritual danger. It means we are beginning to live our Christian life at a shallower level, and that the Holy Spirit, instead of holding the controlling place, has to struggle and compete with all these other things to have so much as a foothold in our life. We then become like those people Jesus spoke of in his parable of the sower. ‘Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful’ (Mark 4:18–19).
If we are not careful, our lives can easily become so cluttered with secular interests and non-essentials that there is less and less time for the things that really matter, such as prayer, the reading of God’s word, and meditation and worship.