March 6, 2015

Consider Your Ways

I love the Old Testament prophets! Today, I was thinking about my life, and the ways in which the Lord seems to be moving me, changing me, and ordering the details to suit His needs and purposes for the plans He has in mind. This verse came to me, and it made me begin to contemplate what it means to "consider our ways."

In Haggai 1:7 we read, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways." If we back up to verse 1 and read through to 4, we understand the context of what the prophet was exhorting the Jews to do when he gives them this command from the Lord. The Jews had returned from their captivity in Babylon and the House of the Lord was in ruins. The people had set about to restore their lives, to rebuild their houses and businesses, and to return to a normal lifestyle after the years they lived in Babylon. The prophet receives a word from the Lord instructing him to speak to the people and to exhort (encourage) them to consider their ways and to attend to God's priorities rather than those of man. Verses 5-7 state,

Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways and set your mind on what has come to you. You have sown much, but you have reaped little; you eat, but you do not have enough; you drink, but you do not have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages has earned them to put them in a bag with holes in it. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways (your previous and present conduct) and how you have fared.

The call is to draw attention to the fact that the ways of man are often less fruitful and productive than the ways of God. The people had been returned, set free from Babylonian captivity, and while they were working hard to restore a life of normalcy in Israel, they were not abiding in the Lord's will nor were they keeping His commands. They were living by the rules and regulations that pleased themselves, and while they "seemed" to be reaping rewards for their efforts, in truth, they were not. The people had sought to build up their own homes, yet they had forsaken the Lord's house and all that was in it.

This verse, exhorting the Jews to consider their ways, is spoken twice in this chapter (verse 5 and 7). Anytime a writer in Scripture repeats something it usually means to pay attention or give heed because what is being said is important. In this case, the prophet is telling the people that what they are doing, what they had been doing previously, was not pleasing to the Lord. The Lord was withholding blessing and reward from the people because they had put their needs, wants, and desires ahead of the Lord's needs, wants, and desires. In short, they were spending all their time trying to make their lives better when the Lord of Hosts was waiting for them to attend to His needs -- to rebuilding His House. Had they changed their priorities around, and placed worship of God first and foremost, then the Lord would reward them with His blessing. 

Consider Your Ways

Today is a good day to consider our ways. In Haggai, the call to consider is predicated on priorities, on if one's priorities align with Scripture and the Lord's will. Experts will say that our priorities point to our worldview or our perspective on what matters most in our lives. For example, if we place a high priority on education, then we will put all our efforts into seeking an education, perhaps obtaining more than one degree or in some higher level of training (professional certification). If our priorities are on our work, then we will devote countless hours to our job, our efforts to secure a job, to be promoted in our job, or to change jobs. Our work becomes the "locus of our focus," so to speak!

The Church teaches the value of placing God at the center of our worship, but often, we only think of Him on Sundays when we are in corporate worship with others. Our daily life is more about routine, about the mundane details that provide for our families. We shift our priorities to fit around God, but only when convenient to do so. The rest of the time, we allow ourselves and our lives to take the lead in all we do, in all the time we devote, and in all our thoughts and motivations.

Yet, this attitude of serving self is not God-honoring. We are called to serve the Lord first, and then to serve others as an outworking of experiencing God's blessing and grace. We read in 1 Peter 4:10, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms." Likewise, in Romans 12:10-11, we are encouraged to "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." Clearly, the Lord calls us to serve one another. In fact, one could make a very strong argument that if we place God first, others second, then the blessing and reward would follow to ensure that our needs are met. In truth, the Word reminds us that our Father in Heaven knows our needs, and as such, He has everything we "need" to survive in His hand. Our work, our homes, our daily needs are met in Him, thus our toil needn't be anything more than what is necessary, as the Lord leads and guides us. Yet, for many of us, we place very high expectancies upon ourselves and others in order to obtain a worldly standard of living. We seek material possessions, education, certification, and other attributes to demonstrate our success to our families and to our friends. We use these things, these worldly things, to convince others of our worth, our well-being, and our welfare. Yes, we want to "look good" to the world, and in doing so, we take what is necessary and make it the central focus of all our efforts.

The Lord calls us to moderation in all things. In Philippians 4:5, we read "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand." Our moderation, therefore, is to be a guide for us. We are to moderate our efforts, to moderate our pursuits, and to moderate our behaviors so that nothing we do that is not directly focused on the Lord and His work takes center stage. We are to work unto the Lord as Paul says to the believers at Colossi (Col. 3:23).

As I consider my ways today, one thing is for certain. I know that there are times when I become overly focused on my work and my education. In fact, if you look over my blog for the past 5-6 years you will see what topics are most discussed. If I were to list them, I would say that my relationship with the Lord is first, followed by my need for secure employment, my struggles through my Masters and doctoral program, and last, the ending of my marriage and the resultant changes that occurred. Yes, my priorities over the past half-dozen years have been to seek the Lord first, to seek His will second, and to seek to do all that He commands me to do third.

Thus, considering my ways means to contemplate what the Lord has done for me previously, and to look forward to what He intends to do for me in the future. The Lord is good about keeping His word, and He is faithful to do all that is required in order to grow me, to mature me, and to prepare me for His work. Therefore, I can rest in the security that where I am today is exactly where I am meant to be. This says to me that nothing is out of order, nothing is out of control. While I may feel uncomfortable at times, and I may feel as though I don't understand what is happening to me (in the moment), I can rest in the knowledge that the Lord's plans are sure and that they will succeed. Blessing, favor and reward are in His hand. I feel His presence, I see His blessing on my life, and I know that my reward is at hand.

God is good, so very good to me today!

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