Blogging the Bible 237 – Haggai – Priorities

Is it time for you yourselves to live in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins? (Haggai 1:4)
There was obviously a lot to do when God’s people returned from exile. They had a city to rebuild, with all its infrastructure, and society to get up and running again. It seems that many of them had a clear priority – to get themselves and their families settled and comfortable first.
By the time God speaks through Haggai, it seems that things haven’t got much further than that, though time has passed. From a human point of view, it looks like life was difficult – harvests were poor and everyone was busy trying to get by. Haggai tells them that this is in fact God’s judgement, not an accident. From before the first time that God led them into the promised land, it had been clear that their life there was to be lived in relation, worship and obedience to him. That hadn’t changed. And so their first priority should have been the Temple that was still a few half – built walls, not their panelled and decorated houses. Until they put right their relation to God, the rest of life would not fall into its proper place, and life would stay a struggle.
I’m sure this is a universal truth, whether we see it as direct judgement or the practical, natural consequence of disordered lives. When we focus first on God, the rest of life can call into place more fully and securely than when we focus on ourselves or on reacting to circumstances.
I know that I keep being distracted from this simple truth, despite reading many times great books that call me back to it  (first to mind are Gordon MacDonald, Ordering your Private World and Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor) and finding it to be true every time I get that focus back.
I can’t help thinking, too, of Stephen Covey’s story of the big rocks. He tells of a speaker teaching a class on time management, who placed on his table a large glass jar and a pile of fist-sized rocks. As he placed the rocks into the jar, he asked the students to call out when the jar was full, which they did just as the last rock went in. Then from under the table he brought a box of pebbles, and poured them in to fill the gaps between the rocks until again, the students agreed that the jar was full. Then out came a box of gravel, then one of sand, then a jug of water. Each time, more went into the jar until it was full.
The speaker then asked the students what they’d learned from this. The answer came, “That however busy you are, you can always fit in something else?” Gently he shook his head. “The point is that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in.”
God, and my relationship to him, is the biggest rock of all. If I place that first in my life, then everything else in order of priority to do what’s right, it can end up in the right place. Some of that right place will be for things that won’t be done – at least by me – but it’ll work out.
God will work it out with me and through me.

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