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Both Haggai and Zechariah were prophets called to help the people step up and build the temple. The people were exiles who were returning home to a destroyed land. They had homes to build, but they also had a temple to build. The original, excited energy began to lag, and the temple remained unbuilt. Here are some of the circumstances surrounding these prophets.
The people were facing a lot of opposition in trying to rebuild Jerusalem. The strong support from a central government in Persia was taken away when Cyrus died. Samaritans and local landowners weren’t too excited about the returning exiles. The eagerness the Jews had once felt was drooping, and the success they desired seemed out of reach.
Through the prophet Haggai, the Lord tells the people that they have neglected building His house. They toiled and pushed and reached to further their temporal success all to no avail, and it was because they had neglected the weightier matters.
6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
7 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.
None of their efforts are amounting to much. Everything was a struggle, and when no miracles were forthcoming, the people started to doubt. The institute manual teaches us that:
“They could perceive no sign of God’s presence, or of His interest in their labours and difficulties…The people began to lose faith in God. The visions of Zechariah thus came at a most important crisis.”
Unlike many Old Testament stories, this one has a happy ending. Haggai and Zechariah plead with the people to get their act together, and they do. The jump back in. The small and simple temple is built and more importantly, the people are built.
Have you ever felt that in your life? Have you felt a spiritual plateau? Have you felt like you’re not receiving anything from the Lord and you’re spiritually at a standstill?
Maybe your life has suddenly become overburdened. You have people relying on you. You’re low on sleep. You’re stressed. Maybe you’re wondering where the Lord is at. Why isn’t He supporting you more? Does He even care? Is He even there?
I have learned that the Lord very rarely steps in without a step from us, and the kind of step He requires often revolves around stretching the soul a little bit.
So what are some practical suggestions we can use to stretch our souls and open up the heavens when we feel like we’re in a spiritual desert? Luckily, Haggai and Zechariah have plenty of suggestions.
Consider your ways (Haggai 1)
The first suggestion (or perhaps even the first step) comes from Haggai: “Consider your ways.”
There are many suggestions people could make about how to navigate your way out of that spiritual desert. Unfortunately, you’re on your own path.
Just as the Lord sent prophets to warn His people to get their act together, He will send you promptings about what you need to do to get back on track. Have you felt any little spiritual naggings that you need to start doing or stop doing something? What does He want you to sacrifice? In an age where the world teaches us to make sure we’re getting what’s owed to us, how can we give more of ourselves?
I love this suggestion because it encourages us to have a one-on-one with the Lord. These prophets give quite a few suggestions in these chapters, but the Lord knows which one we need to work on. Listen for your suggestion.
Build (or go to!) the temple
These people were exiles and had next to nothing. They weren’t being asked to visit. They were being asked to build. We are being asked to attend.
Attending (vs. building) can be both easier and harder. Building a temple automatically requires more sacrifice. Simply attending forces you to choose what kind of sacrifice you’re going to make.
And though our sacrifice may seem smaller, it doesn’t actually have to be. You get out what you put in. These people sacrificed a lot to build the temple, and it changed them. Give away more spiritual effort, and you will leave the temple with more than you walked in. Your sacrifice and effort can be as big as theirs or as little as what it took to walk through the doors.
And this goes beyond just the temple. If you’re feeling a spiritual desert, consider how much spiritual energy you’re putting into your life. Perhaps you’re “doing all the things” but unless you’re striving spiritually, you can still come up empty.
Which leads to the next suggestion.
Righteous over ritual
In chapter 7 of Zechariah, the prophet describes a people who hardened their hearts; they were a people who performed all the rituals for the Law of Moses but hadn’t become changed at all. Going through the motions had done nothing for them.
The more I read the scriptures, the more I come to realize that everything the Lord gives us is about controlling our hearts in order to change our hearts. It’s about the spiritual striving that can accompany all of our efforts we make on earth.
It’s about changing our hearts. It’s about repenting.
If you find yourself in a position where it feels like God hasn’t been very present, it may be time to repent (and let’s remember that repenting includes both correcting a wrong and simply becoming better). It may be time to consider whether your rituals are making you better.
A practical suggestion
Sometimes it can be difficult to find an area to work on. That’s not because we’re perfect; it’s because oftentimes, we are “doing all the things” even if all the things are not changing us. It can be hard to pinpoint where your heart needs improvement especially because humans tend to be blind about themselves.
So I have a practical suggestion about how to find an area to work on.
Lately, I have not been able to stop thinking about the phrase, “Wickedness never was happiness.” I am starting to believe that when I’m unhappy, it’s usually because I’m sinning. Or to put it more accurately, I am not being as righteous as I could be.
I have this mom group that I hang out with frequently. They’re wonderful, uplifting people. Unfortunately, sometimes I get super insecure around them. I don’t enjoy that feeling of insecurity. It’s not fun. It sucks.
And you want to know what? That feeling I have is a result of sin.
I have that feeling of insecurity because I’m hyper focused on myself and what they think about me instead of trying to help them feel happier and uplifted. I get insecure because I won’t stop thinking about myself. If I change my heart to be more selfless, I will experience less insecurity. If I choose to focus on someone other than myself, I will experience more happiness.
If I’m repeatedly experiencing a negative feeling , I can usually get rid of that feeling by repenting. The Lord has taught me that a grand majority of my negative feelings (worry, stress, even embarrassment) are all finding their basis in sin. If I can change my heart to be more like the Savior, I can shed more of those feelings. Negative feelings are a great litmus test for the status of your heart.
(Disclaimer: It’s a great litmus test within reason. Don’t take the principle beyond what it needs to be. There are extenuating circumstances such as living in abusive circumstances or experiencing mental illness. There are also appropriate times to experience negative feelings like when you lose a loved one.)
If you’re having a hard time considering your ways (as Haggai recommended) or considering the status of your heart (as Zechariah recommended), consider what negative feelings plague you and try to decipher where they’re coming from.
I have a huge testimony that as we draw closer to Christ, the happier we are. He has overcome the world. He has risen above it; He is happy in spite of it. I know that if I can become like Him, I can find that same happiness.