Sunday School Lessons


Commentary by Walter Albritton


June 15


The Lord Stirs Us to Choose Wisely the Priorities of Our Work


Haggai; Ezra 5:1, 2.

Key Verse: Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? – Haggai 1:4


            People sometimes argue about the correct way to pronounce the name of the prophet Haggai. Some say “Hag-eye,” others “Hag-ay-eye.” My research indicates that either pronunciation is acceptable.

            What matters more is the prophet’s message! After a long period of silence, when it may have seemed God did not care, He speaks through this prophet.

            Several years have passed since the foundation for the temple was laid. The people have been busy with other things – the harvesting of their crops and the building of their own houses.

            Their indifference is jolted by the stern words of the prophet. Haggai warns the Israelites to consider their ways. It was a wake-up call to examine their priorities and to ask hard questions about why they had the problems they were facing.

            If we are not careful, we may find ourselves doing well things that are not worth doing. Clearly, we need the inspiration of God’s Spirit to help us choose wisely the priorities that will guide the investment of our lives in daily work. With God’s help, we can avoid spending our days in useless endeavors.

            Haggai explains to the Israelites that God had withdrawn his favor upon them because of their selfish neglect of the restoration of the temple. The people were concerned about their own houses rather than the house of the Lord.

            If we will, we can see ourselves in this story. We too excuse ourselves from the Lord’s work because what we truly care about is the feathering of our own nest. We find that we cannot tithe because we have so many other obligations – the payments for the new car, the new television, the new furniture, the new clothes, the vacation, and a thousand other things.

            Selfishness creeps up on all of us. Satan hooks us with subtle bait, like the idea of the television commercial that says, “For everything else there is Master Card.” We begin even to lust for the things that others have. We yield to the temptation to believe that we need not wait until we can afford something; we can get it now with the plastic card.

            I like the story of the man who, on a camping trip with his family, became lost in the woods. When a fierce storm developed, he sought refuge in a hollow log. After the rain subsided, he found that the log had swollen so much that he could not crawl out of the log.

            He screamed for help in vain. Fearful that his family might never find him, and that he might die inside the log, he began to pray. He thought of all the bad things he had done, and begged God to forgive him.

            Then he thought about his pledge to his church, and how little he had ever given for the Lord’s work. Embarrassed, he suddenly felt so small that he was able to crawl right out of the log.

            The scathing words of Haggai may have caused some of the Israelites to feel a little small and selfish themselves. However, he did more than condemn them. He inspired them to believe that the Lord was with them. Overcoming their selfishness, they came together, and working together, they completed the work God wanted them to do. 

            The dream of every preacher is to be able to persuade people to come together and accomplish the mission of God. In his day, and in his own way, Haggai inspired the people to hear God saying, “I am with you!”

            Haggai, we should observe, does not take credit for the response of the people. The prophet was faithful; he did his part. However, it was God himself who “stirred up” the people to obey God and finish the work. We must be as wise as Haggai and see that God receives the glory!

            Our hedonistic culture needs preachers with guts like those that Haggai had. From time to time, there are defining moments when people need desperately to hear a word from God.

            One such moment may be before the people of Alabama this summer. Governor Bob Riley has proposed a major change in the tax structure of the state. With the approval of the legislature, the issue will go before the people for their vote in a referendum in September.

            Governor Riley has asked the people to debate the matter, then to support the reform that his plan outlines. While the plan may not be perfect, it does give citizens a chance to relieve the present tax burden on the poor, and to provide better funding for our school system. The Riley plan will also provide a much-needed update in our property tax formula.

            Remembering that God is not happy with systems that oppress the poor, those of us who proclaim God’s word must not be bashful in speaking about this issue. We have a golden opportunity to persuade the people of Alabama to help our state move up to a new level of responsibility.

            I cannot imagine that Haggai would be silent were he among us today! + + + +