Much effort, little benefit

Haggai 1:5–6

You work a lot, but you do not seem to get the expected result from all your efforts?

You feel that your Christian life is continually in survival mode instead of having life abundantly (John 10:10)?

Then let us look together at the things to which the Lord is calling the attention of His people in order to draw some useful reflections.

Haggai 1:5—Pay attention

“And now thus says Jehovah of hosts: Consider your ways.” (Haggai 1:5)

The expression to “Consider” is found four times in Haggai’s book and could be literally translated as “Set your heart on.” The Lord calls His people to consider their ways carefully, to set their hearts on them, so that they may fully realize the consequences.

Haggai 1:6—The state of things

“You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but are not satisfied; you drink, but are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but there is none warm; and he that earns wages earns wages for a bag with holes.” (Haggai 1:6)

This word of the Lord calls the people to become aware of their situation. In a few words, the Lord clearly presents the state of things.

Let us pause for a few moments on this verse to consider it and draw a few thoughts from it.

Five details
  • Firstly, we read that the Israelites had sown a lot, but had only poor results. The harvests were definitely not what they had hoped for. And when this happens year after year, the situation quickly becomes precarious.
  • Secondly, they were eating, but they were not satiated. They only had the bare minimum they needed to live. In other words, they were always hungry!
  • Thirdly, they drank, but did not have their fill. The Hebrew word used here means that they were not even slightly drunk when they drank. Either the wine was of poor quality or there was not enough of it to make it happen.
  • Fourthly, they clothed, but no one was warm. The fabric was either too thin or too small to cover them well and keep them warm. Here too, there was just enough not to get too cold.
  • Fifthly, the workers did not enrich themselves from their work. Their income was only enough to cover their needs. They were unable to save money; the purse was as if there was a hole in it. They had barely what was needed, but nothing in sight to improve their situation.

As God’s earthly people, they were right to expect God’s blessing on the work of their hands. But despite all their efforts, they only had what was necessary to live, or rather to survive. It may not have been misery, but it was not extraordinary either. Why was it so?

We will get there in a moment. But just before, let us consider these few points as illustrations for our own reflection.

To apply these things

If the people could expect God’s blessing on the things of the earth, we Christians, God’s heavenly people, have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Our blessings are not on earth or in relation to the things of the earth. Our calling is heavenly and our part is with Christ.

It is therefore a great mistake for the child of God to seek God’s blessing in the things of the earth, and to hope to prosper on that path. Our blessings are in Christ and are spiritual, and therefore we must apply these things spiritually to our lives.

  • For example, do we spend a lot of time reading the Word of God, which is the incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23), but get little benefit from it in our lives?
  • Does our daily meditation not seem to nourish our soul to the point of satiation and give us the strength we need for daily activities?
  • Does the joy of our salvation seem distant or wavering every day?
  • Do we find lukewarmness in our hearts instead of the zeal we should have? Is the first love just a well-framed memory on the wall?
  • Is our soul thriving, or do we feel that we have only what is needed for the present moment?

Many of us can feel there. But as for the Israelites, the solution is not to work even harder, because the result would remain the same. To use the image of the purse, the hole must be located and closed.

Here are two reflections to help us identify what can prevent us from thriving. Of course, there are many others, but may these help us to think so that we, too, may consider our ways before God.

First reflection: What we are looking for

First, even if we devote some time to the things of God, but spend the rest of our time working to gain a place or possessions in this world, we cannot expect to prosper spiritually. The Israelites worked hard for their welfare, but did not profit from it because they had set aside the true service for which they had been called. Their efforts and their eyes were not in the right place, and as a result, they did not have God’s blessing. Let us remember the example of the apostle Paul: “One thing [I do],” he said, “forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to the things before, I pursue, looking towards the goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13–14.) Let us not forget that “the fashion of this world passes.” (1 Corinthians 7:31.)

Second Reflection: What we occupy with

Second, even if we spend time every day reading the Word, if our hearts and thoughts are filled with bad things, then we should not be surprised that God’s Word does not grow in us, and that our spiritual life remains weak and wavering. Instead of being filled with the Spirit, we are intoxicated with the wine of this world. Here, it is our lack of sanctification to God that impoverishes us. The apostle Paul once again gives us a good example: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV.) We are no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and through the Spirit we are called to put to death the deeds of the body. (Romans 8:13.) “So also you, reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11.)

Thus, if we use our time and energies for the things of the present age, and are not vigilant in saying no to the lusts of the flesh, we will unfortunately not receive the spiritual blessings we long for. And what is worst in all this, is that we already have those blessings. But we will not enjoy them, because they will be stifled by other things. We will have only the bare minimum, with no real spiritual progress.

Let us ask the Lord to open our eyes to see what is preventing us from enjoying the blessings we have in Christ.

We will not find our blessings in this world, nor satisfaction in what it has to offer us! Our blessings and true satisfaction are found in the person of Jesus Christ alone.

In summary

In summary, the Israelites expected the blessing of their work, which was quite legitimate in their eyes, but they had only the bare minimum. They had neglected God’s call in order to serve their own interests.

If we see that our efforts to grow spiritually produce only the bare minimum, the Lord invites us to consider our ways carefully.

Let us be attentive to what He has to tell us. This is the way to be richly blessed by His Word, to be nourished by Him, to rejoice in Him, to have burning hearts for Him, and to be enriched by His blessed person!

It is in Jesus alone that there is full satisfaction.

Let us go to Him, and live for Him!

The Lord comes!