Consider Your Ways

Along the Way @

Gentle Reader,

Studying the book of Ezra means studying the books of Haggai and Zechariah, two prophets who figure prominently in the Ezra storyline. One identified himself as a young man (Zechariah 2:4). The other was probably an old man (Haggai 2:3 may point to Haggai having seen the Temple before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it). It’s possible that they both returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel/Sheshbazzar, though they are not named among the company (Ezra 2).

These somewhat-murky figures serve as God’s megaphone to a discouraged and distracted people. In no way am I condemning the Jewish people. I don’t blame them for being discouraged and distracted. Rebuilding the Temple (and Jerusalem itself, as seen in the book of Nehemiah) was no easy task. Opposition came from all sides. I understand why many of them threw up their hands and looked to reestablishing their own homes (Haggai 1:4).

It’s a picture of the fear and wrong priorities I have all too often.

Onto the page the ink spilled. These men of God begin to speak.

Haggai says, “Consider your ways” (1:5)

Our English “consider” is made up of three separate Hebrew words:

Sum/siym: to put, place, set, appoint, make; direct

Lebab: inner man, mind, will, heart, soul, understanding

‘al: upon, on the ground of, according to, on account of, on behalf of, concerning, beside, in addition to, together with, beyond, above, over, by, on to, towards, to, against

Direct your mind. Set your will. Make an account of what you’re doing.

Think about it.

Really think about it.

Haggai is calling his people to obedience. He is telling them to examine their priorities. He hearkens back to Ezra 3:3, when they built the altar and offered sacrifices to the Lord “despite their fear of the peoples around them” (NIV). He is reminding them. Drawing their minds back to what truly matters.

They were suffering through drought, famine and scarcity because they had forgotten their first love. Haggai’s voice, perhaps gravelly and low-pitched with age, demands their attention. He speaks the message of God. He tells them that they need to get down the business of restoring the Temple, restoring worship. Blessing would flow from their obedience.

They can do this. They can respond positively.

They can because they are not alone. They are not left to grapple with the overwhelming rubble and the sneering, hostile pagans. “I am with you, says the LORD” (Haggai 1:13)

We don’t have to stretch far to make the application to our own lives.

God does not promise to prosper us materially. The Church is not national Israel; the way the covenant blessings are applied to us is different. Yet He does promise to bless and keep us as we seek to please Him (check out the entire book of Ephesians for a plethora of examples). When our priorities are right and we seek to obey Him, we are graced with love, peace, joy and fulfillment – even if the circumstances remain difficult. We walk in the assurance of knowing we have done what’s right.

I didn’t want to hear this today. Didn’t want to read these words of Haggai.

Here’s the unspoken thought behind all this: Obedience costs something. Yes, the rewards are great. But the cost can be great, too. The returned exiles had to defy pretty much everyone from the king on down as they began the work once more. They faced harassment at best, death at worst. It was no joke to do what they did. (Further on in the story we find out that some of the officials in the area contacted King Darius about it. King Darius winds up saying, “Yeah, leave them alone – better than that, do whatever you can to help them. And have them offer some sacrifices for me and my sons.” Nobody knew that this was going to be the outcome, though).

Obeying God is worth the cost. I know that. He’s proven Himself faithful. I know that I must fear (reverence) Him and not those whose only power is to kill me (Matthew 10:28). (Not that I think anyone is going to kill me. I’m not paranoid. It’s just a principle about the place of God and the place of people in my life).

Still. In my smallness, in my humanness, I fear.

There are two lengthy blog posts in my drafts queue. Publishing one of them, let alone both of them, is scary. I don’t want to deal with the potential fallout. I don’t want to wade through nasty comments. I want to pretend that the things never happened. That I don’t know about them. That everything is fine and wonderful.

I can’t. I know I can’t.

I must consider my ways.

Set my priorities.

Obey God.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Writing Life

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Gentle Reader,

Participating in the 31 Days challenge reaffirmed for me the necessity of daily discipline in writing. Though I cannot find the source of this information just now, I remember reading that Edith Wharton and Henry James both maintained a strict writing schedule. While I am not arrogant enough to count myself among their ranks, I see the sense in the blending of art and work. Some days the words flow without effort. Others, they must be forced.

I have had a new project lurking in the corners of my mind for some time now. The preliminary research is done; pink sticky notes mark important passages in several well-loved books. But I am afraid. I open a Word document and stare at the blinking cursor. It seems that my experience of two years ago not only knocked me down a much-needed peg or two, it inspired fear. What if I can’t do this? Why do I think I have anything valuable to say?

There is vulnerability in putting words to paper. I like blogging because I can ignore negative comments. I don’t have to see anyone read these posts. To write another book, to pour in the hours of effort, to delete pages worth of work and begin again, all to run the risk of being rejected…. Crippling self-doubt halts the process.

I am shaking my head right now, seeing clearly that I continue to idolize the good opinion of others. Ah, but a writer lives on those reviews – doesn’t she? Or can she pursue her craft as an act of faith, lifting it up as worship to the King?

Long ago I determined that this writing would not be about me. If I believe that God gives us gifts and talents, then I must believe that He wants us to use those gifts and talents in service to Him. That means words. That means sharing the truth the best way I know how. So pray, dear friend, as I struggle to begin. There may be days where it comes easily. There may be days when I fight with my own self just to spit out one sentence.

Fear has stopped me from doing too many things, too many times. I can’t let it get in the way of this. I don’t see myself big enough or brave enough to shove the feeling aside, but I know the One who is.

My journey to faith. (15)