Recently, during our Wednesday WOW services, I’ve started a Bible Study which takes us through the Book of Haggai. Haggai is one of those little books (it’s only two chapters) that we often blitz through without fully comprehending everything that God is saying in it. I mean, what great life-altering lessons can we learn from someone names “Haggai”, for pete’s sake?
In Haggai, the people were dealing with famine, economic hardship and external threats because while God had recalled them to Jerusalem to rebuild his Temple, instead they had built ornate and sophisticated houses for themselves while the Temple project languished from inattention. Haggai calls the people to obedience and points out their lack of obedience has resulted in a loss of blessings.
For those who (mistakenly) think that only the experiences of the New Testament apply to today’s believers, I’d point you to the book of Acts. Again, one of the first lessons in this record is simply this — Don’t expect blessings if you aren’t obedient. Or perhaps more succinctly one can say, “Blessings follow obedience.”
The opening scenes in the Book of Acts tells us that the disciples left the place of Christ’s ascension and went to the upper room which was about a “Sabbath’s Day Journey” to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. A Sabbath Day’s journey was the maximum distance one was permitted to travel on the Sabbath under rabbinic law. It was two thousand cubits or about one-half to three-quarters of a mile.
They went to an upper room which was a common part of the residential architecture at that time. These top floor assembly areas were used for everything from guest houses to celebration halls. This one must have been part of a rather large house, because it held at least one-hundred-twenty people.
By returning to Jerusalem, they were obeying the directive Christ had given them. If the disciples, energized by the repeated appearances of Christ had run off to begin their ministry at this point, they would have fallen on their faces. They would have been absent of the most important ingredient of their ministry - the Power of God. This is where we find the tremendous lesson in this passage: Obedience precedes blessings. If they were to enjoy the power of God on their lives and ministry, they first had to obey him by returning to Jerusalem and waiting for the promised visitation.
I wonder how many of us are powerless in our Christian living and ministries because we presume that God will bless us in spite of our disobedience. Even more preposterous, we get frustrated with God because He doesn’t accede to our demands while we ignore His. It is the height of arrogance for a Christian to anticipate God’s blessing while living in disobedience.
Biblical obedience really isn’t all that complicated. There are several characteristics that stand out to us through the example of Scripture.
First, it is current - Immediate, not when it is convenient or when we are convinced that we “should” obey. Jonah thought that he would or could obey God whenever it was convenient for him. Indeed, he took flight and went in the opposite direction after having received a directive from the Lord. Of course, we know it caused him to eventually have to endure a rather uncomfortable journey in the belly of a great fish. I’m sure he would have been quite the advocate for immediate obedience after that trip!
Biblical obedience is also complete obedience. Partial obedience is disobedience. Do you remember how Saul lost the blessing of God on his Kingdom? It was when he willfully chose to ignore a portion of God’s command to totally wipe out His enemies. Instead, he partially fulfilled his task and saved some of the royal family and some of the livestock. As a result, God’s prophet declared him a “rebel” and announced that God was “repenting” of making him King over Israel. From that point forward, Saul was little more than a lame duck. In God’s economy, partial obedience is no obedience.
It is also contented obedience. Have you ever watched someone obey through gritted teeth? They may be obedient, but they aren’t happy about it. When we obey with a wrong spirit, we lose the blessing of Biblical obedience. Once again, Jonah provides a good example of this. God used him to bring about the greatest revival a civilization might have ever seen as the wicked Assyrian Ninevites repented of their sin and God spared their lives. Jonah’s response was bitterness, anger and discontent. Our last image of Jonah throughout Scripture is an unhappy man sulking in the desert heat asking God to kill him. Wow! Did he ever lose HIS blessing?
God never asks of us what we cannot perform or give. He is not limited by what we lack. He simply asks that we be willing to obey.
Let’s not lose our blessings by refusing to obey the Word of God and the Spirit’s call in our own lives.