THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING IN EARNEST

(May 11, 2020) Brian Bell shares some personal thoughts and challenges from the book of Haggai

Let me reassure you, the title of this meditation is not drawn from the writing of a work of a similar title by the author Oscar Wilde. I don’t intend sharing about ‘being Earnest’ but about ‘being in earnest.’

Firstly, the adjective ‘earnest’ indicates ‘showing sincere and intense conviction.’ With this definition in mind, I share a few thoughts – an inspiration arising from reading the book of Haggai, NLT (1996 version).

Here, through the prophet God speaks to his people – people who thought they were living in luxury – and Haggai seeks to open their eyes to the Lord’s perspective about their situation when he challenges ‘consider how things are going for you’ (Haggai 1:5).

God’s perspective – the ‘not enough of’ list
Through Haggai the Lord highlights in verse six some ‘not enough of’ items as he sees the situation:

  • HungerFood to eat but not enough to fill you up.’
  • Thirst – ‘Wine to drink but not enough to satisfy.’
  • Insufficiency – ‘Clothing to wear but not enough to keep you warm.’

He also adds two other shortages –

  • BarrennessPlanted much but harvested little.’
  • Worthlessness – ‘Wages disappear as though they were put in a pocket filled with holes.’

Then in verse 7 the phrase ‘consider how things are going for you’ is repeated, as if the Lord is underlining the reality of their situation.

This reminds me, challenges me about the importance of seeing my own life from God’s perspective.

Praise God for his faithfulness and provisions
This month my wife Eveline and I celebrate 42 years of married life. Throughout those years (and indeed even years before for some things) I have praised the Lord for his sincerity and faithfulness, for

  • A job which enabled me to own a home and to be able to provide for Eveline and I.
  • Our two children (and for four grandchildren).
  • A good family circle.
  • A good measure of health and strength (although like most people we have known sickness).
  • Enabling us to be in fellowship with God’s people.
  • The privilege of serving the Lord in various ways.
  • The many friends he has given us over the years.

But… I have to be honest with you and say I haven’t always had the perspective I should have had, yet praise the Lord that he has never failed me despite my failings!

Being earnest, being real
In Haggai the Lord points out that while his people were busy building their own homes and in need, his house – the temple – lay in ruins (Haggai 1:4, 9).

I see this as a metaphor for the state of their spiritual condition. Thankfully there is a positive and obedient response to the challenge given through Haggai and in verse 12 we read that ‘the people worshipped the Lord in earnest’ and, in verse 14, they began work on God’s house. This all speaks to me about being real, making it real.

Until the Covid-19 restrictions were introduced, we’ve been used to assembling together on Sundays (the Lord’s Day) again and joining in song, lifting our voices in praise. God willing when we’re able to meet again in this manner, that our worship will be even more real than it was before.

But this earnestness, this reality doesn’t come from…

  • Merely my emotional response (while it employs my emotions).
  • The fact that the fellowship I am a part of is well known for its music, nor…
  • Whether or not we make great music!

It must be from my heart’s earnest response.

Heart response
Eric Liddell the Olympic athlete and missionary to China once said, ‘God made me to run fast and when I run I feel his pleasure.

Being in earnest is a heart matter! And as I think about that famous runner, and also recall what Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:24 that true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth’, I realise afresh that the place and the format of worship are not as important as is the nature of my worship. That my own worship is about giving pleasure to the Lord and I should be in earnest about doing that.

Notice God’s response in Haggai 1:12-13 to earnest worship – ‘I am with you says the Lord’…this speaks to me about the importance of knowing the Lord’s presence.

Matthew 18:20 reality
In this scripture, the Lord Jesus told his disciples, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name I am in the midst.’

I realise Jesus spoke these words to show that the Jewish tradition of not going into congregational prayer and worship unless there were 10 men present (a quorum, a minyan) was not binding, that in fact, numbers don’t matter.

Now most of us are used to sharing in a fellowship which is regularly made up of more than two or three people, never mind ten! However, in these days of lockdown restrictions have many of us now down to a household of two (or even one), but we have the reality and certainty of the Lord’s promise to be with us!

Earnest, lively worship
Haggai 1: 14 is a lively verse: ‘So the Lord sparked the enthusiasm of Zerubbabel.’

For me, the most important message in these eight words (and eight – shemoneh – is a significant scriptural number!) is the source of this enthusiasm – it was not ‘worked up’ by Zerubbabel, it was not even a result of earnest worship, it was given by the Lord.

‘Sparked’… or ‘stirred’ in other translations, is what the Hebrew means, also ‘to have one’s eyes opened.’ This is the kind of enthusiasm which says to me ‘Make it live!

Following on, in verse 14 we see this enthusiasm was infectious and it led the people to come together and work on the Lord’s house – in other words dealing with their spiritual condition. As the Message puts it ‘got Zerubbabel, Joshua, and all the people moving.’

I believe the Lord expects me (indeed all of us) to ‘live’ each day. This is a challenge for me… I must:

  • Seek to live with a spiritual perspective;
  • Go on pursuing his pleasure;
  • Ensure I have an awareness of his presence;
  • Be about the demands and responsibilities of life in earnest; and
  • Always have that enthusiasm which he is able to give!

Now this sharing of my thoughts above is, to me, so important… and I trust it is to you too, that this challenge to me blesses and encourages you too in this time of lockdown.

To me, it’s not all about ‘the importance of being earnest’ but all about ‘the importance of being in earnest!’

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Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’ Link: brian.bell22@btinternet.com

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