A God-Given Motivation – Haggai 1:13-15
By: Alistair Brown
My builder friend, Fred, was very confident all the work I’d asked him to do on our home could be completed in about three months. “Are you sure?” I asked. I had doubts because the project was not a simple makeover. It included taking away the whole back wall and building an extension for our kitchen and living room right out into the back yard. Fred and his team would be beginning in February, and he was telling me it would all be done by May.
But Fred was sure. “Yes, it’ll all be okay. The work will be finished by the end of May.”
Fred’s work was not done by the end of May. Nor by the end of June, or July, or August, or September. In fact, the last worker on our home remodeling project left our premises on Christmas Eve! Fred had not prioritized our work as he’d promised, so the pace was snail-like.
But I remember a different scenario with a new church building. From day one the workers on that building set off at a cracking pace. Within a few months foundations were laid, walls went up and the roof was in place. It was all so fast. But there was interior fitting-out work to be done, and the deadline for a ceremony to dedicate the new building was not far ahead. How could they finish in time? Very well, it turned out. Those builders were already fast, and they got faster. Not only was everything finished, but tidied up and ready two weeks before the ceremony.
I learned this: when people really want to get on with a building project, it’s amazing how quickly the work can get done.
After sixteen years of doing nothing except laying the foundations of the temple, the people of God had a new will to build that temple and honor God. Haggai’s prophecies had cut to their hearts, and only three weeks passed from the date of his preaching to when they started the rebuilding work. That was fast. What changed? They’d heard from God, and now they had a God-given motivation.
13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.
The people had heard from God, and they were motivated to work. God made them ready for that challenge in two more ways.
1. God promised to be with them.
Haggai announced: “‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord.” Many times in the Bible God assured his people he was right there with them.
He told Jacob at Bethel: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go” (Gen. 28:15).
Moses heard God say “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12) as he was commissioned to bring his people out of slavery.
When Joshua was taking over leadership of the people, God promised him, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Josh. 1:5).
When the Israelites faced a massive invasion of the land, God said to Gideon, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites” (Judg. 6:16).
And many more times through the Old Testament God made it clear he would always be with his people. It’s no different in the New Testament.
The gospel writer Matthew quotes Isaiah (7:14) describing the coming birth of Jesus: “‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matt. 1:23).
Jesus promised his disciples that, even after they could see him no more, the Father “will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17).
And, as he sent his people out with the Great Commission, Jesus reinforced the message that his disciples would never be alone: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
There is an old hymn with this refrain:
No, never alone,
No, never alone,
He promised never to leave me,
Never to leave me alone.
No matter the troubles, the battles, the struggle, the times of failure, “No, never alone.”
But what is being promised here is not just God’s presence but his power to help. God is not just watching, he’s working.
When I was fourteen, I played in a big golf tournament, and my father, who was a really good golfer, came to watch. I played very badly! The ball went left; the ball went right; the ball never went straight. After only a few holes my scores were so dreadful I knew I wouldn’t win the tournament, and my strokes only got worse. I was glad my father was there, but I so wished he could hit the ball for me. But he was there only to watch, and not to work.
When I was sixteen I had a very unpleasant job clearing and cleaning commercial hen houses which had become diseased. Day after day I slaved all on my own with the smelly, contaminated hen droppings, shoveling that mess into a wheel barrow and taking it away to be burned. It was spirit-destroying labor.
Then came the day the adult son of the owner and a friend came to help. Most of the time those two men worked in the forests. Their bulging forearms and broad shoulders were signs of enormous strength. I was a weakling beside them. But with their help, we shifted more hen droppings in one day than I had in two weeks. They were not there to watch but to work and the job got done.
God does not sit passively in heaven watching us struggle against life’s hardships. God is not a spectator. Instead our very active God rolls up his sleeves – so to speak – and works with and for us. He gives wisdom, he gives direction, he gives strength, he gives an outcome beyond our ability and beyond our dreams.
God is with us, and with us to work.
2. God stirred their spirits into action.
Haggai’s preaching had a dynamic effect on all those who heard him:
“So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people.” (v. 14)
Everyone was roused. It wasn’t just Zerubbabel and wasn’t just Joshua, the political and religious leaders. The “whole remnant of the people” were stirred.
All of them understood what God had said and were at one about what to do.
All of them were motivated. No-one walked away, leaving the work to just a few. All got on board.
Leaders and people, all were together for this major task.
And they really were “stirred up!” The words used here are the kind that would be used to describe people roused from sleep who are suddenly wide awake.
When I visited the really hot countries of the world, I always struggled with the soporific effects of the warm climate. I visited a church official who had no air conditioning and his office was oppressively hot. In less than five minutes I was falling asleep. In less than ten minutes I had that embarrassing experience of my head drifting sideways, and then jerking back upright. A colleague who was with me said later he thought I might fall right off my chair. I was embarrassed, but I couldn’t make myself stay awake.
But, no matter how hot the country I visited, there was one moment every day when I was one hundred per cent wide awake and that was just after I got up in the morning. Most of the places I went had no hot showers. And a cold shower in a hot climate is a very bracing experience. Get under that cold water and you are instantly wide awake. Every nerve in the body is jerked into full wakefulness. My body was definitely ‘stirred!’
For years the Jews who had come back to Jerusalem had drifted in their relationship with God and work for God, as if half-asleep in their devotion and commitment. Now they’d heard God’s voice, and they were stirred into full wakefulness.
They needed that for the challenge that lay ahead. I have known people who promised they’d give up their bad habits – biting finger nails, or smoking cigarettes, or staying up too late at night, or driving too fast – but their promises were no more than wishful thinking. There was no solid commitment.
But I’ve also known people come to a moment when they were truly ready and willing for change. Years ago I watched colleagues lose twenty, thirty, or even fifty pounds in weight and adjust their eating habits and lifestyles to stay at that level. That took determination and sacrifice. They didn’t achieve that with wishful thinking, but a firm commitment to live a new way.
God brought the people of Israel to a firm commitment. He stirred the spirits of Zerubbabel, Joshua and all the people. They were no longer making half-hearted promises. They were motivated for action.
God made them ready by promising to be with them.
God made them ready by stirring their spirits into action.
3. Then the people went to work.
They really did. The first verse of the chapter says Haggai prophesied to them on “the first day of the sixth month.” Convert that date into our modern calendar and you get August 29th. The last verse of the chapter says they began building on “the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.” Translated into our calendar, that would be September 21st. The elapsed time from prophecy to building was just over three weeks. They didn’t hang around! They got on with it.
As soon as they knew God had spoken through Haggai, they must have immediately got wood, organized building teams, and raised the funds for the construction. Their spirits were stirred. And now it was time to work, so they did.
In all ages, including ours, the temptation and the tendency has been for words to exceed action. Lots of fine promises are made, but sometimes little more than promises materialize.
The church is not exempt. I have vivid memories of people saying how keen they were to do evangelism, and all they needed was training. So I organized an evening of training and many came. I was very encouraged by the attendance and by how enthusiastic people were about that evening of preparation. But when the evangelism programs came along, they all excused themselves. Maybe they were all busy sharing their faith privately, but I doubt that. No one ever shared stories of passing on their faith.
Good intentions are easy and cheap. Hard work is difficult and costly. But nothing is done until people turn intentions into action, and action characterized these people of Israel from that moment forward.
We are also people who have the promise from God: “I am with you.”
We are also people stirred in our spirits.
We are also people with a great task to do for God.
God grant, then, that action also characterizes our obedience to God. May we be saved from stopping at good intentions and, instead, be people with a God-given motivation to get his work done.