Two Things God Does When You Put Him Second

The year is 520 B.C. The bad news? Daniel, God’s faithful prophet is dead.

The good news? God has kept his promise to bring the children of Israel back from exile in Babylon.

In fact, God has even moved on the heart of a pagan king named Cyrus to help fund the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Two Jewish leaders named Nehemiah and Ezra, who would eventually have books of the Bible named after them, stepped up to lead the charge, and Israel got off to a great start—they rebuilt the walls of the city and laid the foundations of the Temple.

But then production just stopped. For about 16 years.

Why? you ask. They were the people of God, you say. Shouldn’t the temple be their first priority?

Well, as people tend to do in times of uncertainty, the Israelites drew inward and focused on building their own little kingdoms. And when the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai, he said, “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? … Think carefully about your ways: You have planted much but harvested little. …” (Haggai 1:4–6 CSB).

Apparently the people found time to prioritize their houses. God’s house? Not so much.

Because they put themselves first and God second, two things happened:

1. God frustrated their efforts.

When he says, “You have planted much but harvested little …” he means, “You put the farming work in, but the harvest is terrible. You’re putting the hours in, but the grades aren’t coming. You’re investing the money, but the returns aren’t there. I’m frustrating your efforts.”

God calls us to give him our first and best, so when we give him our second and the rest, we set God himself against us. Jesus put it this way: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (ESV). In context, “all these things” are all the other things we worry about.

But the flip side is also true: Seek first the kingdom of self, and all these things will be taken from you. That’s why C.S. Lewis famously said (I’m paraphrasing), “When you put first things first, God will throw in second things. But put second things first, and you’ll lose not only first things but eventually the second ones also.”

2. They were unable to find contentment.

Verse 6 reads, “… You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to be happy. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm. The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it.”

God is saying, Look—you keep spending money to buy stuff, but there’s like this gigantic hole in your heart, so that no matter what you put in, you won’t find that happiness and security and contentment that you seek!

This has to be one of the worst states to be in. Think about it. You obtain what you always wanted to obtain, but you still don’t feel like you always wanted to feel.

You get married, but you still feel alone.

You buy the vacation home, but you still don’t feel connected to your family.

You get to the top of the corporate ladder, but you still don’t feel significant and fulfilled.

I’ve heard it said, “Money will buy a bed, but not rest; education, but not wisdom; companions, but not friends; a house, but not a home; amusements, but not happiness; religion, but not salvation.”

What good is all the money and all the success if it doesn’t produce the joy and security and satisfaction in your heart that you crave?


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