The efforts to rebuild the temple hit quite a few roadblocks. Some of those roadblocks were external—sabotage from neighboring troublemakers, political tension with foreign powers, and the constant possibility of ambushes and skirmishes from those who saw the temple as a threat.
But the roadblocks weren’t all external. In fact, some of the most difficult ones were entirely internal:
About 15 years after the rebuilding efforts began, God sent the prophet Haggai to reprimand the builders for slacking on the Job:
“Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.”‘ Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” (Haggai 1:2-4).
It’s not that the builders weren’t doing anything. They were doing other things. Building their own fancy houses while the temple they had been called from captivity to reconstruct was still in shambles. Neglecting the house of God while chasing after their own wants and desires.
“‘You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house'” (Haggai 1:9).
In the middle of their own pursuits, the remnant of Judah had lost sight of what really mattered.
* * *
And what are you?
You’re not just a builder of the temple.
You are the temple. You’re part of it.
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
But the temple isn’t finished. There’s still work to be done.
“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
* * *
What are you adding to that temple?
You’re in it. You’re a piece of it. God is using you as a structural component of this living temple, and in so doing, He has given you both a purpose and a function.
How would this temple be any different if you weren’t part of it?
It’s tempting to shrug that question off or downplay it: “Oh, probably not very different,” or, “I doubt anyone would really notice.” But that’s silly. We can all notice a hole in the wall, and that’s what we’d have if you weren’t here.
Not unpatchable. Not irreplaceable. But as a living stone in this living temple, you are connected to the stones around you, and you are contributing to the overall integrity of this spiritual building.
So what are you adding?
* * *
More specifically, what do you feel like the Church is missing?
Here’s where things start to get really personal. Because, look, I’ve been in the Church my whole life. I grew up in it—and one of the big things I’ve discovered in that time is how easy it is to get frustrated with “the way the Church does things.” (I’ve also discovered how easy it is to say “Church” when what we really mean is “congregation,” but that’s another post entirely.)
I think it usually comes from a good place. The Church is our home. It’s where we feel (or at least want to feel) safe from the world and connected to our spiritual brothers and sisters. So when it feels like we’re collectively missing the mark on something, it’s that much harder to shrug off and ignore. Something is wrong with the one place we value more than anything, and we want to see it repaired.
But sometimes—okay, most of the time—it stops there. It stops with the complaint, the frustration, the dissatisfaction. We express it to others, we repeat it to ourselves, we point at it, but it doesn’t go away and it doesn’t stop irking us.
Which makes it easier to step back. To throw up our hands and say, “I don’t like this but no one’s doing anything about it.” To turn our attention to our own houses and stop feeling invested in the house of God.
But that’s not going far enough. When we notice something missing in the Church, when we notice a gap in our spiritual building, then our first question as living stones should be, “What can I do to fill that gap? What can I do to make this better?”
We don’t always do that. I don’t always do that.
But what would it look like if we did?
* * *
Haggai’s message was unusual—not because of the message itself, but because the people who heard it did something with it. They took it to heart. They changed what they were doing. The leaders, the priests—everyone “obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the presence of the Lord. Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, spoke the Lord’s message to the people, saying, ‘I am with you, says the Lord'” (Haggai 1:12).
Change doesn’t happen overnight. That temple wasn’t rebuilt overnight. Even with renewed zeal and focus, it took everyone showing up, day after day, putting in the work to make it happen.
And that’s true for us, too.
If you’re frustrated with the lack of impact your congregation is having on your local community, maybe you’re the one who needs to start planning something. Start small—find a need that you and a few other like-minded people can fill. Get a group together and make it happen. Find another one. Make it happen again. If more people are interested, try and tackle something bigger. You don’t need a title or a committee to make it happen—just start the stone rolling.
Or maybe no one in your congregation ever does anything together outside of services, and it’s driving you crazy. Okay. Start small again. Talk with people. Figure out what everyone likes doing. Figure out what days and times generally work for everyone. Then plan an activity that fits the bill, invite everyone you can, and see how it goes. It doesn’t need to be huge and overproduced—it just has to exist. Then you can touch base with everyone and plan the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and see where things go from there.
Or maybe you’ve found that most of your Sabbath conversations tend to drift away from the spiritual and toward the physical. You can do something about that, too. Come prepared to services with your own conversation starters, and use them to steer the conversation back to spiritual things when you see it drifting. Make notes during the sermon and sermonette of points that would make for interesting discussions after services. Sometimes it’ll work well. Sometimes it won’t. And sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right subject or asking the right questions to the right people.
It’s hard. For most of us (and I’m including myself here), our default is to spot a potential improvement and wait for someone else to take care of it—someone with more qualifications, more experience, or more authority. But I think more often than not, we forget that we’re part of this temple. We can make it better—not for ourselves, but for everyone—just by starting small, making a plan, and sticking with it.
* * *
The temple was important, but I think God was more interested in the attitude of the builders than the actual building. After they got their act together, God asked:
Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing? Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!’
“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
God’s presence is what made the temple great, not the building itself. Once the builders dedicated themselves to building what mattered, God gave them the comforting promise: “Work, for I am with you.”
We are, collectively, a temple for the Holy Spirit. We are living stones placed into that temple by God Himself, and every day, every week, we have an opportunity to make that building even better.
God is with you. What will you add to the temple?
Until next time,