Haggai on Having Faith When You’re Guilty
By Nathan Jones
I believe if you read the following excerpt from my new book, co-authored with Steve Howell, titled 12 Faith Journeys of the Minor Prophets (available on our website and on Kindle and Nook), you will marvel at the fact that the faith challenges the people of Israel in the Prophet Haggai’s time struggled with are just the same as God’s people today experience.
My (Steve’s) dad came home from the auction with a surprise. He had set out on a trip to a neighboring Kansas farm for an auction with a goal of purchasing camper jacks—tools you can use to maneuver a small portable camper into the bed of a pickup truck. The jacks came up for bid, and Dad jumped into the fray. After the bidding war was over and the auctioneer cried “Sold!” my dad was the victorious owner of the items he had set out to buy. But, when he went to claim his purchase at the auction’s close, he discovered that the items weren’t quite what he expected. Instead of just camper jacks, his bid had won the camper, too!
With his unexpected bonus, Dad returned home and made some plans. He placed the camper in our backyard, just east of the swing set. “A little work on the interior, a little paint on the exterior,” my father had said, “and this will be a fantastic playhouse for you and your sister.”
I was thrilled! What a great thought, to have the equivalent of a fancy treehouse on the prairie. My sister and I could spend a summer night outside on the farm, “roughing it” in our remodeled luxury accommodations. We could doze off in one of the two beds, grab a snack from the small refrigerator, and store all our essentials in the cabinets. It was a fantasy an eight-year-old boy could really get behind.
But, to this day, sadly, I never spent a night in that camper.
The plans started well. We had set to work that summer scraping the paint off the outer walls to prepare it for a fresh coat. We had removed some of the problem areas of the interior, tearing out stained carpet and loose cabinets. Dad was on pace to have it done before the nights started getting shorter. But then, other projects beckoned. A broken tractor stole a week of his time here, some sick cattle stole a week there. Summer turned to fall, fall to winter, and the promise of the camper was pushed back to the next season. Each new season brought its own issues and excuses for putting off the repairs. And so it waited for the next year, and the next, and the next.
Eventually, the dream of the backyard playhouse lost out to sports and cars and girls and college. I moved on, but the camper remained beside the swing set, a house in disrepair, a memorial to incomplete projects.
Looking back, I know that my dad wasn’t a sinner for failing to build a playhouse, but I also know he felt a little guilty for not completing it. The stoic farmer hinted at it in conversations, and you could see it in his eyes as he stared at the wooden shell years later. He knew that he had missed an opportunity for his kids. His reasons were respectable, of course. Any delay in completing this side project was for the sake of putting food on the table and keeping a roof above our heads. Farm equipment absolutely needed to be repaired before he could even consider fixing the floor of a playhouse. However, he was still guilty—guilty of breaking a promise and of deflating a dream. In the grand scheme of things, these might not count as major violations, but they were upsetting nonetheless.
Imagine, then, a scenario in which the violation is significant. Imagine a situation when the project is more significant than a playhouse and the impact more acute than a disappointed dream. Rather than a failure to upgrade a camper, it might be a failure to make a marriage work. It might be guilt over a friend’s suicide. It could come in the form of a grandchild on drugs, or a foreclosed house, or an ignored pain that turned out to be cancer.
Failure and guilt can elicit many different responses from us. We may respond by lying to ourselves, pretending not to know the truth. We may respond by sinking into depression, wallowing in our inadequacies. We may respond by seeking distractions, trying to find something to keep us from feeling the pain our guilt causes. We may even respond by trying to justify ourselves, explaining why our priorities outweigh God’s.
Are these responses right, or is there a better way to face our faults? What is a godly way to handle blame? Specifically, how do you have faith when you’re guilty of sin or failure?
Instead of allowing failure to escalate from a disappointment to a disaster, or from a minor regret to a major rebellion, we need to hear the words of Scripture and understand the heart of God. When facing a situation where you’re guilty of sin, we need to remember the faith lessons His Word shows us. The Minor Prophet Haggai proves to be an ideal person to teach those lessons.