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First Things First

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FIRST THINGS FIRST

Scripture: Ezra 5:1–17, 6:1–15; Book of Haggai

Memory verse: Colossians 3:2
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Lead—In

Bring a torch/flashlight you have disassembled. (Other objects could be used as long as they are not hard to put together, yet they have several steps that must be completed in a specific order.)

Before class, write a list of step-by-step instructions for assembling the object you brought to class. Cut the instructions apart, fold them, and place them into an empty cup. Display the disassembled object and ask a volunteer to put it back together by carefully following the instructions. Allow other students to take turns drawing an instruction from the container and reading it aloud to the volunteer.  The volunteer must then follow the instruction exactly, even though the step may be out of order. It will soon become apparent that the item cannot be assembled in just any order.

Explain that the object lesson illustrates the way life was for the people of Judah when they came back to their homeland. They were trying to build something much more complex than a flashlight. They were trying to rebuild the temple of God in Jerusalem. Just as it was difficult to assemble the flashlight without doing things in their proper order, it was hard for the people of Judah to get their job done.

Hearing God’s Word

Though God loved the people of Judah, they refused to love and serve Him. The consequences of their sins caused them to be taken as captives to Babylon. Even though He had to punish them, God never forgot about His people.

God’s People Get To Go Home

As time went by, the Babylonians lost much of their power. When a Persian king named Cyrus took control of the land, he allowed God’s people to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple. However, many of the people had grown so comfortable living in Babylon they had no desire to return to Judah. Still, about 50,000 people made the long journey back to Jerusalem.

The people had been in captivity 70 years. Many of the people who made the trip were too young to remember much about Jerusalem or the temple. They had probably heard stories of its splendour. There was nothing glorious about the burned out ruins waiting for them when they arrived. The splendour of Jerusalem was gone. The untended land had become overgrown and useless. Although work on the temple had begun earlier, stiff opposition from neighbouring places discouraged God’s people from continuing their work. People turned instead to building their own homes instead of God’s. Work on the temple stopped altogether, leaving little more than the foundation completed.

The People Forget God’s House

The more time passed, the less likely it seemed the temple would ever be finished. The people had plenty of excuses. They were poor and had to work long hours on their own homes or in their fields in order to make a living. There seemed to be no time or money left to spend on the temple—God’s house.

Instead of things getting better, things grew continually worse. Each year there seemed to be less time and money. The crops did not grow well, the people grew poorer, and they spent even more time trying to get by. How could the people even begin to think about finishing God’s temple when they had so much work of their own to worry about?

Haggai Encourages the People

God knew what the people’s real problem was. He called a prophet named Haggai (HAG-i) to tell them. We don’t know much about Haggai. His name means “festival.” The Bible does not tell us anything about his family. Still God chose Haggai to give the people of Judah His message. Through Haggai, God explained why the people worked so hard yet seemed to get nowhere. It was because they were failing to put God first in their lives.

When a person invests his money, or puts it into a savings account at the bank, he expects it to grow and increase. The more he puts in, the more he expects to get back. The people of Judah had invested their time and energy into their land and homes. They expected their hard work to pay off. But they were very disappointed with the outcome.

How did God describe their situation? (Ask a student to read Haggai 1:6.) No matter how hard the people worked, they were never able to get ahead.

Ask: “Why?” (Allow responses.)

It was because God’s house remained in ruins while each family had managed to build a home in which to live. There is even evidence the people were using the fine cedar wood intended for the temple to panel their own homes. Despite any excuses they might give, people usually manage to do whatever is truly important to them. The way the people had allowed the temple of God to stay in ruins clearly showed their priorities were wrong.

Because of this, God could not bless the people as He desired to do. If they wanted to receive God’s help and provision, they would have to change their ways. They would need to remember the purpose for which they had been sent to Jerusalem in the first place—to build a temple for God.

Misplaced Priorities

Today we may not need to build a temple for God. We may have a nice church to worship in each week. But there are other ways we might be tempted to ignore or forget to put God first in our lives. This week’s memory verse tells each of us to, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). (Repeat the memory verse with the students several times.) When we love earthly things, such as friends, sports, TV, comics, grades, family, or other things so much that they take time away from the time we would spend with God, we are making the same serious mistake the people of Judah did.

Have you ever wanted to be popular so badly you went along with the crowd and did something wrong, even when you knew you should not do it? Have you ever wanted to spend time with your friends so much you refused to take time to help someone who really needed your help? If so, you have been guilty of putting other things before God.

Do not fool yourself. The results of neglecting God are the same as they were in the days of Haggai. The simple truth is that God cannot truly bless those who do not put Him first. The person who robs God of time will find he never has enough time to get everything done. The person who robs God of money will find the money he does have does not go very far. It is never enough.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking you will be a better student if you study on Sundays instead of going to church. Do not rationalize that you will pay your tithes when your allowance is bigger. Seek God first. Determine in your heart to start today putting God first. Decide now to tithe to Him regardless of the amount of money you receive; be faithful to His house regardless of your schedule; choose to make the time every day for prayer and Bible study, and be willing to give yourself to Him; He gave His life for us.

The People Listen to Haggai

How did the people respond to Haggai’s message? (Ask a student to read Haggai 1:14.) The people decided to make worshipping and serving God the most important thing in their lives. They began to change their priorities based on their decision. Within three weeks the people had organized themselves and their materials and had begun working on the temple once again. What was God’s response to the people’s change of heart? (Ask a student to read Haggai 2:19.) God could now bless the people.

When God’s people learn to put God’s commands before their own desires, God pours out His blessings upon them. That does not mean all their problems will vanish. The work to rebuild the temple was still difficult and slow. There was still opposition from the nations living nearby. But even this opposition did not change the fact that God was blessing His people and they did not quit working on the temple simply because it was difficult at times.

During the construction of the temple, Tatnai, the governor of the area near Judah, complained to the new Persian king, Darius, and asked him to make the people stop their work on the temple. But Darius not only supported the people’s right to continue construction on the temple, but he also told Tatnai to help pay the building expenses. How is that for God’s blessing?

God Will Supply Our Needs

When you decide to put God first by going to church even when you are busy, you might not automatically find you have more time than you know what to do with. When you decide to tithe first even when you do not seem to have enough money, you may not suddenly find you have plenty of money left over. But God will bless you and supply your needs if you put Him first. Are you putting God first in all you do? Try it; it works!

Accepting God’s Word

Jesus put God’s will first in His life when He came from heaven as a baby, grew up as a human being, and gave His life in place of ours. Because of His priorities, we can have our sins forgiven. It is our choice. We can accept Him as our Saviour and give Him first place in the things we do and say.

Family Witness

One Makonde youth accepted Jesus Christ as his Saviour while living in a town on the main road. He was discipled by a Makonde pastor, who encouraged him to return to the village to preach the gospel. In response to God’s leading and his pastor’s advice, he accepted the challenge. He has been in the village for three years and has led his parents and brother into the kingdom of God. Today they hold services in a small church, and about 15 believers attend.

The Makonde are best known internationally for their carvings of their family tree—or lineage—from black ebony wood.

Below the surface of Islam, Makonde worship centres on the veneration of their ancestors. This dominant theme is depicted in the family tree carvings as the older generation on the bottom supports today’s generation, both literally and symbolically.

REMEMBER TO PRAY!
Pray for This Generation

1. The Makonde introduced to Jesus, the Saviour, a solid rock on which to build one’s life for the present and for eternity.
2. Entire families to accept Jesus as their Saviour.
3. The Lord to call, prepare and send messengers to the Makonde.

Prayer Promise

"He will destroy...the sheet that covers all nations" (Isaiah 25:7). 

Remember: FIRST THINGS FIRST

Memory verse: Colossians 3:2
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

1. Failing to put God first in your life produces low productivity.
2. God's interests should hold priority over earthly interests.
3. Putting God first guarantees that our needs will be met.

Pray for Hundreds of Makonde Youth to Accept Jesus as Their Saviour.

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Study 14 | All Peoples/The Prophets | africaatts.org/go-teach

 

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