Have you ever walked into the middle of a story? You come upon two friends who are arguing. You want to help, but don't know how until you listen for a while. You need to learn the backstory–who did what that led to the dispute.
He doesn't use His strength to squash us, but stoops to our level and looks us in the eye.
The first thing we notice about Haggai is we are walking into the middle of a story. The prophet received God's word during the second year of King Darius, and he delivered the message to Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest (Haggai 1:1). Who are these people? We learn their backstory in Ezra 1-6. A Persian king had permitted God's people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. They laid the foundation, then stopped for 20 years when their neighbours opposed them. They realised their temple wasn't going to be as magnificent as Solomon's anyway (see 1 Kings 6). They figured they might as well stay home and remodel their own houses.
The second thing we notice about Haggai is we're walking into the middle of an argument. The people say, ″The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord's house.″ The ″Lord Almighty″ replies, and He is not happy (Haggai 1:2-4). The name ″Lord Almighty″ occurs 14 times in Haggai and 55 times in Malachi. It means ″Yahweh of Armies″ and underscores God's invincible rule.
What would you expect the most powerful being in the universe to say? Something glorious? Something victorious? Here's a wonderful truth about our God. He doesn't use His strength to squash us, but stoops to our level and looks us in the eye. He asks, ″Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?″ (v. 4).
God mentions time because ″time″ was His children's excuse. They wouldn't concede that they had given up on the dream of rebuilding the Lord's temple. They argued that it was still there, it just wasn't the right time. And it hadn't been for 20 years! Discouraged people make excuses, then distract themselves with lesser things.
God realises His children are stalled by fear and failure. The future feels closed, so God opens up possibilities with a question. That's the magic of questions. They're open-ended; they invite us to imagine what might seem impossible. Questions perk up our ears, set our wheels turning, and get us dreaming again.
Where do you feel stuck? It may be a marriage, or perhaps a child who resists your love. You're angry, and scared, and tempted to pull back. Perhaps it's a task you must complete. The adrenaline rush has worn off, and you're making excuses that now isn't a good time to finish what you've started. If the Lord Almighty were speaking to you, what question might He ask?