Modern life has long been characterized as a “rat race,” or likened to a hamster in a wheel. We scurry back and forth from work or school, constantly busy, frequently exhausted, often at our wits’ end trying to make it from one paycheck to the next, and generally without making any measurable progress. Even in the best of economic times it seems that most people are living on the financial brink. It is no wonder that so many are consumed with quiet desperation.
In the highly-charged, partisan political environment of our times it is common to blame such circumstances on the party in power, or on the obstruction of the opposition party. Most of the time it seems clear that the blame may be properly and equally spread among all the politicians, as well as the federal employees who staff the ever-growing governmental bureaucracy. Even so, the fact that life can often become a seemingly fruitless exercise did not originate with modern society.
In ancient Judah the very “hamster in a wheel” circumstances with which we are so familiar plagued that nation. In Hag. 1:5-6 the prophet wrote, “Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.'” The futility of Judah’s economic pursuits is graphically portrayed here. They were working harder than ever to get ahead in life, but they never had enough to get by. The imagery of putting one’s wages into a purse with holes is powerful.
The reason for these conditions, however, had nothing to do with the economic policies of the kings of Judah. In Hag. 1:7-11 God revealed what had brought about these conditions. The people of Judah had become selfish. They had been returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. They had done some of this work, but had not completed the temple, God’s house in this context. They had turned their own houses, however, into showplaces complete with paneled walls (Hag. 1:4). Therefore, God told them to consider their ways. He commanded them to get back to work on His house so that their daily labors would again be blessed by Him.
This is the heart of the matter as we consider the frustrations of modern life. The reason why so many among us are working harder, but still not making ends meet is that we have become selfish. Many are self-consumed in virtually all that they do. There is very little thought given to God and to spiritual things, and for this reason, I believe, many people are indeed putting their wages into a purse with holes.
In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord spoke of the anxiety that so many experience in trying to provide for themselves and for their families. In Mt. 6:25-32 He spoke of how God provides for the birds of the air and for the flowers of the field. He then assured us that if God would do this for the birds and the flowers, He will do even more so for us. The exclamation point to this assurance is Mt. 6:33, where Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
This is the one and only solution to the “rat race” of human life. If we put God first in everything we do, then we will receive the blessings that will make this life more pleasant and fruitful. If we put God first by honoring Him and obeying His will, then He will provide for our daily needs, and our wages will no longer go into a purse with holes.