My life alongside God's word volume 3. Prayer section.
When God’s answer is not what you wanted -
Our Lord Jesus was not the Messiah many of His
people wanted or expected, but He is the Saviour everyone needs, if they like it or if they don’t.
One way we know we are maturing in our
Christian discipleship is when:
we face a lot of hard problems in a difficult life
we pray regularly, talking and listening with God about them
God answers us saying, “Watch, things are going to get even worse”
perhaps after a time, we accept God’s answer, and
from the middle of our troubles, we praise God for who He is!
Habakkuk was a musician as well as one who spoke God’s words to the people, Habakkuk 3:19b. The name means “to wrestle, to embrace”. The last three verses of the book show the strength of his faith in God. He saw no visible blessings from God, but said
he would still “wait patiently” and “rejoice joyfully in God my Saviour”, 3:16b-19. It needs a well-developed, strong and healthy faith in God to behave like this.
God tells His man the ultimate purpose for everything
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea”, 2:14. Habakkuk finds this unbelievable as he reviews his everyday life. Where is the glory of God in his everyday struggles? So he wrestles with God in prayer, complaining about what he regularly sees: forceful damage, unfairness, the allowing of poor moral behaviour to go unpunished, laying of buildings and land to ruin, fighting, angry disagreements that often have led to uncontrolled mob rule,1:2-4.
I wonder if these remind you of anything in parts of Sudan and South Sudan?
God does not discipline Habakkuk for asking Him truthful questions
Questions are an honest part of our Christian living. They are, “God’s gift to a believer”. “God, how long before you listen?”, 1:2. “God, why do you allow people to do things I know you do not like?”, 1:3. In effect he is saying, “God, look at all this happening, and take me seriously”.
God’s answer is, “Turn a minute, Habakkuk, and look at Me”
He always wants to have His people understanding more of who He is, and then grasp what He is doing in the much bigger picture, 1:5-6. In effect He is saying, “I am God. I am in ultimate control. Stand back and watch in surprise and awe”.
I am sure you, like me, are praying for the violence to stop between the various factions in East Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, Unity State, Upper Nile, the Juba camps or elsewhere. We must note this very carefully: God’s answer to Habakkuk was, ‘things are going to get worse, not better’!
God was about to give the corrupt king and country over to the hands of a people even more carelessly willing to hurt others in order to get what they wanted. The Babylonians were fast moving destroyers of anything and everyone who was in their way, 1:5-11. But notice verses 5-6 tell us, it was God who was about to raise and use them!
Habakkuk speaks to God again
In 1:12-2:1 Habakkuk reminds himself of his awe and reverence for God, 1:12. Then come his questions again, put slightly differently this time: “God, why do you accept their evil way of life?” and “God, why do you use those who are morally wrong and cannot be trusted?”, 1:13. A last question is in 1:17, I paraphrase, “Are these evil folk going to
plunder and destroy forever?”
With the history of wars and other fighting in Sudan and South Sudan we may well ask ourselves and God, “Will there ever be any end to this?” Habakkuk is a good example for us in his next move. He decides to positively wait and look to God for God’s answer,
2:1. And reading 2:2-20 we see Habakkuk gets it, but he doesn’t like it!
God shares that the Babylonians will gradually destroy themselves
It is happening from within. Their evil ways will be their undoing. God will make sure of this. It will happen at the time God plans – not before and not after, 2:3. Five “Woes” in 2:6,9,12,15, and 19, introduce bad things God holds the Babylonians responsible for, and for which He will judge them. “Woe” is a word that is not a curse but is a lament for
justice, meaning, “alas, how terrible for them”.
Our God Who raised up and used the Babylonians was about to bring disaster upon them He was never, ever, approving of their evil. In ‘the principle of double intent’ God’s purpose was quite different to that of His agent. “God was using the Babylonians as a judgement on the wickedness of His people, but the Babylonians were pursuing their
own ends. The motives with which the Babylonians were acting were the ones for which God would call them to account”. (Youssouf Dembele in Africa Bible Commentary).
Habakkuk also heard it was “the Lord Almighty” Who always decided what happened, and that “the Lord’s right hand” would ultimately bring judgement upon all evil, 2:13,16. Like all of God’s people he knew the naked ability of God described by this anthropomorphic phrase, Exodus 15:6; Psalm 17:7, 20:6, 44:3, etc.
Today we have to try and believe We must understand and hold on to the truth that
our Sovereign God, who rules over everything with His absolute knowledge of everything, and with His total ability to do what He pleases, is somehow using
the terrible tragedies and heartaches of our past, present and foreseeable future lives. Judgement will fall. God’s patience will (appear to) end. God is always good, no matter what is happening. But there is no ‘salvation’ for us, yet. When you cannot look forward, look back and then up. Our Saviour Jesus defeated death by dying. He pointed His followers ahead, to the life beyond this one, John 14:1-6.
Habakkuk prays a prayer that shows his own enduring faith in difficult times
It comes in chapter three, after “The righteous will live by his faith”, 2:4, perhaps the most well-known verse in this book. It is quoted in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38. The strumming prophet showed his faith by what he did, as we all must do. Talk alone is not real faith. If we do not show faith, perhaps it is because we have not got any
genuine faith to put into practice? Read carefully Hebrews 10:35-39; James 2:14-26.
Bad times are under God’s control
At the start of this prayer Habakkuk reminds himself of God’s longstanding reputation. He says, “I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work”, 3:2 (NRSV – italics mine). He has realised that God is at His work in and through the awful trials and tribulations he, the people and the land are experiencing. Suddenly the bad times are not simply the bad times! They have
become ‘the bad times that are under the control of and for the purposes of the Holy, Almighty, Creator and Keeper, God’. Of course, they were controlled all of the time, but Habakkuk has only just come to understand this.
He immediately asks God for something. “In wrath remember mercy”, 3:2. “Wrath” is the holy and righteous legal judgement and punishment God is executing on the Babylonians. We might say, “the wages of sin when there is no Saviour”, Romans
3:21-26. Habakkuk asks God not to forget those in the severe troubles who “live by (their) faith”, Habakkuk 2:4. “Mercy” is “the act of treating someone in a kind way when you could have punished them”. We do not deserve God’s kindness, God’s forgiveness, and a God-given new spiritual life. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”, Romans 5:8. Amen. Hallelujah!
In my Bible, which I have had for ten years, I have circled with my pen in 3:3-7 every time the words, “God”, “the Holy One”, “His”, “Him”, and “He” appear (it is the NIV translation). In 3:8-15 I have circled every time, “You” and “Your” appears, when referring to God. Reviewing them altogether we read Habakkuk describing his learned memories of God’s
glory on earth. Describing the Creator-Warrior’s presence from history he recalls how, “Earth, water and fire in the sky acknowledged the Creator and acted for His delivering purposes”. What a marvellous, awe-inspiring God we love and serve. We must never forget this. Our Lord Jesus went through huge trouble on the cross for our salvation.
Incomprehensibly God the Son was forsaken by God the Father, Matthew 27:46. It was a holy and just act of God, by God, on God, and actually for God as well.
“Now to Him Who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”, Ephesians 3:20-21.
History is under God’s control
History is following God’s sovereign plan
History is fulfilling God’s purposes
History will work out for God’s glory.
One day God will do again what He did then. Good will triumph and be seen to do so. After what seems to describe a panic or an anxiety attack Habakkuk said, “I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us”, 3:16. In his
weakness he continued, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go to the heights”, 3:19.
Habakkuk is a great example for us to follow
His God is our God. 3:17-18 become a test of the developed maturity of our individual Christian faith. When there are no visible blessings can you still rejoice in your Saviour and your God? I ask myself, can I? I know from living with the results of my voice-box cancer since 2006 that it can be tough along the way. Our Bible records many people who
followed God faithfully and received great blessings as a result. We enjoy hearing sermons about them, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Solomon and David, etc. However we must remember that the Bible also has a lot to teach us from others who suffered badly, Job (at first), Jeremiah (for his faithful service), Paul (on his missionary travels), those “the world was not worthy of” in Hebrews 11:36-40, those James wrote to, James 1:2-3, 12; those Peter wrote to, 1 Peter 1:6-10, 4:12-19; among others.
“In spite of his fear of the impending invasion, 3:16-17, the book of Habakkuk ends on a very positive note: “I will rejoice”, 3:18. The prophet places his entire confidence in the Lord and draws his strength from Him. He recognises that God is the source of salvation, 3:18-19. What an encouragement for us in Africa! In the midst of wars, famine and social
injustice, we can still rejoice on the basis of our trust in the sovereign God. God is doing great works in our continent. He is looking for men and women who will build up the wall and stand before Him in the gap on behalf of the continent so that he will not have to destroy it, Ezekiel 22:30”. (Youssouf Dembele , Africa Bible Commentary).