Our questions for God are important. Questioning can help you grow your faith. And if we don’t ask those questions, we don’t get the answers we need to move forward in faith.
And the reason I’m asking you to do this is because I think our questions for God are powerful. There’s two reasons I say that. Number one, if we don’t ask the questions we have, we won’t get the answers we need. I really do believe, I’ve seen it time and time again in my own life, in the life of so many people that when we ask the questions we have, even the hard questions, God is faithful in providing answers. I’m not gonna promise the answers are always easy, and I’m not gonna promise they’re always exactly what we were hoping they would be, but I do believe God answers those questions that we need answers to so we can move forward in faith. But if we don’t ask the questions we have, we won’t get those answers we need.
Second reason I say that our questions are so important is because asking God our questions is a way of growing our faith. Let me say that again because it’s so important, and I think a lot of people don’t quite get this. Asking God our questions is a way of growing our faith. And that might seem strange to you because you might have grown up in a faith environment where asking questions was not encouraged. It maybe even been actively discouraged. I got kicked out of my high school Sunday school class for having too many questions. So I know what it’s like to be in an environment like that. But the reality is that asking God our questions is not an obstacle to faith. And most people treat it like that, but it’s actually an opportunity for deeper faith. And I say that in part because the Bible is filled with stories of people who ask God questions, sometimes even asking God very hard questions, and found that asking God those questions led ultimately to a deeper trust in him.
And what I wanna do today and for the next few weeks is I wanna take you to one of those stories in the Bible. I wanna take you to the story of a man who asked God some really hard questions. It’s recorded in the book by the name of the man that the book’s about. His name is Habakkuk. Now, there’s a big debate in Christianity. Is it Habakkuk, or is it Habakkuk, or is it Habakkuk? And some of you’re like, “That matters?” No. It does not matter in the slightest. But the interesting thing is that the name Habakkuk is actually a very interesting name because, in Hebrew, Habakkuk either means he wrestles or he embraces. That’s what it means. It means he wrestles or embraces. And that might sound like a strange combination, right? Like wrestling and embracing, how does those go together?
But one of the things we’re gonna realize as we continue way through this book is that wrestling with God can lead to embracing faith. Wrestling with God can help us to embrace faith if we do it in the right way. And the reality is that often the things that we’re able to embrace tightest are the things that we’ve wrestled with to a certain point. When we haven’t wrestled with it, we don’t really have a very tight grip on it, and therefore it’s hard to hold onto those things when it really becomes necessary that we have them. Sometimes in those moments, they slip away because we haven’t wrestled with them. And so what we’re gonna see is that Habakkuk really helps us to wrestle in the right way, in a way that leads us deeper into faith.
Now, if you wanna find Habakkuk and follow along, you’re gonna find that it’s about here. And I say that because if you’re using a physical Bible…if you’re using a digital, it’s easy, just search for Habakkkuk, H-A-B-A-K-K-U-K. But if you’re using a physical one and you’re like trying to do this, “I’ll just skim until I see it,” you’ll probably miss it. Very short, powerful book, but it’s a very short book. So if you’re gonna use a physical Bible, I recommend you use that little thing we have at the beginning called an index. So you’re gonna find it about halfway through, and this is how it begins. Habakkuk says, “The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.” I wanna pause for just a moment there and let’s talk about the word prophecy because I find that a lot of people, maybe you don’t have much experience in church, maybe you’re new to the Bible, or maybe you’re not. Maybe you’ve been coming to church your whole life. What I find is, no matter what your background is in terms of faith, a lot of us misunderstand what prophecy is. And the reason we do that is we tend to think that prophecy is about foretelling the future. And so a prophecy is God foretelling the future. And that does sometimes happen. That often happens in prophecies we find in the Bible. But prophecy isn’t God telling the future.
Here’s what you need to understand about prophecy. A prophet or a prophecy is a message from God, sent to help us trust him in our present circumstances. Let me say that again because it’s really important. A prophecy is a message from God sent to help us trust him in our present circumstances. Now, he might do that by telling us some future things. Sometimes he does it by telling us some things that are going on in the present that we didn’t understand, and sometimes he even gives prophecies that deal with past things. And that seems strange because, again, we think prophecy is about future but it’s not. It’s a message designed to lead us to deeper trust in God. Whatever God tells us, past, present, or future is designed to help us trust him in our present circumstance. And that’s what Habakkuk’s all about.
Now, most of the prophets we find in the Scripture are people who kind of were going about their business, and God suddenly kind of broke into their lives and gave them a message that they were supposed to pass on. But that’s not how it worked for Habakkuk. Habakkuk actually asked God some questions. And the prophecy he received was really an answer to those questions. Let’s take a look at his questions. “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” And can we just be honest with each other? How many of us have ever wanted to ask God that? How many of us actually had the courage to ask it? Not as many hands there. Yeah. “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen, or cry out to you, ‘Violence,’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me. There is strife, and conflict abounds, and therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” These are Habakkuk’s questions for God. And they’re pretty similar to a lot of the questions that we probably find ourselves asking. They’re kinds of questions that seem like they would apply today, right?
“God, I’m looking around and I’m seeing a bunch of stuff that’s not right. How long are you gonna let it stay wrong?” And let’s be honest, these are intense questions, right? Like these are serious questions. They’re serious enough that like had I been there when Habakkuk started asking these questions, I would have started backing up. I’d been like, “Yeah. I don’t wanna be near him when the lightning inevitably strikes him.” You can’t ask God those kind… He’s in God’s face, right? And it’s really interesting, he doesn’t get lightning. God doesn’t get angry. Actually what God gives are answers. But to understand the answers that we’re gonna see God give, we need to understand a little bit more about the questions themselves because, really, what Habakkuk is asking boils down to this. Habakkuk’s question is, “Hey, how long are you gonna let the corrupt but powerful prey on the innocent but weak?” That’s his big question. How long are you gonna let the corrupt but powerful prey on the innocent but the weak? Because that’s not what’s happening.
Now, it’s important to understand that Habakkuk is asking this question in the context of God’s people. He’s asking this question in the context of the Nation of Israel. He’s not looking at the other nations that don’t know God. He’s saying, “Hey, in the Nation of Israel, this is what’s happening.” And we know that because he says specifically, “Therefore the Law is paralyzed.” And he’s talking about the Law of Moses. He’s talking about the Law of the Old Testament, the instructions that God gave his people when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and he said, “As long as you obey this Law, then you’ll stay close to me, and you will stay in a place where you’re gonna experience blessing.” And what Habakkuk’s saying is, “They’re not staying close to you, God. They’re not following your Law. I’ve got a bunch of people around me that claim they’re your people. They claim to be your people, God, but they’re not acting like your people at all. I know you care about the innocent. I know you care about the oppressed. I know you care about the poor. Well, you got a bunch of people in power among your people who don’t care about those things at all. In fact, they’re preying on those people.”
And this is significant, I think, to understand everything that’s gonna happen because what Habakkuk is doing is something that I’ve said multiple times that we need to do. We say this pretty frequently. And that is, before we go to God, one of the things we need to do is we need to spend more time looking in the mirror than out the window. See, often what happens is we get upset with God because we’re looking out the window and go, “Well, look at those people doing. I see people over there doing that, and there’s some terrible things happening there and there.” And what we need to start with is actually looking in the mirror and making sure that we’re in alignment with God. And that’s what Habakkuk’s doing. He’s saying, “Hey, our people are not in alignment with you. Our people are not following you. They’re not acting like your people, God.” And so his question is, “How long are you gonna let that continue before you discipline? How long are you gonna let that continue before you punish those who are pretending to be your people? There’s nothing in their lives that looks like they’re your people.”
These are the questions that Habakkuk asks, and this is the answer that he gets. “Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed,” which sounds like good news, but it’s not quite that good, “For I’m gonna do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” “What is it, God? What are you gonna do?” “I’m raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own. They’re a feared and dreaded people. They’re a law to themselves, and they promote their own honor. Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong. Their horseman come from afar. They fly like an eagle swooping to devour. They all come intent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They mock kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at fortified cities, by building earthen ramps to capture them, and then they sweep past like the wind and go on. They’re guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”
So Habakkuk’s question is basically, “Hey, God, how long are you gonna let your people continue to act like something other than your people?” And God’s response is, “Oh, not long. I’m gonna do something about it. Here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna raise up a terrible people. The Babylonian people, I’m gonna raise them up. They’re gonna rise to power faster than you could imagine, and they’re basically gonna sweep over the earth. They’re gonna conquer the earth, including Israel. They’re gonna destroy the Nation of Israel so fast they’re gonna hardly believe it happened.” And had I been Habakkuk, I’d have been like, “I would like to withdraw my question. Can we start over? Because that’s not what I was looking for.” And it’s interesting, actually, if you go back to verse 1, again, it’s called the prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received, but there’s an interesting Hebrew word being used there for prophecy, and the literal translation would be the burden.
He got an answer from God, but it was not really the answer I think that he was looking for. And it always strikes me funny. I’ve said this before, but people always tell me, “I wanna hear from God directly. Like I know he speaks through his Word. I know he brings people around me. I know the Holy Spirit leads me and guides me, but I would love for God to just speak out loud to me.” And I’m always like, “No, you don’t want that.” It’s rarely what you think it’s gonna be. I think sometimes when God speaks that directly to us, it’s because the message he has for us is hard that we probably would never have heard it if he didn’t do it in such a powerful, supernatural way. It’s kind of his experience here. Habakkuk goes, “How long?” And God says, “Not long at all. This is what I’m gonna do.” And Habakkuk’s like, “Really? Really, God? Wow.” That’s why we called the series that. Kind of a living illustration of that principle, you know, be careful what you ask for. He’s asked for God to deal with these terrible people among his people, and God says, “I’m going to.” It’s gonna be hard.
Now, we could go through this prophecy line by line, and we could point out how it lines up with the rise of the Babylonian empire. The Book of Habakkuk was written probably about 600 BC. About 604 BC, everything that’s described here happened. That’s 604 BC, the Babylonians basically wiped out the known world, took it over, and destroyed what was left with the Nation of Israel, leading ultimately to what we call the Babylonian exile because they scattered the people all over the empire. The bottom line, though, we don’t need to do it line by line because what you need to know is just this description fit the rise of the Babylonian empire perfectly. Habakkuk wrote this in about 600 BC, about 604 BC everything happened that he was predicting. And it’s so specific that there are skeptics today who go, “There’s no way that Habakkuk could have written that before it happened. He’s too detailed, too specific. This must have happened after it happened. How else could he have known this?” And the answer is because God told him. The God who knows the past, the present, and the future gave him this. Now, remember, why did he give it to him? To help Habakkuk and everyone who held this message trust God in the present. And it doesn’t really feel like that, does it? It doesn’t feel like this is a message that should help anybody trust God. It sounds like the opposite. It sounds like news. It would make it harder to trust God. There’s a key principle that’s going on we need to make sure we understand, and it’s this. One of the things that God’s saying is, “I will always address sin among my people. Don’t worry about this, Habakkuk. You’re worried that I’m not dealing with sin.” Listen, God always, God will always address sin among his people.
Because as the people of God, we have a mission from God. We’re called to extend God’s influence to every corner of creation, and that mission is too important. They’re eternal destinies in the balance. So our mission is so critical. And when we cease to obey God, when we’re living in sin, when we’re kind of ignoring God and stalling about getting back on his program and his mission because we wanna do our own, it has too many consequences. The price is too high, so God says, “I will always address sin among my people.” And the question, of course, is “Yeah, but why is it taken so long? Why haven’t you dealt with it faster?” And the answer is that God is patient. We know from several other places in Scripture that God is patient because he wants everyone to come to repentance. And, in fact, in several of the other books around the Book of Habakkuk, we find other prophets who were doing that. They were calling God’s people to repentance, and God’s giving them an opportunity to turn back before he has to bring destruction.
Make no mistake about it, God will always address sin among his people, but he gives us an opportunity to respond. And one of the ways he does that, by the way, it’s interesting, is he does it by asking us a lot of the same questions that we ask him. I don’t know if you ever thought about that, but God asks us a lot of the same questions we ask him. Like how many of us have ever asked God, “Where are you?” Let’s just be honest with each other. How many of us have asked that? Do you know who first asked that question? It was God. Go back to Genesis the first time that God’s people stopped acting like God’s people. The first time that Adam and Eve rebelled into sin and went away from God, the first question that God put to them was, “Where are you? Why are you running from me instead of towards me?” Long before we asked God, “Where are you?” God was asking us, “Where are you?” How many of us ever asked the question, “Why have you let this happen, God? Why have you done this?” It’s a valid question. But you know who asked the question first? It was God. God said to Eve, “Why have you done this?” How many of us have asked God the question, “How long do I have to wait, God?” And who asked the question first? God. He asked it over and over again. Actually, if you read back through all the pages that come before the Book of Habakkuk, you find God asking his people over and over again, “How long will you disobey me? How long will you live in sin? How long will you live in rebellion against me?” God asks us the same questions, and he does that so that we will come back to repentance.
The problem is that we so often just stall, right? God asks with these questions, we’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, but, you know, I’m having fun. Yeah. Yeah. I know. But, you know, I did this thing, and I know it wasn’t right, but nothing really bad happened, so it’s okay if I continue down that road a little while.” We keep stalling. And, in fact, it’s probably worth asking ourselves the question right now, is there a place in your life where you’re stalling? Is there a place in your life where you realize that God is calling you to something or calling you out of something and you’re stalling? And I ask that question because there’s a truth that we see here. God gave the Israelites a period of time to be able to repent, but they kept stalling. Here’s a principle. And I know this is just too cute by half, but I think it’s important to understand it. I want you to remember it. The longer we stall, the harder we fall. The longer we stall, the harder we fall. God may be calling you to something right now and you’re stalling. And you need to understand that there’s a moment in time eventually where God’s patience will give way to discipline. He cares about you too much. And the longer we stall, the harder that fall may be. So, stop stalling. Turn back to God, repent, come out of what you’re stuck in or move forward into what he’s calling you into.
The Israelites didn’t do that, and that’s why God gives such a difficult answer to his question. He says, “God, why are you waiting so long?” And on one level the answer is “Because I’m patient and I’m kind.” But the answer is also, “But I’m not gonna do that forever. What’s at stake here is too high. So I’m gonna bring discipline. I’m gonna do what’s necessary. It’s gonna be hard.” One of the things that’s interesting to me though is that, you know, Habakkuk asked God a really difficult set of questions, and he got back an answer. It wasn’t an easy answer. It certainly wasn’t the answer that he was looking for. And we’re gonna see Habakkuk continue to wrestle with the answer he gets, but I just think it’s interesting that he got the answer because that’s not always the case, right? Anybody here have gotten answers to every question you asked God? No. I don’t see any hands going up. Online, if you do, please let us know. I would love to talk to you.
So why did Habakkuk get answers? It’s especially an interesting question because not everybody in the Bible got answers. Sometimes people ask questions, and they got a very different response. Habakkuk asked really intense questions, and instead of getting anger like we might expect, he got answers, but other people ask questions, and they don’t get answers. They actually get anger. In fact, let me take you to another book that’s built around somebody asking God a bunch of questions. It’s the Book of Job. Job goes through a number of very difficult things, and he ends up asking God some hard questions. And here’s how God responds to Job. Check this out. “And then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. And he said ‘Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man, and I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me if you understand.'” Do you get just a little bit of sense here that God’s slightly irritated?
It’s interesting, right? I mean, Job goes, “Hey, I got some questions for you, God.” And God’s like, “Oh, really? You have questions for me? That’s fantastic. Before we get to your questions, I have a couple for you. Let’s start with my questions, you ignorant man.” It’s interesting, isn’t it? Job asks questions, he gets anger, Habakkuk asks intense questions, and he gets answers. Why? What’s the difference? This is really interesting. Here’s the difference. Habakkuk was asking better questions. He was asking better questions. And this is the first thing that I think we begin to understand from the Book of Habakkuk, is getting the answers that we need and wrestling with God in a way that moves us forward in faith comes from asking good questions. So what was it about Habakkuk’s questions that made them better than Job’s?
Three things. First, Habakkuk’s questions were knowledge-based. Habakkuk’s questions were knowledge-based. You see it, Job’s weren’t. God basically says, “Why don’t you go ahead and tell me how things were when I started everything because you were there, right? Oh, you weren’t there? Yeah. It’s right. Who is this that obscures my plans with a lack of knowledge?” But Habakkuk doesn’t get that. Habakkuk was asking questions that were actually knowledge-based. And part of the reason I say that is because if you look at Habakkuk’s questions, you look at the things that he’s concerned about, every single one of the things he’s concerned about is drawn directly from other parts of the Old Testament, every single one of the things that Habakkuk’s concerned about, he says, “I’m seeing violence. I’m seeing an injustice. I’m seeing the wicked powerful oppressing the poor righteous. I’m seeing all these things.” These are all things that God consistently talks about throughout his Word, and they’re things that God promises he will deal with among his people. He says, “Yeah, you’re gonna see some of this stuff happen out in the world. We’ll get there eventually, but first, we’re gonna deal with it among my people. I’m not gonna let this stuff persist among those who claim to know me.”
And Habakkuk’s asking questions based on his knowledge of what God says is important to him and what God has promised to do. And that’s really significant because that leads to a very different set of questions. I don’t know about you, but so many of my questions, they’re not based on my knowledge of God’s promises. Do you know what they’re based on? My preferences. Anybody else? A lot of my questions for God are, “Well, God, I was really hoping you’d do that, and I don’t understand why you didn’t do that.” Now, God never promised to do that. But my preferences often kind of replace his promises and that upsets me. It’s like, I hate the fact that life is difficult sometimes.
There’s a preference that I have. I don’t know if anybody else feels this way. If I’m a follower of Jesus, everything should just be easy. Anybody else feel like that? No, that’s not what God promised. It’s just my preference. What God promised, what Jesus promised was, in this life, you will have trouble. I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t like that one.” Now, he said, “But take heart. I’ve overcome the world.” His promise was, “I’ll be with you in the midst of all things.” His promise was that he would bring good out of all things for those who love him or are called to God first. That’s his promise, but a lot of my questions are born out of my preferences, and those aren’t as good of questions. Habakkuk’s questions are rooted in knowledge. They’re knowledge-based. And so think about some of those questions that you have for God and then ask yourself this, “Are my questions for God based on his promises or my preferences?”
One of the things we need to do to wrestle with God in a way that moves us forward in faith is to make sure we’re asking questions that are based on knowledge of his promises and not just our preferences. And you may be going, “Okay, how do I do that?” Well, let me give you two things that will help you grow in knowledge this year, so you can ask better questions so that you can wrestle with God in a way that moves you forward in faith.
Here’s two things you can do to grow in knowledge. Number one take in God’s Word. Habakkuk asked questions rooted in Scripture. He knew Scripture. We often don’t know Scripture. We don’t know what the Bible says, and because of that, our questions don’t reflect that knowledge. They just reflect our preferences. So one of the things we’re gonna do is we can take in God’s Word. We can make reading the Bible on a regular basis an important discipline that we practice day in, day out, week in, week out, month after month, year after year, and that will transform our questions. It’ll be questions that are based in knowledge.
Second thing you can do is you can act on God’s Word. The Bible says we’re not supposed to be hearers of the word. We’re supposed to be doers. And when we do what God’s word tells us to do, it’s not just that we’re obeying, we’re actually deepening our understanding. I mean, I’ll give you an example. How many of you have ever heard the phrase, it is better to give than to receive? Yeah. And in a lecture, you’re like. I mean, I remember I was a little kid hearing that going, “No, I don’t think that’s true,” until I started doing it. So I said, “I’m gonna obey that. I’m gonna start giving. I’m gonna start trusting God with my finances. I’m gonna be, you know, looking to help people out and take care of people and give time, talent, treasurer to help them.” And I found that as I did that, actually, that was way better than anything that was being given to me. See, obeying that principle didn’t just lead to obedience. It also led to a deeper understanding. Now I get it. I’m like, “Yeah. It is. There’s a joy in that that doesn’t come from receiving.” Everything about God’s commandments is that way, that when we act on his commands, we also deepen our understanding. And so that’s one of the first things we do. We take in God’s Word, and we act on God’s Word. That helps us grow in our understanding, and that leads to better questions which allow us to wrestle with God in a way that helps us to embrace a deeper faith.
Second thing that made Habakkuk’s questions better than Job’s is that Habakkuk’s questions were other-centered. If you take a look at it, he’s not asking for himself. He’s not saying, “Bad things happened to me, and I’m really upset with you about it.” He’s saying, “Bad things are happening to other people, people that I know you care deeply about and I care about because I care about things you care about.” He’s deeply other-centered in his questions. And that’s really significant because, listen, the more others-centered our focus, easier it is to see the big picture. And one of the things we’re gonna see over the next couple weeks is that God actually gives Habakkuk a glimpse of some much bigger things that he’s doing, and Habakkuk’s able to see that. He’s able to take it on board. He’s able to wrestle with it and ultimately embrace deeper faith when he hears the bigger picture when he sees it, because he saw it, because his focus wasn’t just what was going on in him. I use this illustration a lot. So often we treat our problems like my hand. My hand’s very small compared to the room. There’s lots of other things going on in the world. But the problem is that when we focus exclusively on our problems, this happens, and I can’t see anything else. The more self-focused we are, the harder it is to see the bigger picture. And when we don’t see the big picture, it becomes impossible to embrace a deeper trust.
And so often what God’s doing is bigger than you think it is. Actually, let me take that back. What God is doing is always bigger than you think it is. What God wants to do in your life is always bigger than you’re asking for. But to be able to see that bigger picture, we’ve gotta be focused on something other than this blinding set of problems that we’re dealing with. Habakkuk’s questions are better because there were other-centered questions. So how do you do that right? How do you grow in other-centeredness? Because maybe you’re hearing that going, “I get that but the reality is I’m selfish. I struggle with self-centeredness.” And by the way, if you are a person who struggles with self-centeredness, there’s a word for you, normal. Because I do too. We all do. The sin that separates us from God is inherently selfish. It’s inherently self-centered. And even if we’ve said yes to faith in Jesus and have been forgiven for our sins, the reality is that that old way of doing things is still an issue we have to deal with on a regular basis. So, listen, if you’re struggling with self-centeredness, it’s normal, but there are some things that we can do to move beyond that as followers of Jesus.
A couple of things you can do to grow in other-centeredness. Number one, start praying for others. It’s the easiest place to start because so often our list of prayers are so self-focused. Look at your list of things that you’re praying for and ask how many of them have anything to do with anybody but yourself. And I’m not saying you have to drop that list, but just add a few other things into the list that don’t have to do with you, that they are really for other people. That’s a powerful thing.
Second thing you can begin to do is you can start serving others. Take an intentional step of going, “I’m gonna act like I care about others by actually caring for others.” And what you’re gonna find happens is you actually do begin to care about others. You find something awakens in you that is other-centered that wasn’t there before. Mission Hills has lots of opportunities to do that. You can go to missionhills.org/servefinder. But there’s lots of other ways to do that in the world, in your neighborhood, at work, just get your eyes off of yourself and start acting in a capacity to serve others, and you’re gonna find that you start feeling a concern for them that gets your eyes off of yourself and opens you up to the big picture.
Third thing that made Habakkuk’s questions better than Job’s, Habakkuk’s questions were faith-filled. They were filled with faith. Habakkuk’s questions were not, “God I’m really struggling with you, and I don’t know if I can believe in you.” What his questions were was, “I trust you. I’m just struggling with why you haven’t done this yet, but I know you’re going to because I know who you are.” His questions are faith-filled. And there’s two reasons I say that. The first one is because he’s persistent. He’s been coming to God over and over, and he keeps coming back to God. We know that because what’s the first thing he says? He says, “How long must I call for help?” He’s been calling for help for a long time. But you know what that shows, you know what that demonstrates. It demonstrates that God was the place that he looked to for help. He didn’t go to God and go, “Hey, God, would you do this? You didn’t do this. Okay. Well, let’s try money. That didn’t work. Well, let’s try this thing over here.” No, he just kept coming back to God.
And here’s an interesting reality about persistence that’s interesting. Persistence demonstrates and deepens faith. Going to God persistently and continuing to ask him the question we haven’t gotten an answer for, it not only demonstrates that our trust is in God that he’s what we’re looking to, but it’s also an exercise that deepens our faith. The more we go to God for help, the more we find that he’s the only one we’re tempted to go to. Persistence demonstrates and deepens faith. And so we see that in Habakkuk’s prayer.
There’s another reason why I say that Habakkuk had a prayer that was filled with faith, and that is the nature of his questions. We’ve already talked about the fact that all the things that he talks about here are drawn directly from God’s Word but actually, a lot of them are drawn directly from an experience of what he had seen God do. In fact, there’s so many words that are connected, there’s so many words that are repeated in his prayer, and also this passage I wanna read you, that a lot of scholars go, “I think Habakkuk actually organized his prayer around this knowledge of something God had done.” And you find that in Exodus chapter 2. When the Israelites have been enslaved and oppressed by the powerful in Egypt, we’re told this. The highlights indicate repeated words, just a handful of them. There’s actually more. “The Israelites groaned in their slavery, and they cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. And God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And so God looked on the Israelites, and he was concerned about them.” There’s so many words repeated in that in Habakkuk’s prayer that most of us think that Habakkuk was actually giving a prayer to God, rooted his experience of what he’d seen God do. And that’s faith. See, faith pays attention to what God has done more than it does what he hasn’t done yet. And that allowed his questions to be better.
How do we ask God questions in faith? That’s actually worth asking ourselves just right now. As you think about the questions you have for God, ask yourself this, “Are my questions for God rooted in faith?” And if the answer is, “I’m not sure,” here’s two things you can do to grow in your faith this year. Number one focus on what God has already done rather than what he hasn’t done yet. See, so often what happens, we focus on what God hasn’t done yet rather than starting with what he already has done. You know, I said at the beginning of this message that I understand what it’s like to wrestle with God. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I understand what it’s like. And I want you to know that I’m not talking historically. I’m talking about right now. I’m wrestling with God in some things right this moment. I shared a while ago that, you know, my dad got diagnosed with cancer 22 years ago, and a few weeks ago, he got diagnosed with another cancer that they said would kill him, but then he got COVID, put him in the hospital. We couldn’t go see him because he was in isolation, and he died yesterday.
Now, I say he died, but the reality is he went to be with Jesus. He’s out of pain, he’s into joy. And that’s awesome, but I’m gonna be honest, it’s hard. There’s wrestling that goes with that. For me, some of the wrestling has been, especially over the last year, I’ve seen a sharp decline, he’s been in pain. We were with him this past week, and, oh, he was clearly in pain, and watching that and asking God, “Why haven’t you just taken him? Why does it have to be so hard?” I’ve wrestled with God, but in the midst of that, I began to remember some things about what God had already done. I began to remember that when he was first diagnosed with cancer, he said that his hope and his prayer was that God would let him see the graduation of his granddaughter. Coletta was pregnant at the time that he got his first diagnosis. And you know what, he lived to see her graduate from high school and college actually. He lived to see his youngest granddaughter he didn’t know anything about at the time graduate from high school and enter college.
When he got this new diagnosis of a new cancer, he said, “Yeah. I’m ready to go, but I’d prefer that the process not be too long.” Like, oh, yeah, God did that. He went in the hospital with COVID. I didn’t think he was gonna come out, but he was released on Christmas Eve. We got to go and be with him. And he had moments of lucidity where we were able to talk to him and share the things that we needed to share with him, and he could say some things he needed to say. It was powerful. And I began to look at that and go, “Yeah, I’ve got some questions, God. I’m struggling, but I see what you’ve already done.” And when you start there, oh, it’s much easier to trust. That’s how we grow our faith.
Second thing we can do to grow our faith, we just take the next step. Sometimes we think of faith growth as this big, massive leap, but it’s not that. As we say all the time here, small steps in the same direction take you places you would have never thought possible. You can grow your faith in this next year by just continuing to take whatever next step it is that God puts in front of you. Now, as you do that, you’re gonna find that you can wrestle with God in a way that actually leads you deeper into a trust. It’ll give you a trust in that you’re gonna desperately need at some point, I promise you. So it’s better to wrestle now than then. Wrestle with him but do it in the right way. And as we are gonna go over the next few weeks, Habakkuk continues to give us a model for what it looks like to wrestle with God in a way that leads to embracing a deeper faith.
So as we wrap up today, let me just ask you to begin that wrestling process with three questions. First one we’ve already asked, “What questions do I have for God?” I really encourage you to write some of those down. And then follow that up with, “What do my questions reveal about my faith?” What do your questions reveal places where you need to take a next step of faith? And that’s the third question, is “What am I doing to move forward in faith?”
Listen, God can be trusted. Some of you know that, some of you are struggling with that. But God can be trusted, and the absolute best proof of his trustworthiness is the fact that he loves you so much, he sent his own Son to die for you. Jesus came. He lived a perfect life. He died on the cross to pay the price for your sin, for my sin, and then he rose from the dead, and he offers us forgiveness and salvation by faith, by trust. So it’s interesting where God calls us to put trust in him, and as we do that, we receive a relationship with a God who can be trusted. You may be struggling to trust God today, but I promise you, whatever you need to do to take that next step of trust is worth taking. It’s worth doing because you’re gonna find yourself deeper into a relationship that can carry you through whatever life throws at you.
Would you pray with me? God, thank you for your faithful servant and thank you for this lesson that it’s okay to ask questions, but we wanna ask the right kind of questions. We wanna ask questions that are based on the knowledge of your promises, not just our preferences. We wanna ask questions that are concerned for other people. We wanna ask questions that are filled with faith, that are rooted deeply in faith. Lord, I wanna pray for my friends. I know there are people listening to this that are struggling with you, they’re wrestling with you. And my hope is that it’s good news for them to hear that wrestling with God is a good thing if we do it the right way. And I know there are people who are here, and they’re celebrating because they’ve experienced how trustworthy you are. So, Lord, we just wanna thank you for all of the ways that you have demonstrated your goodness, your love, and your trustworthiness. Help us to hold onto those. Lord, show us what our next step of trusting you more is.
And I know that for some people listening to this, that that next step is the first step, it’s to say yes to a God who loves them so much that he sent his own Son to die, raised him from the dead, and gives them the opportunity to be forgiven and free and in a relationship with him simply by trust. And if that’s you, if you’re listening to that, you’re going, “I’ve never taken that step of trust,” I’m gonna encourage you to do it right now. You’re just gonna have a conversation with God in your heart. You’re gonna put your trust in him, and you’re gonna do it kind of like this. It’s just a prayer. It’s a conversation. And say it out loud. You can say it in the quietest of your heart, God will hear, but would you say something like this with me right now? “God, I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for coming to rescue me. Thank you for dying on the cross to pay the price for my sin. I believe you rose from the dead, and I know that you can be trusted. So, Jesus, I’m choosing to trust you. I’m gonna follow you, Jesus, from here on out. I’m yours for now and forever because I trust you. Amen.”
Can we just celebrate those who made that decision today? That all-important first step of faith. And, hey, if you made that decision for the first time today, we wanna celebrate with you. We wanna give you some resources to help you begin experiencing this new relationship with a God that you can trust in everything. So if you made that decision, would you do this for me? If you’re watching online, click the button right below me. If you’re on a campus, you can stop by the Welcome Center on your way out, say “I said yes to Jesus today.” Or you can text the word Jesus to 80875. Either way, you know, let us know you made the decision so we can celebrate that, and also tell us where to send some resources to help you begin experiencing everything God has for you in that relationship. Happy New Year. God bless. We’ll see you next week.
God is good. He judges sin and loves those who live in the wake of sin’s consequences. He had every right to walk away, yet he chose his son to become one of us to suffer with us. Our present sufferings are reminders of the global consequences of sin and our need for a Savior.
And before I start, I wanna say I wasn’t scheduled to teach this weekend, but the reason I’m teaching is Pastor Craig’s father passed away last weekend. And, so, I know, some of you know he’s been sharing, you know, through emails, his father’s been struggling…his father did pass away. So him and Coletta and the family are back in Ohio, they just recently had the service. So, if you would, would you be praying for him? We have a great, great pastor, and he would be caring for us well, and so I wanna encourage us to do that for him. So, I just wanted to share that, and just let you all know that, and so here we are. And last week, actually, Pastor Craig launched us in a brand new series this year. And it’s a brand new series talking about sin, evil, brokenness, God’s judgment, and wrath. And, so, what a great way to start a new year, isn’t it? So, if you’re new with us, welcome, glad that you joined us, but no, this series is much more than that.
Here’s what we did, we launched a series, a little three-week series, in a tiny little book in the Old Testament by a prophet named Habakkuk. And so if you have a Bible with you, or if you have an app, or if you have a device, I want you to turn to Habakkuk because we’re gonna be diving into that here in a little bit. But I wanna tell us a little bit about this prophet. He’s what’s called one of the minor prophets. And it’s funny because that doesn’t mean that, like, he’s any less important than the major prophets, it’s just that his book is much smaller than some of the other prophets. So, the ones that have larger books, those are the major prophets and the minor prophets like Habakkuk have tiny, little three-chapter books, which I don’t know about you, but I’m thrilled about that, so I’m thankful for those minor prophets.
But here’s what’s happening with him, he’s living in a time where he is trying to make sense of all the brokenness, corruption, ugliness, evil, disease, everything that’s happening all around him. Can you relate to that? And yet he courageously asked God some questions. I would actually submit that this is… Habakkuk was the most courageous prophet that we have account of in the Old Testament. Because I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot of times where I would like to question God. But then I say things like, “Well, who am I to question God?” Or “Really? Me? Like, well, first of all, is it even okay to question God?” And Habakkuk went before us and he showed us yes, it’s okay to question God, God is big enough for our questions. And yet he also receives us and he answers us. But maybe doesn’t answer us the way that we want him to answer us, and that’s what we’re gonna find with Habakkuk.
You see when we think about sin, and evil, and brokenness, and corruption, and all that stuff that’s around us, it’s hard to understand, and it’s pretty difficult to explain. And if we were honest, if it’s okay to just be honest, sometimes it’s actually pretty weary on our faith. And when we don’t understand, and when we’re confused, when there’s no other explanation, we lay the blame at God’s feet, and we become bitter, and we become cynical towards him. And it challenges our faith, and we don’t even know where to turn. And we ask for explanations, but we seem to get silence, or we ask for understanding and we’re baffled. And we have questions like, “Where is God in the middle of all of this? Like, why is all of this happening? Like, why were so many times in life does God seem like a mystery?” And I wonder, even if we were even given a glimpse of those answers if we would…and we wouldn’t even understand them to begin with.
And if you resonate with anything that I just said, I’m thrilled that you’re here. I’m thrilled that you’re joining us. I’m thrilled that we’re together diving in because this is exactly what this little three-chapter book in the Old Testament talks about, how to make sense when God doesn’t make sense. You see, there’s really good lessons in here for us. Perhaps, like I said, I think this is the greatest expression of faith was actually by this Old Testament spokesman because he actually said some things that a lot of us maybe think. You see, if you looked through the Old Testament, all the other prophets that we have record of, they spoke to the people on behalf of God. Like, God would tell them they had, you know, an anointing of the Holy Spirit, and God would tell them to go warn my people because they’re living in a way that’s unholy.
They’re engaging in practices, in relationships, and in jobs, and finances that just are not holy. And so they’re really acting poorly in a lot of ways, so God would send the prophets to talk to the people on behalf of him. Habakkuk’s totally different. Habakkuk actually speaks to God on behalf of the people, completely different. And he asked God some specific questions. And he asked God, “Why is there stuff happening?” So, he asks questions like you and I ask all the time, “Why? How long? Why God are you allowing things to happen? God, how long are you going to allow them to continue to go on?” And in the first part, that Pastor Craig launched us with last week, we have Habakkuk actually going to God and saying, “God, do you not see the corruption of your own people?”
He’s speaking about the people that live in a little province called Judah in Southern Israel. So, they’re living in Judah, this is where Jerusalem is at, which is a pretty prime place in the Jewish faith. And so Habakkuk is looking around, and he sees nothing but God’s people treating each other poorly. They’re taking advantage of others, all these different sins, all these ways that they’re living are completely unholy. So, Habakkuk goes to God, and this is what Pastor Craig talked about last week, he goes to God and says, “What are you gonna do about all your people? Like, your family is like…they’re acting a fool. Like, basically, what are you gonna do about it? Like, are you just gonna let sin and brokenness just continue to reign?” And God actually responds to Habakkuk, and he says, “No, I’m not gonna allow that. I see that.” And he tells Habakkuk, “Actually, I’m gonna use the Babylonians, this evil empire.” This empire that actually represents the epitome of everything Habakkuk, and the Jews, and God himself detest, that God says, “I’m actually gonna use this evil empire to cast my judgment on my people.” Like, you could imagine Habakkuk’s response to that and that’s where we find ourselves.
So, last week, we found ourselves where Habakkuk went to God and he said, “God, are you gonna do anything about the sin of your people?” God says, “Yep, I’m gonna. I’m gonna use the Babylonians, this evil empire that’s the epitome of everything that we detest, they’re gonna be my chosen instrument of judgment on Judah.” And Habakkuk’s response is, “Seriously? God, like that? You’re gonna use them?” And that’s when we’re gonna find ourselves here today. So, for a time, it’s gonna seem like evil and unrighteousness would win over righteousness, that bad things would happen to bad people, and bad things would happen to good people. But this time, not only is it God’s people treating each other poorly, it’s God’s enemies that God is going to allow to come, and to cast this judgment, and to cast out this sort of discipline. And so throughout this book, we’re gonna actually find, we’re not gonna get to it today, but next week in Chapter 3, we’re gonna find that God’s gonna remind Habakkuk what it looks like to not just survive confusing times, not just survive times where things seem to be going in ways that we don’t fully understand, but actually learn what it means to thrive in them.
So, today, we’re gonna finish the rest of Chapter 1, and dive into all of Chapter 2, and we’re gonna read timeless truths that are essential for us to understand. Because if we were honest, we live in a day and age that’s pretty confusing, that we’re not fully certain why God allows certain things to happen. We’re gonna come upon truths like Habakkuk chapter 2, verse 4, where the Lord reminds Habakkuk and all of his people that the righteous person, the people that are righteous will live by his or her faithfulness, not understanding, but live by his or her faithfulness. And then next week, we’re actually gonna find Habakkuk ends up trusting God and believing in his words, and affirming the fact, that even for Habakkuk, even if life falls apart, even if everything that he has thought was gonna stand for, even if things start to crumble, things that he built his life on this earth on, even if they crumble, he’s gonna trust in God.
And I wonder as I read these three chapters, I wonder if Habakkuk was speaking today, I wonder if the message of chapter 3, which we’ll look at now, I wonder if the entire message would be, “Hey, no matter what the job numbers say, no matter how much gas costs, no matter what the economy does, or the stock market, or if the company goes bankrupt, or if my family has to quarantine. No matter who’s in the White House, that I am going to trust in God and my confidence in God will not waiver.” And my hope that through today as we study and next week, we can absolutely say that our confidence in God will not waiver.
As we continue, I wanna talk about…there’s an American war hero that I wanna, for some of us remind us of, but for some of us introduced to for the very first time because we’ve never heard of him, Admiral James Stockdale. He ran for vice president in 1992. He was an admiral in the Navy. And actually, he’s the highest-ranking U.S. officer that’s ever been imprisoned. That for almost eight years in the Vietnam War, he was tortured over 20 times. That he was held in POW camps. And there’s an author by the name of Jim Collins. Jim Collins wrote a book called “Good to Great.” And Jim Collins asked Admiral Stockdale, and he asked him a simple question, “How did you survive, and other people not survive?” And it’s a wonderful excerpt, and I encourage you to take a look at it. But here’s just a little picture of what Admiral Stockdale said about circumstances that seemed overwhelming, seemed to not go the way that he thought they were gonna go. This is what Admiral Stockdale says, he says, “I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which in retrospect, I would not trade.”
You see, when we look at the Book of Habakkuk, I think all of it boils down to one thought, “What is our posture before God when life doesn’t make sense?” “What’s our posture before God when God doesn’t make sense?” C.S. Lewis wrote about this in his book, “The Problem of Pain,” and this is how he says it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. Because our pains are his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” You see, it’s an important thing for us to understand, it’s an idea for us to grasp.
And before we dive into the Scripture, I think we’d be remiss not to mention why God’s people were experiencing discipline. It wasn’t that God woke up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and said, “You know what? I think I’m just gonna lash out on my children.” Like, that’s not how it works, that’s not how he does it. Over and over, his people, God’s family, God’s children were warned through the prophets, “Hey, you can’t act that way. Men, you cannot treat women that way. You can’t take advantage of one another. You can’t continue on treating people poorly or acting like those enemies that are worshiping idols. Like, you can’t be…” So, prophets came over and over and over again, and all of those prophets were ignored.
And so, because God is holy, and because in his existence, he cannot be in relationship with unholiness, he had to execute justice, and he can’t allow sin and evil to run rampant on people. God loves us. He loves his children. He loved the people of Judah. And at the same time, here is a principle that we understand and we also have to realize, but I think it’s one that we fully would embrace as we think about it, and the principle is this, that we know there is a cause and effect relationship between sin and suffering. Here’s what I mean by that, and I think we would agree with this, that we understand and we know that when somebody sins, there is a consequence. And that consequence, typically, will lead to some sort of suffering. Like, that’s something that we understand. And because God is holy, he recognizes that his people are acting out in sinful ways that are dishonoring to who he is and they can’t be in relationship with him. So because of that, there is discipline and so there is separation, and that leads to suffering. And we understand this, somebody does something wrong, there is going to be suffering, we grasp that.
But this brutal fact stretches beyond personal behavior because there’s another point that we’ve gotta understand, because if that is true, then it is also true that there is a global or cultural relationship between sin and suffering. And here’s what I mean about this and this is what we resist because it’s unfair. Because when sin entered the world, when evil entered the world that God created, God created a world without sin, without brokenness, that was his original design, to have no sin, no brokenness, no injustice, no disease, no death, that’s how God intended it in Genesis chapter 1 and 2. And then in Genesis 3, when evil entered, when sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam, when sin entered the world, do you know what else came into the world? Death, pain, injustice, sorrow, all of that snuck in behind sin and evil.
And so, because there is sin and evil in the world, we have all of those other things. And here’s the truth, because of this relationship, there is sin and suffering. And sometimes people experience the suffering even when they themselves have not done anything wrong, but other people have. So, we live in a world, we experience a world here in 2022 where sin and suffering has gone rampant because when evil entered the world, all of that came in with it. And so Habakkuk would understand this. He understands there needs to be some sort of a discipline because of sin. We would understand that as well, but the problem is just like Habakkuk, we don’t understand, or we’re confused on how God chooses to act.
Again, Habakkuk spoke to God on the people’s behalf. But we gotta remember what’s happening here. God is not punishing his people, he’s disciplining his people. And those two look very similar and I think this might be where sometimes we get tripped up, or we get disillusioned with God, or angry with God, there is a difference between punishment and discipline. Parents, if you’re a parent, you understand this. Like, punishment, the motivation of punishment is anger. The motivation of discipline is love. Like, I discipline my children. I love them. I don’t want them… So I discipline them, but I’m acting out of love. And listen to how the writer of Hebrews explains this. Hebrews chapter 12,verse 5, he says, “My son do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you because the Lord disciplines the one that he loves.” And so what God is doing, God is not punishing his people, he’s simply discipling them. He’s disciplining them because he loves them.
And I think one of the other things that’s frustrating about following God, and I’ll admit, this is one of the most frustrating things about being in a relationship with God, is God literally has all the time in the world. Like, that’s not even a metaphor for God. Like, literally, he holds time in his hands and he’s not in a hurry. I’m the one that’s in a hurry. God’s never early, God’s never late, he’s always on time. And 2 Peter tells us this, 2 Peter chapter 3, verse 9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” You see, there is a method to his ways that we don’t always see. And there is a motivation behind him allowing certain things to happen that you and I don’t always understand, and that doesn’t make things easy. Sometimes it feels like God’s forgotten us. Sometimes it feels like, “Hey, we’ve been abandoned,” and we’re completely confused, and we’re in this waiting limbo, and we don’t like to wait.
If you’ve traveled any time over the last 20 months on an airplane, you have learned to wait, and you have learned to wait patiently. And not just these last 20 months, even before that, if a flight was delayed, or if things happen, airlines, you know, have contracted with these airports and they’re called hubs and you understand this, you’ve seen this. And sometimes to get from one place, from one city to another, an airline doesn’t have a direct flight, sometimes you’ve gotta go through a hub of that certain airline just to get to that destination. Like Denver is a hub for United and Southwest and so there’s a lot of direct flights. But if you have to go from one place to another that doesn’t have a direct flight, you go through these hubs. And sometimes the connections through these hubs make no absolute sense.
Last December, the first week of December, I was at a conference, and I was flying out on a Thursday, out of Florida, out of Miami. I was flying out on a Thursday and I needed to be in Denver because I had a meeting on Friday morning that, like, I couldn’t miss. It was one of those meetings, like, I couldn’t reschedule it, I had to be in person for this meeting. So, I get to the airport in Miami on a Thursday morning like I’m supposed to, and I find out that my flight is delayed. And then there’s mechanical issues, and it’s delayed, and then it’s delayed, and I thought to myself, “I can’t take this risk. I’ve gotta get myself on another airline because I have to be at this Friday morning meeting.” So, I go and I research, and I find this other airline that can get me into Denver, but they were gonna fly me from Miami to Houston, to Salt Lake City, and then to Denver. And I thought, “What? That makes no sense? Like, can you just drop me off in Denver on your way to Salt Lake? Like, I don’t wanna go that way.” But isn’t it true that sometimes the places that God wants to take us aren’t direct flights, they make no sense?
Sometimes we wanna get to a certain destination, a certain outcome in life, maybe a certain answer that we’ve been asking him over and over, and isn’t it true that there’s sometimes God takes us places without a direct flight? That we have to go through these, almost like these spiritual hubs to get to a certain place, and they make absolutely no sense. Sometimes it feels like God’s going in the wrong direction, and you’re like, “Wait, why am I going this way, God? I wanna go that way. This doesn’t make any sense to me.” But we can be sure that God’s doing this on purpose. Not because it’s efficient, but maybe he’s trying to do something inside of us through the process of having to fly through these hubs in life. You see, God doesn’t operate with efficiency in mind, he operates with effectiveness in mind, and especially when he deals with us, people that call ourselves his followers. Like, he’s always working things out so that it might be effective in growing us so that we be more like him, enjoying and joining him on mission. It’s not always efficient, but it’s always effective. Maybe Salt Lake City has somebody that we need to interact with, that we never would’ve interacted with if we wouldn’t have gone through there. Maybe there’s a lesson at one of those hubs, or maybe there’s a lesson, something we’ve gotta understand, maybe God wants to do something in us before we arrive at our destination. Maybe you’ve heard it said that “God is preparing you for what he has prepared for you.”
And it’s not just hubs that we experience these detours and when we’re flying. Sometimes, when you’re flying, your plane is actually about to land at the airport, and either the pilot or the air traffic controller, they put you in what’s called a holding pattern. And so you just start circling the airport. And that’s frustrating as well because you can look out the window and be like, “No, right there. Like, that’s the runway. Like, just land, can’t you just land? That’s where I wanna go. Like, I can see it with my own eyes. How can you not see it, God?” But sometimes, there’s weather that we don’t understand, maybe it’s crowded, maybe there’s a situation. And sometimes, we find ourselves in a holding pattern, and God keeps us there, not to tease us, not to just kind of take us round and round so that we’re just teased, so that we don’t get to where we wanna go, but maybe, there’s a sense of maturity that we haven’t grasped yet. Maybe it’s not even about us. Maybe it’s about the other person. Maybe the other person isn’t ready. Maybe God is still working in the other people. Maybe he’s developing us, we don’t know. But we could know this, that whenever we go through these hubs in life, or whether God keeps us in a holding pattern, it’s not that God has forgotten us, it’s that we don’t understand the full scope or the full picture of what’s happening on the ground. And so that’s where we find ourselves in Habakkuk.
Habakkuk has gone to God and said, “God, what are you gonna do about the sin of your people?” And God’s like, “I got it. I see it. I’m gonna do something. I’m gonna bring the Babylonians.” And Habakkuk, we’re about to read Habakkuk’s response to God saying he’s bringing this evil empire to execute judgment on God’s people, and that’s where we pick up.
We pick up in Habakkuk chapter 1, verse 12, God says, “I’ve seen the sin of my people. I’m raising up the Babylonians.” And this is Habakkuk’s response to that chapter 1, verse 12, “Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you’ll never die. You, Lord God have appointed them of all people?” Like, “Do you realize what you said? You’re gonna use them to execute judgment? You, my Rock, you’ve ordained them to punish?” You see, he’s incredibly confused, like, “God, didn’t you say you were gonna end the cycle of violence. Why are you perpetuating it?” Habakkuk doesn’t understand why or how God is gonna move the way that he chooses to move. And in verse 13, he continues and he says, “God, your eyes are too pure to look on evil, you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” In other words, “God, why are you allowing the powerful but corrupt, to continue to trample over the weak and the innocent?”
And then he comes up with this illustration of God’s people almost being like fish in the sea. And the Babylonians, and those that rule are gonna be like fishermen that come with hooks, and nets, and celebrate the destruction of the innocent people. And this is how Habakkuk says it in verse 14, “You have made people like the fish in the sea, like the sea creatures that have no ruler.” Like, “This is what you’re doing to us, God.” “The wicked foe, the Babylonians are gonna pull all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net. He gathers them up in his dragnet, and so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore, he sacrifices to a net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net, he lives in luxury and he enjoys the choicest food.” So, basically, “God, you’re gonna allow the innocent and the weak to be caught by those that are more powerful, but they’re corrupt? And the more powerful and corrupt, they’re just gonna continue celebrating, thinking that they’ve done something great. Like, God, what are you doing?” Is what Habakkuk is saying.
And it’s funny because in chapter 2, verse 1, it’s almost as if Habakkuk thinks to himself, “Man, what did I just say?” “Like, I just questioned the God of the Universe.” And so Habakkuk passionately, he lays out these questions and he actually challenges God, that’s why I call him probably the most courageous prophet that we have. And then in Habakkuk chapter 2, verse 1, here’s what Habakkuk says, It’s almost like he realizes, “Man, what did I just say? Like, I just said this to the Lord of the Universe, the Great Creator.” And Habakkuk says, “I’m gonna stand at my watch, I’m gonna station myself on the ramparts. I’ll look to see what he’s gonna say to me and what answer I’m to give to this complaint.” You know, another translation actually says Habakkuk expected to be rebuked by God. So he was almost showing up saying, “All right, I’ve said what I said. I’ve probably said too much, and now I’m gonna get it. God’s gonna punish me because I challenged him.”
And then God responds, and God responds in Habakkuk chapter 2, verses 2 and 3 and says, “Then the Lord replied, he says, write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time, it speaks of the end and it will not prove false. Though it lingers, it might take a while, it might linger, wait for it. It will certainly come and will not delay.” So God says, “I’m so glad you asked Habakkuk. I’m so glad you asked me why I’m doing it this way. Would you take out a tablet? I want you to write this down because I need my people to know some specific things about me. And I need my people to understand some specific ways on how I act and what I tolerate and don’t tolerate.” And he says, “Habakkuk, I want you to write this down because there are gonna be some people all over the world for generations that come, including in Colorado in 2022, that need to hear these things.”
So, God has seen how the Babylonians act. He says, “I’ve seen them. I understand how they are.” And he continues in verse 4 and 5, he says, “See the enemy,” he’s talking about the Babylonians, “is puffed up.” “His desires aren’t upright, but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness. Indeed, wine betrays him, he’s arrogant and never at rest. Because he is greedy as the grave like death is never satisfied. He gathers to himself all the nations and take captives all the peoples. Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn?”
You see, here’s the truth, God says, “I see them, like, I understand them. Don’t worry Habakkuk, I know what I’m doing, but this is my chosen instrument.” And so God says, “I understand them,” but here’s the point, just because God is choosing to use them, doesn’t mean God is endorsing what they stand for. And that’s an important principle for us to understand. Because if you’re like me, you’ve seen maybe other people that have maybe advanced in life, or maybe have gotten that promotion, or whatever it is, and they’ve done it through means that really aren’t very integral. And we think to ourselves, “Well, is that what it takes? Is that how I have to handle my finances? Is that how I treat my employees? If I wanna get what I want, is that how I treat my spouse?”
You see, just because God allows them to be used by him does not mean God is endorsing the activity of the Babylonians. And so God’s about to go into, what’s called these five different woes. And so he’s, kind of…he’s gonna be challenging the Babylonians, and he’s gonna challenge them in a specific way. And he’s letting Habakkuk know, “Hey, these are the practices that I’ve seen the Babylonians act out in. And if you’re not careful, not just the Babylonians our enemies, but God’s people, the Jews, they’re doing the exact same thing.” So, God is letting Habakkuk know, “I’ve seen how they act and there’s these five practices that really detest me.” And then he’s gonna tell Habakkuk how he’s gonna punish the Babylonians because they act out in those ways and how at the same time it’s a warning for God’s own people.
So, there’s these five woes, I’m just gonna simply give us, just kind of an overview of them. And we could go literally a whole week on each one of them, but I’m gonna read through them because I wanna stay true to the text, but I’m just gonna give us a paraphrase of all the different sections. So, it starts off in verse 6. The first woe is these unfair economic practices, “Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion. How long must this go on?” So, basically, he’s speaking, specifically, to lenders that use these really unfair practices to extract money and interest from people that they lend money to. And then he is gonna turn…so he is gonna acknowledge it, and then he’s gonna say how he’s gonna punish it. Verse 7, “Will not your creditor suddenly arise?” Like, you think your everyone else’s credit, “Your creditors are gonna arise. Will they not wake up and make you tremble when you will become their prey? Because you have plundered many nations of people who are left will plunder you for you have shed human blood, and you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.”
The second woe is all about greed and kind of building a kingdom for ourselves, “Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin. You have plotted the ruin of many people, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.” Like, you thought you were trampling on others, but you’ve actually lost your own life. “And the stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.” Like, even your houses are a testimony to how poorly you have treated others.
Woe three is all about oppression and slave labor, “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice. Has not the Lord Almighty determined that people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with knowledge and the glory of the Lord as waters cover the sea.
The fourth woe that we’re about to read is about arrogance and irresponsible leadership, but even beyond that, taking advantage of other people. And there’s some pretty strong language in this, “Woe to him who gives drinks to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskins till they’re drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. You, yourself, you’re gonna be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it’s your turn, you drink and let your nakedness be exposed. The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. See, the violence that you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you yourself. For you have shed human blood, and you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.” So, he’s speaking specifically about the Babylonians, and he’s telling Habakkuk, “I know what they’ve done, and in time, they’re gonna get what’s due to them.”
And the fifth woe was all about idolatry, “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman, or an image that teaches lies? For the one who makes it trust in his own creation, for he makes idols that can’t speak. Woe to him who says to wood, “Come to life,” or to a lifeless stone, “Wake up.” So here we are, God is about to show his judgment because of his people’s sins by using this corrupt empire, that acts in detestable ways, and God’s people are confused, wondering, “God, why are you allowing evil to run rampant?” Could you imagine being one of God’s people in that day and age, and completely confused? So, that’s where we’re at, the Babylonians are coming to extend judgment on God’s people. And his people are about to experience the global consequences of sin and experience suffering. Some of them are gonna experience suffering that they didn’t deserve themselves, it’s because of the sins of their forefathers.
But see, we experience this as well, that we experience suffering because of what other people have done or said. But for us, here’s something wonderful for us to hold onto, that somebody more powerful than the global consequences of sin has arrived. Somebody that is much more powerful than the global consequences of sin is here. You see, this is how Paul describes it. Paul describes it this way, and this is important for us to understand. When sin entered the world, he says, “Therefore, just as sin the world through one man, Adam, and death, through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all have sinned.” Like, there was sin into the world because of one person. And so one person was responsible for all of us experiencing this suffering, that sin opened the floodgate and death and all of his allies marched right in with him, and that’s not fair, but it’s true. We wish there was a one-on-one correlation between sin and suffering. We wish there was a court, like good things happen for good people, bad things happen for bad people, but that’s not how it works.
But I also wanna remind us that if you’re a Christian, if you call yourself a Christian, if you call yourself a follower of Jesus, we have never believed that only good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Because as a Christian, we believe that the worst possible thing actually happened to the best possible person. Like that’s literally what Christianity is based upon, that the worst possible thing, an innocent man being crucified on behalf of other people’s wrongdoings, and that person was Jesus himself.
And so, yes, we resist evil. Yes, we have to be aware of these woes. Yes, we should fight disease. Yes, we should alleviate pain and suffering. Yes, we should feed the poor and… Yes to all of that stuff. Are we gonna win in the end? Eventually, but the reality is for probably all of us, we’re not gonna see that victory on this side of death, we’ll see it on the other side, that there is hope. Even though we may not taste and see it on this side of death, that’s not the end of the story because the hope actually comes in what Paul lays out in Romans chapter 5, verse 17, “For if by the trespass or sin of one man, Adam, death reigned through that man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through one man, Jesus Christ.”
So, sin may have entered the world and all of the allies of death, pain, suffering, injustice, disease, virus, all of that stuff may have come in with him. But there is one man, Jesus, who actually swallowed up every single one of those things, and one day he will reign. And so we can experience this, this is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. If there’s anything I’ve learned about faith in my life it’s this, that faith works best in the dark. Faith doesn’t work when we can see all the outcomes. Faith doesn’t work when we understand all the obstacles. Faith doesn’t work when we know exactly when things are gonna happen. Faith only works when we’re scared. Faith only works when we’re confused. Faith only works when we’re alone, when it’s dark when we don’t have any idea how to get from one side of the room to the other, that’s when faith works. It works best in the dark. And so if you’re confused, you’re wondering why God’s doing the things that he’s…why is he allowing certain things to happen? You’re in good company and this is a chance that we have to hold on to faith.
There’s a couple of things I wanna remind us about faith, having faith when God doesn’t make sense. And here’s these three things I really want us to center on, to think about out when God doesn’t make sense. The first one is this, faith believes that God is too marvelous to make a mistake, that’s what faith believes. That he’s way too marvelous to make a mistake. Two, God is way too kind to be cruel. Even if we don’t understand why things are happening, he’s way too kind to be cruel. And lastly, faith believes that God always knows what’s best, and does what’s best in his time, maybe not our time. So those three principles are important for us to understand when it comes to this idea of faith.
I wish I could stand here and tell you that having faith is having the hope that everything is gonna work out fine right now, but that’s not the truth. Faith doesn’t mean that I have hope that everything’s gonna turn out fine right now. Because we live in the age where the consequences of sin is running its course. And this isn’t the end, we’re in the middle of it, we’re stuck in the middle. But God didn’t cause these consequences, but he’ll use them as a wake-up call for those who have ears that will hear, or eyes that will see. One day, Jesus will return and the world will be the way that God intended, that will happen. But right now that time hasn’t happened yet, and we’re in the middle of experiencing all of this.
And as C.S. Lewis stated so eloquently in his book “Mere Christianity” he says this, and you may resonate it with this, maybe with this feeling, or maybe this is a revelation for you, “If I find myself a desire, which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” This is not the end. Maybe Admiral Stockdale though was right, that we must never lose faith in the end of the story. You see, God is good, but yet he judges sin, and he loves those that have to experience the wake of sin’s judgment. He could have walked away, but he chose to be one of us and actually experience the suffering himself as well. And I wonder if we can look around to the confusion that maybe we have about God, or maybe we can look around at the brokenness, and the suffering, and the economy, and all the things that we could easily point to by just looking at our phones and reading newsreels. I wonder if all of that can simply just be a wake-up or a reminder that Jesus is making all things new. Hasn’t happened yet, but he is in the process of doing it. And I love how Habakkuk responds to God in chapter 2, verse 20 when God tells him, “Hey, this is what’s gonna happen.” And this is what Habakkuk says, and this is what I hope resonates with us, Habakkuk responds, Habakkuk chapter 2, verse 20, “The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him.”
You know, moving into a new year, we’re very tempted to write out these resolutions and things that we wanna do, and things that we wanna do. And I think for my family and I, we’ve engaged in that for many years and we still write some things down that want to accomplish, but I’ve learned a different practice as well, and that’s living by a few principles. I have a friend in Colorado Springs that attended the funeral of an incredible, incredible man by the name of Eugene Peterson, who is just a patriarch of the faith for many people, and he recently passed away. And Eugene Peterson’s son said that his dad actually let him in on a secret, that for the 50 years of his preaching and his writing, he basically only had one message. He had tricked everybody because there was only one message that basically he preached, he just preached it in different ways for 50 years. And the message is this, and these are the four principles that I wanna leave us with before we pray, that God loves you, that God is on your side, he is coming after you, and he is relentless.
That’s what the Book of Habakkuk is about. That God loves his people. That he’s on their side. That he’s coming after them. And yet, he is relentless and will do everything it takes so that he might be effective. Friends, would you stand with me as we pray and then we’re gonna sing, and we’re gonna proclaim these words, and then we’re gonna go out into our lives. Let’s pray. Father, thank you so much for your grace for us. Lord, even when we have walked away, even when we have done things that are disobedient to you, Lord, we recognize God that you love us and you pursue us. So, Jesus, thank you for your grace, your truth, your mercy. We thank you that we can walk with it in confidence. In your name. Amen.
How do I embrace a God I don’t fully understand? We tend to fixate on what’s right in front of us. But God is acting on the basis of a big picture we can’t even begin to see in its entirety. And then there’s the fact that we filter circumstances through our own self-centered lens. To trust God, we don’t need to completely understand him to have faith in his actions, but what we do need is belief.
But today, we’re really gonna lean into the third chapter, which is really all about the embracing. And what we’re going to see is that Habakkuk answers an important question. And the question is, basically, how do I embrace a God that I don’t fully understand? Because there’s a part of us that feels like I need to understand God and everything he’s doing to be able to really embrace him, right? But let’s be honest, how many of us feel like we really fully understand God? Not seeing a lot of hands. Good, I feel like I’m in good company because I know I don’t, and I’ve got actually some bad news, you’re probably never going to fully understand God. It’s probably never gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen now, partly because we’re sinful, we look at everything through a very selfish me lens, and that’s a very distorted lens, it distorts things. And so we’re not going to understand God entirely just because of our own sin and selfishness. Then there’s the reality that we get fixated on what’s right in front of us, what’s going on around us, and God is dealing with the big picture. And our fixation on the small picture often makes it hard to understand a God who is focused on the big picture.
But even with all that kind of out of the way, the reality is that, you know, God’s really big and we’re really small. And understanding God fully would be like asking an ant to understand a blue whale, it’s just not going to happen. I mean, I don’t want to be insulting, but can I just be honest with you? Like, you have a really small brain. Okay? So do I, and the vastness of who God is and everything he’s about is never gonna be something that we’re able to like put in a nice, neat little package, we’re never gonna fully understand God. So, does that mean we can never fully embrace God? No, not at all. But what’s the key? What’s the secret? How do we embrace a God that we don’t fully understand? Well, what the Bible tells us is the key, and the key is this, that we embrace God by faith, that we embrace God by faith, faith is the key.
If you were with us last week, that’s not a surprise, as Reza showed us in the midst of one of his interactions with God. God actually gives Habakkuk this key, he says that this is how the righteous are supposed to live, the righteous will live by faith. Some translations say by faithfulness, others say by faith, but the bottom line is the same. The bottom line says that our lives…as followers of Jesus, our lives are supposed to be defined by our trust in God. That’s what faith is, it’s trust. And our lives must be defined by that. Faith isn’t just how we get eternal life, it’s also how we do everyday life. Faith isn’t just how we come into a relationship with God, it’s actually how we live out that relationship on a daily basis. Faith is the key. And I realize that asking people to live by faith when we don’t fully understand God and everything he’s doing, might seem like a big ask.
But here’s the reality, we do that all the time. We’re constantly putting our faith in things. We’re constantly trusting things that we don’t fully understand. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but our lives are filled with things that we trust, even though we don’t fully understand them. For instance, I do not understand internal combustion engines, I don’t get engines. I missed that day in junior high, and I don’t feel like I ever really caught up. I don’t understand cars and engines. What I know though is that when I turn the key on my car, apparently that sets off like a controlled explosion going on inside the motor, right? Like, that’s creepy. And then worse yet, I’ve watched a lot of action movies, and what action movies have taught me is that a car can explode at the drop of a hat, right? It’s super easy to get a car to blow up. So, like, every time I sit in my car, I’m like, “How does this not just blow up? I have no idea. I don’t understand it, but I get in my car every day. I turn the key every day, and I start that out. I don’t understand it, but I trust it, I put my faith in it.”
And if you think about your life, you’re gonna find there’s a lot of things that you put your trust in, your faith in, in very significant ways, but honestly, you have no idea how they work, you do not have a good understanding. The reality is we do not have to understand something to be able to trust it. Okay? Understanding is not necessary. What we do have to have is we have to have belief, we have to have a belief that a thing can be trusted in order to trust it. And I’m making an important distinction here. And the distinction is this, belief and faith are not the same thing. Belief and trust are actually two very different things. We don’t always get that because we tend to use the words interchangeably. We will say, I believe, or I trust, or I have faith as though they mean the same thing, but they don’t.
So, here’s the thing. Belief is foundational. It’s where it starts. Belief is foundational, but faith is optional. Believing something can be trusted and actually choosing to trust it. Those are just two different things. Belief is the foundation but faith is optional. Like, I could choose not to act on my belief that my car will not explode when I turn the key. I could choose to walk where I need to go. I could choose to ride the bus. There’s all kinds of things I could do. Faith is optional, but belief isn’t. We all have to have belief. And so the question becomes, like, where do we get the belief that we need to ultimately transition to faith? How do we come to believe that God can be trusted? And then how do we transition that belief into faith? Well, that’s really what we’re gonna see Habakkuk do today.
So, if you want to join me, we’re going to be in Habakkuk chapter 3, starting in verse 1. And chapter 3, verse 1 actually starts with a big overview statement. As you’re making your way there, I’ll just say that Habakkuk 3:1 says, “A prayer of Habakkuk, the prophet on shigionoth,” which is a fun word to say. Actually, there’s two important words there. The first one is he calls what he’s about to do a prayer, which is going to be a little surprising because it doesn’t have a lot of what we normally think of having prayers involving. I don’t know about you, but for me, at least, like my natural thought when I think about prayer is prayer is requesting things from God, right? You know, God, would you heal my daughter? God, would you give me wisdom about this thing to do because I don’t know how to do it? God, would you bless this? Would you give me a promotion? Would you allow this to happen?
I think a lot of us tend to think about requesting is an important part of prayer. And it is, don’t get me wrong, requesting of God is an important part of prayer. We know that because when Jesus taught us how to pray when he gave us what we call the Lord’s Prayer, if you look at it, it’s full of requests. He says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He says, “Lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil.” Those are all requests. And so requesting things from God is an important part of prayer, but it’s only part of it. There’s another couple parts of prayer that we often overlook.
One important part of prayer we’re going to see today in Habakkuk’s prayer, he is going to model for us, is prayer involves remembering, involves remembering what God has done, involves remembering who God is because that’s one of the places that we begin to find the belief that we can ultimately transition to faith. And so an important part of prayer is actually remembering what God’s done and who he is. And another part of prayer we’re going to see today that we often forget is that prayer involves responding to God. It involves sort of reorganizing our lives, and our thinking, and our actions around what we believe to be true. And we’re going to see Habakkuk do that as well.
We’re going to see really what I call the three Rs of healthy prayer. The three Rs of prayer are requesting, remembering, and responding.And just kind of almost as aside, if you sometimes struggle with prayer, and if maybe you feel like your prayer life isn’t what it’s supposed to be, I’d suggest to you that what I found in my own life is that it’s often because I get a little lopsided, I focus exclusively on one of those elements and miss the other two, okay? And if you want to revitalize your prayer life, or even find some new kind of excitement around prayer, think about the three Rs. And make sure your prayer involves both requesting, and also remembering, and then also responding to God.
And we actually see Habakkuk do that at the very beginning of this prayer. And by the way, I said there was another important word here, and that word is shigionoth. Again, really fun to say. That’s a Hebrew word. And it’s been transliterated, meaning we didn’t translate it into the English equivalent, we kept it in the same sound, we just kind of changed the Hebrew letters and English letters. And the reason we did that is because what shigionoth means is…no idea. That’s why we didn’t translate it because we don’t know what it means. It’s the only time we ever see this word, we don’t have any other words to compare, we don’t have an ancient Hebrew dictionary. And so we don’t have enough context, in this case, to know exactly what it means. The closest we can come is there’s a similar word in the Psalms, one of the Psalms has a similar word at the beginning, not exactly, but it’s close. And in that context is pretty clear that we’re talking about some kind of a musical term. So, that’s probably what this means. It means some kind of a musical term, maybe it’s a style of music, or it’s an instrument that are supposed to be played on.
The bottom line we need to understand is, this isn’t just a prayer, it’s actually worship music. And that’s significant because this isn’t just Habakkuk’s prayer for himself, he’s actually modeling for us and giving us something to kind of follow along with that will allow us to do the same thing that he’s going to do. Okay? It’s going to allow him to make certain requests that we can make, it’s gonna allow him to remember certain things that we can remember. And from that, it’s gonna allow him to begin to respond to God in a way that we can. It’s really it’s worship music. And good worship music has all the same elements of good prayer. It involves requesting of God, and remembering about God, and also responding to God. And so he’s given us this song. So, by the way, I would say that if you really want to revitalize your prayer life and you want to go deeper in prayer, you need to start doing prayers that are musical. Yeah, I’m kidding. You don’t have to do that. But Habakkuk has done that for us, and I’m really grateful because it’s an incredible model that we can follow.
So, he begins this way, he says, “Lord, I have heard of your fame. I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time, make them known, in wrath remember mercy.” And that’s kind of a little snapshot of what he’s going to do through the rest of the thing. Actually, in that little section, we see all three of the Rs, okay? The first thing he says is he says, “I have heard of your fame.” What’s he doing? He’s remembering. He’s remembering that God’s famous because of what God’s done. And he also responds, he says, “I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.” That’s a statement of his response to God. But he also makes requests, he says, “Repeat them in our day, in our time, make them known, in wrath, remember mercy.” And essentially, what Habakkuk is saying is, “Hey, I have heard about what you’ve done, I remember what you’ve done, the only thing I’m asking you to do, God, is basically do it again.” That’s the bottom line. Habakkuk is asking God to do it again. This is what you’ve done in the past, I’m just asking you to do that again.
So, then he begins to sort of unpack what it is that he’s heard God do in the past. Now, I’m going to read a fairly long section of this, and it’s going to be a section that is poetic, it’s poetry. And I know some of you love poetry. How many of you just love poetry? All right. This is just for you. How many of you are like, “Oh, no, poetry.” Okay. There’s a word for you. If you get to poetry in the Bible, otherwise, you’re like, “I don’t know what to do with this,” and the word is normal. Okay? A lot of people aren’t quite sure what to do with poetry. In fact, actually one of our pastors, pastor Matt Winter’s putting together a little video. So, if you want to subscribe to our YouTube channel, he’s going to go live here in a couple of days, just to give you some hints about thinking about what to do with poetry when you find it in the Bible. But here’s an important thing to understand about poetry. When we find poetry in the Bible, the reason it’s there is because what we’re being told is supposed to engage the heart and not just the head. He’s not looking to just inform our intellect, he’s actually looking to move us forward. And the imagery and the vivid pictures that we find in poetry are designed to stir us up and to move us forward. Okay?
So, that’s the first thing to understand about what’s going on here. You’re gonna see a lot of vivid imagery, but all of it basically goes back to a particular period in Israel’s history. Everything he’s gonna say, every image he’s going to give us is essentially remembering what God did when he released the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. That’s what Habakkuk is doing. He’s remembering that season. So, as I read through it, I’ll kind of point out the things that make that clear. He says, “God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran.” And those are geographical locations, and what happens there as he basically marks out, in a rough way, the beginning to the end of their journey from Egypt into the farthest reaches of the Promised Land. He says, “His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise, rays flashed from his hand where his power was hidden. Plague went before him, pestilence followed his steps,” which might seem like a strange description, but he’s remembering how God brought miraculous plagues on the Nation of Egypt to convince them to let their slaves go. “He stood and shook the earth. He looked and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed, but he marched on forever. I saw the tents of Cushan in distress and the dwellings of Midian in anguish.” Cushan and Midian were tribes, enemy tribes he encountered in their journey into the Promised Land, that by the power of God they were able to defeat.
“Were you angry with the rivers, Lord? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode your horses and your chariots to victory?” And what he’s talking about there is the different miracles that God did in various bodies of water. He turned the Nile to blood, he parted the Red Sea, he parted the Jordan so they can cross into the Promised Land. He’s remembering those things. “You uncovered your bow, you collect your many arrows, you split the earth with rivers, the mountains saw you arrive, torrents of water swept by, the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows and the lightning of your flashing spear.” He’s remembering when they were in battle to take possession of the promised land, it’s a battle recorded in Joshua chapter 10. There was a moment when the sun and the moon did stand still. The earth stopped rotating for a short period of time. He’s remembering that.
He says, “In wrath, you strode the earth, and in anger, you thrashed the nations. You came out to deliver your people to save your Anointed One. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness.” Probably a reference to Pharaoh. “You stripped him from head to foot. With his own spear, you pierced his head. When his warrior stormed out to scatter us, gloating us about to devour the wretched who were in hiding, you trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters.” Probably going back to the Red Sea again when the Israelites ran through the Red Sea that God had parted when they got the other side and the Egyptians were coming after them. And God let the waves crash back in and destroyed this army that thought they’re about to have an easy victory over God’s people.
So, everything that he’s remembering and picturesque language is everything that God did when he was removing his people from slavery and Egypt and taking them into possession of the Promised Land. Now, why does he spend so much time on this? Why all this remembering? Because Habakkuk knows what we have to understand, which is that what God has done in the past, he can be trusted to do again in the future. What God has done in the past, he can be trusted to do again in the future. Not necessarily in the same way but the kinds of things that God has done in the past, he can be trusted to do it again in the future. It’s interesting, there’s a principle in leadership that we sometimes talk about when we think about hiring somebody, or when you’re thinking about dating somebody or continuing to date somebody, there’s a principle and this is the principle, it says the best predictor of future behavior is, you know, it’s past behavior. People go no, it’s what they promised they would do, nope. It’s what I would like to think they would do, nope. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. What people have done in the past is most likely to be what they’re going to do in the future.
By the way, some of you…this is kind of a side note, but some of you are in a dating relationship, in particular, and you have forgotten this principle, and you’re going, “But they’re going to change, so I should stick it out.” Not necessarily. If you want to know what they’re going to look like tomorrow and the next month or next year, what they’re going to be like if you end up getting married to them, chances are pretty good it’s what you’ve already seen of them. Because the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Now, that doesn’t mean people can’t change. People can change, they can and do change, especially when the power of God comes into their lives, and the Holy Spirit begins to change them from the inside out, we can and do change. But in the absence of evidence of change, we should not expect a radical change. And here’s the thing, if that’s true of human beings who can and do change, how much more true is it of a God who can’t and doesn’t change? See, the Bible is really clear, God doesn’t change.
In the Book of James, we’re told that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” God doesn’t change. The Son of God doesn’t change. Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. So, if it’s true of human beings that can and do change, that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, how much more confident can we be that what God has done in the past, he can be trusted to do again in the future? That’s why Habakkuk spends so much time looking back on what God has done. Because what God has done in the past, he can be trusted to do in the future.
Now, obviously, the stories that we find Habakkuk remembering are stories we find in the Bible, and that’s a good source of remembering what God has done. But the reality is that many of us who’ve put our faith in Jesus have many, many, many experiences where God has demonstrated his faithfulness, his trustworthiness, over and over and over again. But we have spiritual amnesia. We tend to forget what God has done, and we find ourselves in a position where we’re all waiting for God to move again. And we’re like, “What’s wrong with him?” And so what do we need to do? We need to look back, we need to remember what God has done. And from that, we begin to find the belief that God can be trusted. And so whether it’s the stories of what God’s done that we find throughout the pages of the Bible or in our own lives, we have to remember what God has done. And that’s where we begin to make the movement from belief to faith. That’s what establishes belief.
And then we begin to respond, and here’s how has your Habakkuk begins to respond. He says this, I mean, “I heard everything that we just talked about, and my heart pounded. My lips quivered at the sound, decay crept into my bones and my legs trembled,” which I admit doesn’t sound like great stuff. But actually, what Habakkuk is just saying is that he remembers what God has done. He’s heard all what God has done, and what it did was it created him a sense of awe. That’s his response. Habakkuk responded to what he remembered with awe. And awe is an important word, but it’s a word that we don’t really understand anymore because we use it for all kinds of things that are not really awe-worthy. We’re constantly looking at something and going, “That is awesome.” Like, “That latte is awesome.” Really? That latte makes you quiver. You have a problem. Okay? That’s called an addiction right there. It makes your legs tremble? Yeah. If you drink enough of them, it definitely will. But that’s not what Habakkuk is talking about here. He’s talking about really almost a response of fear, but it’s a respectful fear. It’s a deep respect at the power of the God that he’s thinking about.
Well, I don’t know if you’ve had an experience that’s really created awe in you. Several years ago, I was in Zimbabwe. We’re doing a pastor’s conference, and we had an opportunity to drive through…well, they called it a zoo. But it was not a zoo like our zoos, very, very loose definition of zoo, like the animals are just these big enclosed, you got to drive through, and they let us drive through the lion enclosure. And when we got up to it, they came out and they said, “Hey, when you get in there, don’t get out. Like, don’t get out of your car.” And I was like, “Question. Has that ever happened?” And the guy goes, “Yeah, last week, we had some tourists and one of them got out of the car.” And I was like, “Okay. What happened?” The guy goes, “They ate him.” More questions. Starting with how are you still open, right? Like, that would never fly in America, very different regulation in Zimbabwe, okay?
So, we are like, we are not getting out of the car, and we did not get out of the car. But as we were looking at these lions, one of them kind of nearby started this…I don’t know what it was, it was just this deep rumbling noise that he kind of started, I think it was the…it must have been the prelude to a roar. But it was the lowest sound I’ve ever heard. I don’t know how an animal of that size could make a noise that deep. But it shook the car, it shook my insides a little bit. And then he let loose in this actual roar, and all the other lions in the park started it, and it was awesome. I felt me some awe in that moment. I felt some fear, I felt weak in the knees. That’s what Habakkuk is talking about here. He’s remembering what God has done. His response is awe, and awe is really important when it comes to God. And the reason is because awe is really what fuels the transition from belief into faith.
So, a question I’d like for you to ask yourself is this, what are my sources of awe? What gives you some of that feeling of awe about who God is? For me, one of the things that does it is the stars. I see the stars, and I like to go on YouTube sometimes and look at pictures. One of my favorite things to search is Hubble deep space pictures because what they do is they take a little piece of the night sky that doesn’t really look like has much going on in it. For us, it’s blank, it’s just black. But then they leave the lens open for a long time, and they record the light that’s coming in for thousands of seconds. And then they show those pictures and you can look at them, and they’re stunning. Because what looks like blackness to us, emptiness is actually filled with points of light that we just can’t see. But most of the points of light aren’t stars, they’re actually galaxies with hundreds of billions of stars.
If we could actually see everything that’s out there, the night sky would be just pure light. And I look at those pictures and I see what God’s done even in those spots where I can’t see anything. And I think the same God who did that loved me so much he sent his own Son to die for me. And I feel a little bit of awe. I look at those pictures and I go, the same God who did that knows my name, and he’s counted the hairs on my head, which I know is not that impressive for me. For some of you, it’s more impressive. But the point is that God is my God, that God knows me, that God cares about me. And for me, that is where I begin to find some of this awe. You need to find that place that gives you a sense of awe about who God is because that all fuels the transition from believing to trusting to faith.
And what he’s gonna do next is actually to begin to show us that transition. He is gonna show us what it looks like to live by faith, to have a life that’s characterized by that. And it’s interesting, again, remember, belief and faith are not quite the same thing. And here’s what I think is a very helpful way to think about the difference. Belief recognizes what’s true. Faith reorganizes around that truth. Do you hear me, church? Belief says, okay, that’s a true thing. God is this, God is like that, God has done that. And belief says, God can be trusted. That’s the foundation, right? It recognizes what’s true. Faith, on the other hand, faith reorganizes around that truth. It says, I’m going to change the way I think, I’m going to change the way I act, I’m going to change the way I feel even around that truth. So, belief recognizes what’s true, but faith reorganizes around it.
And what we’re going to see next is that Habakkuk basically gives us three ways to reorganize around what we believe to be true about God. Here’s the first one. He says, “Yet, I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” Now, practically what he’s talking about is that one of his questions to God was, “God, why haven’t you dealt with the sin of your people? Your people aren’t acting like your people. How long do you let this go on?” And God said, “It’s not going to last much longer. I’m going to send the Babylonians to destroy them.” And Habakkuk is like, “Whoa, hang on a second. That sounds like a worse solution than the problem. The Babylonians are terrible, how can you use them?” And God’s answer to him was, “Don’t worry, I’m going to judge them too.” And so what Habakkuk says now is, “I don’t get that. Like, I don’t understand why you’d use them. I don’t understand what you’re doing. I don’t understand you, God, but,” he says, “I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on them.”
And this is the first key to reorganizing our lives around the belief that God can be trusted. See, living by faith means waiting patiently, even in difficulty. And I know that’s bad news for some people. For some people, you’re like me, and patience it’s just not in the wiring. I’ve told you many times before, I’ll go ahead and tell you again, it has been scientifically proven that I’m one of the least patient people on the planet. I know what it is to struggle with patience. But what we’re told here is that living by faith means waiting patiently, even in difficulty. And the thing about waiting patiently is sometimes I think I’m waiting patiently because I’ve waited two minutes, right? I’m like, “I got to wait more than two minutes, like, okay, two hours, God? Oh, more than two days. Whoa, okay. All right. I can do it. Oh, not two days, two weeks. Oh, okay.” And sometimes even that’s not enough waiting. You know, I’ve shared my youngest daughter is struggling with abdominal issues. And we waited two years to find a solution to that, for God to heal her. Two years, like, that’s tough. But that’s waiting patiently in the midst of difficulty.
And because I think this is maybe the hardest one of the three the Habakkuk is going to give us, let me just lean into this a little bit and say, if waiting patiently is not an easy thing for you, here’s a couple of tips. It’s actually taken from a message we did a couple years ago. If you want to go more in-depth, you can go to the website and search on “waiting well” and they’ll unpack these four principles. But here’s just four quick tips for waiting well. Number one, be careful to be faithful. That when we’re waiting on God, we also need to be faithful to God, we need to be obedient to God, and we need to follow God’s instructions and stay close to him in pursuing righteousness and cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Because when we get away from that, when we rebel, when we walk away into sin, then we’re not where God is when he moves, and so we miss it. So, we need to be careful to stay faithful.
The second thing we can do to stay faithful as we’re waiting well is don’t just wait, watch. See, waiting isn’t just a matter of going, “All right, anytime now.” No, it’s actually a matter of watching. I always think of my kids, you know, they would stick their faces up against the window when my wife told them I was about to come home from a trip, or when Christmastime came and they knew that, you know, my parents, their grandparents were on their way, they’d stick their faces against the window, and they’re watching every car, “Is that them? Is that them?” What that meant was that they never missed a moment, the moment that they started down the street or I started coming home, they were right there able to enjoy every bit of it because they weren’t just waiting, they were watching. And I think we have to do the same thing when we’re waiting for God. We’re constantly going, “Is that it, God? Is that it? Is today the day? Is it there? Is it there?”
The third thing we can do to wait well is we wait on who not what. We remember I’m waiting for God to move, I’m waiting for God to redeem, I’m waiting for God to do what only God can do. I’m not just waiting on the specific things that I’m hoping he’ll do because the reality is you might be disappointed. God might be doing something different than you think. It might be much, much better than you think, but you’ll miss it because if you’re waiting on the what rather than the who, you’re not looking in the right place. We’re waiting on a who not a what.
And the last little tip I’ll give is this. Don’t just wait on God, wait with God. Because we have this idea, I’m waiting for God to show up. Well, God’s already shown up. God is already with you. That’s who Jesus is. If you have faith in Jesus, Jesus is Immanuel, he’s God with us. He’s God with you. You don’t have to wait for God to show up because he’s already there. You’re waiting for the God who’s already with you to move in a particular way that you’re longing for. And that’s a very different experience. Waiting with God is very different than waiting on God. Sometimes we have to rejoice in that reality.
This is the first key. The first key to living by faith is to wait patiently, even in difficulty. And, again, I know that this is just something we’re not wired for. I was in the airport in California recently, and I heard a woman and she was complaining about the flight she was about to take in New York. She said, “It’s like five hours.” She said, “Five hours is too long to be on a plane.” I was like, “You understand you’re going from California to New York. Like, 100 years ago that would have taken five months and there’s a pretty good chance you would have died along the way.” But see, we live in a world that’s no, it’s got to be right now. And so this is a difficult one but it’s a really important one. Living by faith means waiting patiently, even in difficulty.
The second thing that he does to reorganize his life is this. He says, “Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord and be joyful in God my Savior.” Now, what he’s doing is he’s kind of recognizing, he’s almost rehearsing how he’s going to respond to something that’s going to happen. He says, “I know that when the Babylonians come, we’re going to lose a lot of the signs of your blessing, God.” Everything he lists there, the figs on the trees, and the grapes, and the things, and the cattle and all that stuff, those are all promises that God had made of blessing. So, he says, “I know we’re coming into a season where I’m not going to see all the signs of your blessing.” But what does he say? He says, “Even when I don’t see the signs of your blessing, I’m going to rejoice in the Lord. I’ll be joyful in God my Savior.”
In other words, this is really important, living by faith means rejoicing in our relationship with God more than the blessings of God. Let me say that again. Living by faith means rejoicing in our relationship with God more than the blessings of God. And the reality is very often, we don’t actually rejoice in God, we rejoice in the things that God does for us. We’re more interested in the blessings than the blesser, we’re more interested in the gifts than the giver. And that’s not a good place to be because it’s the giver, it’s the blesser who will ultimately lead us into the greatest of all, the blessings. These are all temporary blessings, many of the things that we’re so fixated on, they’re going to come and go in this life. But our relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ will lead us into a time, into eternal life, where the blessings that we begin to experience make all the blessings around us right now look like cheap imitations. But how do we get to that life? A relationship with God. Everything depends on that relationship. And so one of the things we do to live by faith is that we focus more, we rejoice more in that relationship with God than the blessings of God, and certainly more in the relationship with God than the blessings that we think God should have given, and we’re frustrated at him for not bestowing.
The third thing he does to reorganize his life is this. He says, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer. He enables me to tread on the heights.” And let’s be honest, that’s a little bit of a strange thing to say, right? God makes my feet like deer feet. Why would he say that? I don’t know if you’ve had this experience. Sometimes, like, if you’re out on I70, and you look up, you’ll see these just really sheer steep faces. And sometimes on these ridiculously steep faces, you’ll see a goat. It’s just hanging out. It’s like, “What’s going on?” And you look at and you’re like, “How did you get there?” I mean, it looks like a perfectly smooth face, or maybe you’ve seen pictures on the internet of goats like halfway up like the Hoover Dam. Like, how do you do that? Well, the answer is that mountain goats here in Colorado have hooves with these really tiny, sharp edges, that they can wedge into the tiniest little cracks and then stand upon them. And those are the kinds of things that he’s talking about here, the deer he’s talking about in ancient Israel. They’re not like our whitetail deer here, they’re more like our mountain goats, they had these really sharp little hooves, and they could stand up on the tiniest little cracks and work their way up what seemed like featureless sheer cliffs.
And Habakkuk says, “I want to be like that. I want the feet to allow me to get to the heights, to tread on the heights.” And what he means is this. He means that living by faith means learning to stand, standing on even the smallest signs of hope. Because the reality is we often are waiting for the big things we want God to do and we miss out on all the small signs of faithfulness along the way. And Habakkuk says, “I don’t want to be like that. I want to be like that deer, who sees the smallest little crack, the smallest sign of hope of your faithfulness, God, and I want to put my feet into that, and then I want to stand upon it. And then I’m gonna look for that next one, I know it’s coming. And I want to put my feet into that, and I want to stand upon it. I want to get to the heights by learning to stand, even those smallest little signs of hope,” and they’re all around us if we just see them. So living by faith means learning to stand in even the smallest signs of hope.
And if we begin to do that, and if we begin to focus more on our relationship with God rather than the blessings of God and if we learned, as he says here, he says, “Wait patiently, even in difficulty,” what happens is we begin to experience that God is with us and carrying us through those places. And we begin to go, it’s not just knowing that God can be trusted, but I’m actually beginning to experience the peace that comes from trusting him. I mean, bottom line, if you kind of boil it all down, he’s saying that living by faith means recognizing and reorganizing around God’s faithfulness.
So, a couple questions for you. The first one is just this. Where have you seen God’s faithfulness on display? You need to take some time to think through that. Maybe even one of those signs of God’s faithfulness that demonstrate to me that he can be trusted, and maybe even the ones that created me a little bit of a sense of an awe, to fuel that transition. But what are the signs of God’s faithfulness that you can recognize? And then the second question, how do I need to reorganize my life around the truth that he can be trusted? Is it waiting patiently? Is it rejoicing in his relationship with you? Or is it learning to stand up and to rejoice in and take confidence and hope from even those small signs? God can be trusted. Do you believe that? Give me an amen if you believe that.
Craig: Amen. You can. Believing that and experiencing it are two different things. Living by faith is both recognizing that he can be trusted, but it’s also beginning to reorganize our lives, as Habakkuk shows us how to do here, around that truth that he can be trusted. Would you pray with me? God, thank you for the myriad of ways, the multitude of ways that you demonstrate that you can be trusted. Lord, forgive us for how blind we are to those signs, how easy it is that we forget the reality of your trustworthiness. Lord, we ask that you’d give us a deep, deep, and abiding belief that you can be trusted. But Lord, beyond that, we asked for power with your Holy Spirit, to not just recognize that you can be trusted, but to begin to reorganize our lives around that trust. Lord, give us strength through your Holy Spirit to do what Habakkuk models for us here so that we can experience the peace that comes from resting in the arms of a God who can be trusted, even when everything around us is confusing, or chaotic, or hard. Teach is not just to recognize but to reorganize around the truth that you are trustworthy. Lord, I know that there are people listening to this message right now who need to take the all-important first step of reorganizing, they need to put their faith in you.
And if that’s you, if you maybe are here and you’re listening to this, and you believe that God can be trusted, maybe you even believe what I talked about the greatest proof of his love and his trustworthiness and is that he sent his own Son to die on the cross to pay the price for your sin. If you believe that, and maybe you believe that Jesus rose from the dead. That’s great, but belief isn’t faith. Maybe it’s time for you to take the next step of reorganizing your life around that belief, which is to take the all-important step of saying to Jesus, I’m going to put my faith in you, I’m going to put my trust in you. I’m gonna reorganize, I’m gonna start following you. That’s how we experience the forgiveness. That’s how we experience the relationship. That’s how we experience the hope and the peace that leads to eternal life.
And if you’ve never done that, you can do it right now. I encourage you to take this incredibly important step of reorganizing your life. Just have a conversation with God right now. Say something like this to him, say, God, I believe that you’re good. I believe that you can be trusted, and I believe that I’m not good. I know I’ve sinned, and I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for coming and dying on the cross to pay for my sin. I believe you rose from the dead. Jesus, I’m ready to put my faith in you. I’m going to reorganize my life around your love. I’m going to follow you Jesus from here on out. I receive your forgiveness, and I receive a relationship with you and the promise of eternal life. In Jesus’ name. Amen. Hey, can we celebrate those who made that decision to put their faith in Jesus today?
We love that, and if you made that decision for the first time today, would you do something for me? Just let us know. We want to know, we want to celebrate. We also want to be able to get you some free resources to begin experiencing this life of faith. So, here’s what you can do, let us know. If you’re on campus, you can stop by the Welcome Center on your way out, tell them, “I said yes to Jesus.” They’ll celebrate that and they’ll give you some stuff right there. You can always text or hit the button right below me if you’re watching online. And wherever you are, at any point, you can always text the word “Jesus” to 80875. But please do that. Let us know you made that decision. Let us send you these resources.