Holding onto faith in desperate times 5. When You Feel Like Giving Up
Holding on to Faith in Desperate Times
5. When You Feel Like Giving Up
Our world is in trouble. South Africa is in trouble.I agree. We all agree. Evil is running rampant in our world. Jesus must be glorified in our lives. We desperately need the Holy Spirit to fall on us. “Before it is too late.” We must pray for God’s mercy while we can. There is a time when judgment comes. We have many phrases for this: When the chickens come home to roost, when skeletons come out of the closet, when it’s time to pay the piper. Sooner or later we all face the consequences of the choices we have made. This is true for nations and for individuals.
You cannot mock God forever, you cannot ignore him or pretend he isn’t there, you cannot do as you please without inviting judgment from on high. We need God to do something “before it’s too late.”
That sounds a lot like Habakkuk. God had told him clearly: “Judgment is coming!” Now at last he understands the message. When we come to Habakkuk 3, we turn a corner. The whole tone of the book changes. We move from confusion to clarity and from fear to faith. Here is the key observation on which the whole book turns: Nothing has changed on the outside. Habakkuk has changed on the inside. We find a lot of bad news in Habakkuk 1, 2. But Habakkuk 3 is full of good news. The book ends on a note of hope and praise.
How did the prophet move from his initial worry and fear to a place of confidence, joy and praise? How did he get there when nothing around him has changed? The people are still mocking God, violence still fills the streets and the Babylonians are still coming to Jerusalem. Outwardly everything is just as messed up as it was in the beginning. Yet Habakkuk the man has changed on the inside. How did that happen?
This chapter gives us the answer. The outline is very simple. Habakkuk 3 contains 3 things: A prayer. A vision. A testimony. Let’s take them one at a time and see what we can learn from the prophet’s spiritual journey.
1. Prayer v. 1, 2
In the face of impending calamity, the prophet prays for a full manifestation of God’s power and for mercy in the midst of judgment. It’s as if he is saying, “Lord, I know bad times are coming. I accept that. I’m not fighting against your plan. But oh Lord, if hard times must come, don’t let the Babylonians wipe us out. Remember mercy or we will perish!”
Perfectly biblical prayer - It’s honest. It’s desperate. It’s the kind of prayer God will answer.
Notice that he asks God to do again in his day what he has done in the past. Twice he says, “Do it now, Lord, in our day, in our time.” This ought to be the prayer of every thoughtful Christian at this critical moment of history. Consider the perilous situation in the Middle East as ISIS continues its reign of terror. No one seems to know how to stop these brutal thugs who kill in the name of Islam. They are not shy about announcing their plans to move on Europe, Africa and the United States. We truly live in dangerous times. We are in more danger than before 9/11, we'd better wake up and pay attention.
We ought to read this prayer against that backdrop. Everywhere I go I hear Christians asking what they can do. Some people say we are on the brink of a great revival. Perhaps that is true. I certainly hope so. Revivals usually come in desperate times. You generally don’t receive a miracle until you desperately need one. It seems that God often will not move in power until things have fallen into dire straits.
If that is true, then I would say we are in a good place for a mighty move of God. I understand that revival is a sovereign work of God. He can move from heaven any time he wants. Fire comes down from above. It is not “worked up” from below. My greatest challenge is the man in the mirror. That’s where revival must begin.
2. Vision (v. 3 – 15)
After his prayer Habakkuk has a vision of God. Theologians call this a theophany. That’s a fancy term for an appearance of God on the earth. In this case, God revealed himself to Habakkuk in something like a dream or a vision. These verses are highly poetic, which is what you would expect when a man has a vision of God. But the point is very clear. Knowing that his nation faces imminent judgment, Habakkuk prays, “Lord, do something!” This vision is God’s answer. It’s as if God says, “Habakkuk, you’ve forgotten who I am. You’re talking as if I can’t hear you. As if I don’t have any power. Let me show you who I am because if you understand who I am, you’ll be able to sleep at night.”
In these verses Habakkuk recounts God’s activity in the past. He especially focuses on the Exodus, the time in the wilderness, and the crossing of the Jordan River. That was a period in which God repeatedly worked spectacular miracles. By recounting all of this, God is saying, “Have you forgotten what I did for you in the past?”
If he did it before, he can do it again. Sometimes we read the Bible and secretly wonder if God can do it again in the 21st-century. Here is the answer. He’s God! He can intervene any time he wants.
We can get a flavor of this theophany in v. 13 - 15 which focus on the defeat of Pharaoh at the Red Sea. Look at the verbs: You came out . . . You crushed . . . You stripped . . . You pierced . . . You trampled. This is what God did. He gets all the credit. We can see 2 things very clearly here:
A. The utter defeat of those who oppose God.
B. The divine determination to do whatever it takes to deliver God’s people.
Why is this here? Because many people have not found a God big enough for modern problems.
If you had a bigger God, you wouldn’t worry as much. If you had a bigger God, you would be stronger in the moment of crisis. If you had a bigger God, you would be less tempted to compromise.
A. Acceptance v. 16
This is Habakkuk’s way of saying, “I get it, Lord. The Babylonians will attack us and then you will judge them. I will wait for that day to come.” As it turns out, Habakkuk most likely didn’t live long enough because Babylon would not fall for almost 70 years. It doesn’t matter. Habakkuk’s words mean, “Message received.”
B. Commitment v. 17, 18
Shows us what faith looks like when life tumbles in around us. The word “rejoice” literally means to jump for joy. We might even say it means to dance for joy. But how is this possible?
Habakkuk has described a total economic meltdown. Ancient Israel was an agricultural society. If you ran out of figs, olives, grapes, grain, sheep and cattle, you were in big trouble. This isn’t just a random list. This is a portfolio! What do you do when you are wiped out? What if your investments disappear?
Pension destroyed. What then? How do you face that? What if you lose your job? What if the safety net fails? What if you run out of food? What if you can’t pay your bills? What if your children end up in jail? What if your loved ones never come to Christ? What if the doctor says, “It’s terminal”? What if your spouse has a heart attack and you are left alone? What if you lose your job because you are a Christian? What if you end up in jail for your faith? What then?
Could you say, “Yes, Lord,” when the dearest thing in life was taken from you?
Too many Christians have a God of the good times. They serve God and love him and praise him when all is going well. But what will you do when hard times come? If all you have is a God of the good times, you don’t have the God of the Bible.
Sometimes the fig tree does not bud. Sometimes there are no grapes on the vine. Sometimes the olive crop fails. Sometimes the fields produce no food. Sometimes there are no sheep in the pen.
Sometimes there are no cattle in the stalls.
What do you do then? You can get angry with God or you can give up on God altogether.
Or you can choose to believe in God anyway. Often we mistake faith and our feelings. Faith isn't about my feelings, much less about my circumstances. Faith chooses to believe when it would be easier to stop believing. Habakkuk said, "I will wait patiently" and "I will rejoice." He found new strength in the midst of desolation.
The last verse of Habakkuk is often overlooked: v. 19.
This speaks of our journey through life. These deer are sure-footed where the rest of us would slip and slide and eventually fall. If you know the Lord, he will give you stability in the slippery moments of life. He will give you grace to stand when otherwise you would fall apart. It reminds me of Ephesians 6:13 which says that when we put on the armor of God and “having done all,” we will stand safe and secure when the battle is over.
That’s where the book ends, and that’s where we will end our journey.
Let me repeat once again the single most important observation from Habakkuk. As the book ends, nothing has changed on the outside. The people of Judah have still forgotten God. Violence still reigns in Jerusalem. The wicked still oppress the righteous. And the Babylonians are still God’s appointed instrument for judgment. Hard times are coming and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Nothing has changed! Except this. Habakkuk has changed on the inside.
We all come from different situations. Some are happy, some are sad. Some are healthy, some are sick. Some are excited about the future, some face dark clouds of uncertainty.
But if we know the Lord, if God is our Saviour, we can still have feet to tread on the heights in the worst moments of life. We can stand when others fall around us.
“It’s always too soon to give up!” That’s a good motto for us as we wrap up our study of Habakkuk. I told you in the first message that Habakkuk is “Strong Faith for Confusing Times.”
I leave you with one final thought. You’ll never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have. And when Jesus is you have, then and only then will you discover that Jesus is all you need. That’s the real message of the little book of Habakkuk.