Habakkuk: Rejoicing in God even in the midst of pain, loss, and hardship
It is one thing to lift our hands, worship Jesus, declare our thankfulness, and to put our trust in God when the blessings of heavens are flowing into our lives and our circumstances are great. However, it is quite a different thing to offer up genuine praise and thanksgiving to Jesus and to entrust ourselves to God amid hardship, pain, and darkness.
As we have seen over the last several posts, the book of Habakkuk follows the journey of the prophet through his earnest prayers, as he wrestles with God’s seeming silence and asks if God truly cares. Yet the story ends with Habakkuk able to rest in the ways of God and to trust and worship God no matter what circumstances may transpire: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17–19).
I discovered that as I sat in my comfortable, secure places of life that I could quickly “Amen” Paul when he stated, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Or, as I lived under the allusion of control, I could quickly rejoice in God when the fig tree was blossoming, when abundant fruit sprung forth from the vines, and my fields and barns filled to the max.
However, what is my response when the figs aren’t blossoming in my life or when the fruit is lacking or when my fields and barns are barren? I have realized that my worship of God is often contingent upon my circumstances.
It is so much easier to worship God through good times than when we face challenges and unpleasant situations.
For me, the question became can I honestly proclaim, “Though my work feels meaningless and I struggle to find an occupational purpose, though my bank account is depilated and my debt grows, though I am cut off from many relationships I once enjoyed, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in God and trust my Heavenly Father”? Can I respond like Habakkuk, who came to the place where, even if trials and distress continued, he chooses to rejoice in the Lord?
The reality is that life can be brutal at times. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Also, Jesus stated, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34).
Becoming a follower of Jesus does not exempt us from trials and suffering.
Being children of God does not make us immune from experiencing the storms of life. It can be extremely challenging and at times seem nearly impossible, but God wants to bring us to the place where we also can worship him and choose to rejoice in him even in the midst of the darkest storms.
Many people are devastated when their prayers are not answered. When the miracle doesn’t come, their grief turns into disappointment, bitterness, and anger towards God.
We must always believe in God more than we believe for the miracles.
In Daniel 3, we read about the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and their refusal to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol. When threatened to be thrown in a fiery furnace, they stated, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16–18). These three young Hebrew men were confident that God was able to deliver them from the fire. Yet they also declared that if God chose not to rescue them, they would not allow their circumstances to change their worship of him.
As Peter Greig said, “In the first part of their speech, we see that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have faith for a miracle, and this is impressive. But then we see that they also have faith of a deeper kind altogether—faith to endure suffering should the miracle not happen.”
At times, God delivers us from the fires of life; at other times, God delivers us through the fires of life.
Obviously, I much prefer the “delivered from” option over the “delivered through” alternate. Who doesn’t?
However, many times God calls us to go through the wilderness of life and “valleys of the shadow of death.” As we journey with Jesus, we discover the transformative power of walking with God through the unknown where:
- we have to trust him,
- rely on his strength in us,
- listen to his voice, and
- obey his direction.
Just as Abraham (the “Father of our faith”) made plenty of mistakes along the way, we will also. Because it was God at work within him, Abraham was transformed through his worship and reliance in God. Likewise, as the Holy Spirit is at work in us, God will transform us.
The ending of Habakkuk is beautiful. Ronald Blue comments, “Habakkuk’s book begins with an interrogation of God but ends as an intercession to God. Worry is transformed into worship. Fear turns to faith. Terror becomes trust. Hang-ups are resolved with hope. Anguish melts into adoration. What begins with a question mark ends in an exclamation point.”
Even among suffering and loss, God desires us to learn that we can trust him, and with that trust comes great joy – not in our circumstances but in God himself.