Habakkuk: Letting go of our expectations

I remember the first time I saw an episode of Jimmy Kimmel’s YouTube challenge “I gave my kids a terrible present.” Parents wrapped a terrible gift for their children, gave it to them for Christmas, and then recorded their children’s reactions. Thousands of parents filmed their kids’ excitingly open up a Christmas gift only to find that they had received a jar of pickles, soup, a sponge, or some other terrible gift. Several young boys had complete meltdowns after unwrapping their gifts only to discover a new Barbie doll.

When we watch these videos, we laugh at the extreme disappointment of children in not having their expectations met by their parent’s Christmas gifts. However, when we feel disappointment because God fails to meet our expectations, we certainly do not laugh.

In the story of Habakkuk, after the prophet continues to pray to God and bombards the Almighty with his questions and complaints, God, in his own timing, breaks his silence and responds to Habakkuk. God informs Habakkuk that he is indeed at work, “For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation” (Habakkuk 1:5–6).

The good news was that God was not inactive; he was at work. However, God’s response to Habakkuk must have been shocking and disappointing to the prophet. The way God chooses to answer the prophet’s prayers made no sense to Habakkuk. God had chosen to work through the Chaldeans (soon to be referred to as “Babylon”), who were a godless, violent, and wicked nation.

Rather than rejoicing that God was no longer silent but was about to do his mighty work, Habakkuk issued another complaint to God (1:12–2:1). Habakkuk protested God using an evil nation for his purposes. How could God use a wicked nation to accomplish his purposes? How could God allow the evil Babylonians to prosper and succeed? Why couldn’t God answer their prayers a different way so that the good rather than the wicked prosper?

Because God’s answer to Habakkuk was not what he expected, Habakkuk became disappointed and continued to question God. Likewise, when our expectations for how we think life should go aren’t fulfilled, we often begin to question.

The Gospels also reveal to us a compelling story of how Jesus failed to meet someone’s expectations. John the Baptist had devoted his life to preparing the way for the coming of Jesus and had witnessed the confirming mark of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on Jesus at his baptism. Yet, after all these events, John finds himself wasting away in prison, wondering if Jesus is indeed the Messiah. In his struggle of doubt, John sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).

John’s doubt centered on the fact that Jesus’ life and mission seems to contradict what the Messiah should have been doing for Israel. John wanted to know if Jesus was the expected one? In other words, for John (and most of Israel) the Messiah had certain expectations placed upon him, and Jesus was failing in meeting those expectations.

We all face the same dilemma of John the Baptist. When Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations, do we become disillusioned and angry, and decide not to follow him?

When tragedy hits, do we feel God has abandoned us?

Do we easily give up and fail to trust his plan for us?

Eugene Peterson wrote, “But Jesus does not always meet our expectations, does not always give what we ask for or what we think we need. When he doesn’t, we feel let down, deflated, or disappointed.”

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In my journey through darkness and pain, I reached a very low point. Although I would pray for God to intervene and do incredible works in the lives of others, I stopped asking God for the miraculous in my own life. I expected him to work in the lives of my wife, children, and friends – but not in my life. I had no expectations for God because I didn’t want to be disappointed again.

However, God, in his incredible patience, began to do his work again in my heart regarding my unfilled expectations and disappointments. Jesus’ response to John the Baptist is vital for us when we are grappling with our unfulfilled expectations of God, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6).

I must not become offended and disappointed in how God chooses to work in this world or how he chooses to answer my prayers.

In response to Habakkuk’s disappointment and unfulfilled expectations, God responded a second time to Habakkuk from which we observe several vital principles at work:

  1. God comforts his people amid pain, suffering, and hard times. God begins by instructing the prophet to clearly write down on a stone tablet the response the Lord is about to give him so all can see it (Habakkuk 2:2).
  2. God does not always act immediately. God informs Habakkuk, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time” (2:3). Just because God answers our prayers, it does not mean the answer is immediate or that rescue is taking place right away.
  3. God’s Word is true and will come about. God declares this about his revelation: “It hastens to the end—it will not lie” (2:3). That is, the promises and plans of God will be completed.
  4. We are to wait patiently on God. God says, “If it seems slow, wait for it” (2:3). Rarely does God’s timetable match our timetable. In our instantaneous culture, we abhor slow action.
  5. God will, in his own time, fulfill his Word. “It will surely come; it will not delay” (2:3). The timing of God rarely meets our expectations.
  6. Our life is to be characterized by faith. God declares, “But the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). God’s righteous people are to live their lives marked by faith—even in dark times.