Sermon Manuscript – September 30, 2007

For the last couple weeks, we’ve been looking at the prophet Habakkuk and his dialogue with God. We’ve seen him grapple with an issue that any Christian faces when he or she sees something go wrong: how can there be evil in God’s world? Last week, we looked at God’s shocking response to Habakkuk’s complaint. God knows about the evil among His people, and He’s decided to deal with it by sending Babylonians to destroy the land and carry its people into exile. We saw that God took responsibility for raising up this “bitter and hasty” nation – that He saw to it that they rose to power for the express purpose of punishing the people of Judah. And as difficult as it is for us to understand how a holy and good God can use evil people and actions to bring about good, we remembered that this is actually very good news – because it shows us that God really is in control. And we were reminded that God has used human sin and evil to punish human sin and evil elsewhere – he did it at the Cross, where He planned for His innocent Son to be wrongfully put to death by wicked men as a way to pay for human sin.

You could sum up Habakkuk so far like this: God may not make sense sometimes. There’s bad stuff going on in the world. But – God knows it. And God’s still in control.

And today, we’re going to see a change in Habakkuk. We’re going to see his faith grow. We’re going to see him stand a little stronger, trust God a little more. We’re going to see how an ordinary person can be shaped and strengthened and grown by God through tough times.

Let’s read verse 12 of chapter 1, through the first verse of chapter two. This is Habakkuk’s response to what we saw God say last week.

STILL CONFUSED

Imagine your neighbourhood is full of crime. Kids do drugs in your bushes, questionable women loiter at the end of your driveway. Bullies beat up your child, someone shoots your dog with a BB gun, and your neighbour sneaks into your garage and steals your weedwhacker.

So you call the police and ask if they’re planning on doing something. And they say, “Yes.” “What’s that?” you ask. “Here’s the plan,” says the constable. And he explains what they’re going to do. See, the cops have arranged for the mob to come in. An Italian crime family, or the Russian mafia, or an Asian triad, or an American biker gang – it doesn’t matter, it’s going to be a big, organized, and very bad group of people. Some godfather’s going to send his thugs into the neighbourhood and take over. They’re going to kick people out of their homes. They’re going to make many of the residents disappear. And they’re going to turn the neighbourhood into their own playground, where all the crime is going to make money for them.

What’s your first reaction to that? “How does that solve the problem?”

That’s what Habakkuk’s probably thinking. See, he complained about the sins of his people. He saw the Jews oppressing each other and disobeying God, and asked God to deal with it. And so God’s doing that. But instead of sending plagues, or a natural disaster, or raising up a good king to punish the wicked, God is fighting fire with fire. Sin will punish sin. Evil will destroy evil.

What is God doing? Punishing the wickedness of Judah. The thing Habakkuk was worried about – the sins of his people – is being dealt with. That’s not the problem. Notice that Habakkuk accepts the judgment. There’s no saying that the Jews didn’t deserve it, that they are being treated too harshly. Look at verse 12. Habakkuk accepts the punishment – “you have ordained them for a judgment. You have established them for reproof.” “Yes, God. You answered my prayer. Judah’s sins will be punished. They deserve what the Babylonians do to them.”

So why does he still cry out? It’s not because Judah will be punished – he knows they deserve it. So what’s the problem now? This is it: sin’s being punished by more sin. It’s not good defeating evil – it’s evil defeating evil. Bad people are going to be paid back not by the good guys, but by more bad guys. Yes, the mob will clean up the neighbourhood. But in the big picture, does that solve anything? Haven’t the cops just replaced one set of bad people with another set of bad people? Hasn’t God just promised to replace wicked Hebrews with wicked Babylonians? How has justice prevailed? Where’s the good news in this?

You could sum it up like this. Judah’s sin is being punished by Babylon’s sin. So – what about Babylon’s sin? Will it be punished? Is God going to deal with it the way he deals with Judah’s sin? Or will they continue to sin with impunity? Is this going to go on and on?

Verse 13 has the prophet asking, “How can God use someone so evil to punish someone more righteous?” Habakkuk’s not justifying Judah here. He’s simply saying that the cure is worse than the disease. The mob is being used to clean out the petty thieves. God has raised up something so powerful that, compared to Babylon, the whole world is as helpless as the fish of the sea. Habakkuk is worried that there’s no other big nation in the neighbourhood to take a stand against them, no ruler for the crawling things of this sea. Little Judah had its big Babylonian punishment – who’s going to be the Babylonians to the Babylonians? They’re going to run around unopposed, sweeping everything up with the nets of their armies. And as Habakkuk puts it, will they keep on emptying their nets and mercilessly killing nations forever?

It’s a problem. There’s still evil. There’s still wickedness, at the end of the day. It still needs to be punished. In a sense, God has only pushed the problem back a step. The job’s not done. God’s goodness still needs to be vindicated; his purity still needs to be justified.

WATCH HABAKKUK GROW

It’s fascinating to look at how Habakkuk acts here. He’s facing a really tough problem. God is still making very little sense. The problem he thought he was facing has been replaced by an even bigger one. So what does that mean for him? How does he respond?

Let me ask you this. How do we grow? How do we build a skill, or develop a muscle, or gain wisdom? We are exposed to bigger challenges. We are faced with more and more difficult problems.

Watching Caden grow up is just fascinating. At first, he’s utterly helpless. He can’t even move around by himself. Then he learns to coordinate his muscles and time his actions so that he’s able to roll over. He can go from lying on his back to lying on his belly.

That was a tough challenge for him. It wasn’t easy – it took him weeks. Now, with that done, is he done growing? No. What’s the next thing? At first, he tries getting places by rolling to them. But that’s slow, and it’s hard. Eventually, over a few more weeks and months, he starts to pull himself with his hands. It’s a challenge – and it’s harder than the task of rolling over. It’s more complicated. And it takes him a few more weeks to get up on his knees and crawl properly, instead of doing an army crawl or swimming across the floor. Coordinating four limbs is a lot harder than just two.

But now he’s crawling. Is he done? No. There’s yet another challenge. Next thing is standing. And when he figures that out, then the challenge is walking. Now that he’s walking, Erin and I are watching him try to run. That’s hard. He can’t do it without falling on his face. It will take time. But – he’ll get there. And when he does – there will be something else. Potty training. Talking. Spelling. Arithmetic. Cursive writing. Long division. Geometry. Algebra. Trigonometry. Calculus. There’s always another step. Always another hill to climb.

When you’ve stopped growing, you’ve stopped living. That applies to faith, too. If it isn’t growing, if it isn’t facing new challenges and overcoming them and moving on to bigger things, then you’re not spiritually healthy. Habakkuk may be facing a bigger challenge to his faith now – but his faith has grown. Look how he’s facing trouble now. And let’s learn from it. Let’s take a few lessons. We all face challenges to our faith. We all struggle to know we are saved, or to be sure that God has our best interests at heart, or to understand why God does the things He does, or to be able to trust Him more fully. We see Habakkuk grow in faith in several ways.

REMEMBER WHO GOD IS

What is the first thing Habakkuk says in response to God’s answer? Verse 12: “Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One?” The first thing Habakkuk does – and the first thing we must do if we are to grow in faith – is this: he remembers who God is. He reminds himself of who God is.

I wear a wedding band as a reminder, as a remembrance. Yes, it tells other people I’m married. But it says something vitally important to me. It reminds me of my wife. It reminds me of the promises that I have made to her. It reminds me that she loves me, and that I love her. It reminds me that God is watching my conduct with other women to make sure I honor Him and honor my wife. These reminders – these remembrances – strengthen that bond I have with Erin. They strengthen our marriage as I dwell on them. And just like that, Habakkuk grows in faith as reminds himself of who God is.

Let’s break down this sentence. “Are you not from everlasting?” God always is, always has been, and always will be. He’s timeless. He stands outside the ebb and flow of history. He knows what has happened and why; he knows what will happen and how. We have a God who knows all things and sees all things, who shall never grow old and die, who never began – and, therefore, never changes. A God who has always been there, and who will always be there, no matter what. Don’t forget that God is everlasting.

“O LORD my God.” Where our Bibles say “LORD” the Hebrew is Yahweh. That’s God’s personal name, which He uses with His special people. When Habakkuk says Yahweh, he is reminding himself and God of the special relationship he has with God as one of God’s people. It means closeness and intimacy. God cares about Habakkuk personally. God cares about each of us personally, as we are joined to Him by faith. Remember that God loves us personally.

“My Holy One.” God is holy – pure and perfect. Totally set apart and spotless from any hint of wrongdoing or evil. He is the very definition of goodness and righteousness and justice. Habakkuk reminds himself – and we as Christians need to remind ourselves! – that God is perfect, and so He expects perfection. The reason God saves a person is so that they can be made perfect like Christ. We need to remember that – to remember that God is holy.

That’s all just the first sentence. Habakkuk then expresses trust in God. “We shall not die.” Habakkuk knows that the nation will be destroyed – but he also remembers God’s promises. Promises to Abraham, that his descendants would be like the number of the stars. Promises to David, that a king from his line would reign forever on the throne of Israel. And so Habakkuk remembers, and we must remember, that God is faithful. God keeps his promises. God will not annihilate Judah – he will make sure that a few are left over to start again. God always keeps a faithful few through times of evil and judgment. God doesn’t punish to destroy his people – it is to correct his people. Because, remember – God keeps His promises.

Just like a marriage is strengthened as a husband and wife reflect on and remember whom they love and what they promised to them, faith grows, and is strengthened, as we remind ourselves who God is. Faith grows as we read the stories of the Bible and remember what God did and what kind of God He is. Do you want your faith to grow? Remember who God is. Remind yourself who God is.

GIVE THE PROBLEM TO GOD – AND LEAVE IT!

Now look at our passage as a whole. What is Habakkuk doing? He’s pouring his heart out to God. He has a problem, and he’s taking it to the Lord. That’s the second thing he does as he grows in faith. That’s something all of us can do to grow in faith. He gives his problems to God in prayer. And – he leaves them with God, in faith and in trust.

Our prophet is open and honest with the Lord. He is struggling to understand God’s ways. He is horrified by the evil that he sees the Babylonians will do. But he doesn’t take all this into a closet and brood over it. He doesn’t dwell on it, doesn’t let it sink into the depths of his soul or poison his mood or drag his spirit into depression and anxiety. Some of us have a tendency to cope with problems by bottling them up and mulling over them. That can weigh a person down, and it is sinful. We are not to be anxious about anything, Jesus told us, for our Father in heaven cares for us. We are to give our cares to God!

Habakkuk trusts God, even though he doesn’t fully understand Him. He shares his problems with God and leaves them with him. He says it and then he leaves the ball in God’s court. Do you want your faith to grow? Do you want to deepen your walk with God? Are problems weighing you down? Take them to the Lord in prayer. Speak to God and tell Him where you stand, and what you need. If you struggle in your relationship with God, you have to understand that He is trustworthy. He loves, and He cares, and He is fair and just, and He always keeps His promises. We can take our problems to Him – and we can leave them with Him! That’s the second thing Habakkuk did. He trusted God, so he took his problems to God. We can as well.

TAKE YOUR POST

At the end of our passage is an inspiring statement: “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower.” This is the third thing Habakkuk does. He takes his post. He assumes his station. See, God’s prophets in the Old Testament are compared to watchkeepers. Like sentries on a city wall, their mission, their call, was to watch for God’s word and God’s activity and bring warnings to the people. Their job was to alert the people to God’s will. And so Habakkuk is saying that he will do his job. He will take his post and watch for God’s answer, and deliver it to the people.

When I was training to be a soldier, one of the basic things they taught you was to stand watch. I remember standing watch in the night with a partner, lying on my belly behind a machine gun. I had two sticks stuck in the ground in front of me, one to each side. These sticks were boundary markers – they represented the “arc” for which I was responsible. Anything within that arc, between those sticks, I was responsible for dealing with. And a good officer or sergeant would ensure that the entire perimeter of the position would be covered by these arcs, and that the arcs would overlap. My mission was to make sure that no enemy got into the camp in my arc, and to alert the rest of the troops if someone tried.

It wasn’t easy. It could be two o’clock in the morning, right at the time when the human body hits its lowest rhythm and it is hardest to stay awake. Sleeping on watch is a very serious offence – because it puts everyone in danger. The sentry keeps the enemy out. The sentry challenges people who approach and alerts the unit to visitors and new developments. The sentry who does not keep watch is a failure, and so one of his biggest responsibilities is simply staying awake. And it was cold. Nights are not usually warm, especially at two o’clock. Lying on the ground, in the prone position, is even worse because the ground sucks the heat right out of your body. Standing watch is a physical and mental challenge. It’s hard.

Habakkuk took his watch on the walls. He went to his post and waited. That’s the third thing he did, the third way we see his faith grow. Despite confusion and fear, he went and did the job God gave him. He was responsible and dependable. Where has God placed you? What is your watch? What are your arcs of responsibility? Where is your post? It could be your job – doing it as well as you can to the glory of God. Sharing the Gospel when you spot an opportunity. It could be your family. Is the enemy creeping into your home? Are there problems that you as a parent need to deal with? Are you doing your duty to God by loving and caring for your wife or husband? It could be here in church, or on the soccer field with the kids. Wherever God has placed you, and no matter how hard it is, He has a purpose and you have a responsibility to be like Christ in that situation. That’s the third way our faith grows – obedience. Habakkuk took his post and did his job – even when he was confused. Even when he didn’t feel like it. Even when it was really, really hard. Do you want your faith to grow, your relationship with God to deepen? Be obedient! Stand your watch! Take your post!

EXPECT AN ANSWER

Finally, Habakkuk waited to see how God would answer, and what he would say in response to God. Habakkuk’s faith has grown, because he saw God answer the first time. He saw what God was doing, and that God was dealing with the evil in his nation. That answer may have left him with more questions. But Habakkuk has been encouraged, because God answered him. And so the final thing Habakkuk does here is expect a response. He watches for God’s answer.

God always hears our prayers. When we cry out, He notices. He cares. God will never ignore us. He will always answer.

Now, that answer will often be a “no.” God knows our needs far better than we do. And no amount of prayer will convince God to give us something that He knows we don’t need or shouldn’t have – just like no amount of kicking or screaming will convince Erin to give back the steak knife that Caden snatched off the table. God is sovereign – He’s the boss. He can say no.

And sometimes God’s answer will be “not yet.” How many young people spend hours on their knees asking for a wife or husband, years in prayer with seemingly no answer – only to have it granted much later? God not only has a plan, He’s got a timetable. He’s been working from all eternity to bring this plan about, and he’ll be working for all eternity to come as well. The Bible alone describes at least two to three thousand years of God’s activity in the world, and probably much more than that. God is an extraordinarily patient God. And so when you pray, expect an answer – but don’t expect a specific timeframe for it. You may never see the answer, if God decides not to answer in your time. That’s God’s call to make.

And that answer may often be totally different than we expect. Remember that Garth Brooks song – “Unanswered Prayers”? He prayed that God would make this other woman his wife – and it didn’t happen; he married someone else. He called that an unanswered prayer. But – that’s wrong, in two ways. First, God did answer! He said, “no!” Not that woman! And second, God did answer – but much later, in a different woman. So God did say “yes,” but in a different way than expected. God’s answers to prayer can be much different than we think. They can be virtually unrecognizable – God may answer, and we simply are unable to see it. We might get to heaven and only then understand what God was doing. So – don’t restrict your faith to the kinds of things you understand. When you pray, expect an answer – but don’t count on it taking a certain shape.

Those aren’t caveats. Those are guidelines for recognizing the work of God in answering prayer. God always answers. And so, like Habakkuk, take your post and watch! As you go about your daily business, as you fulfill the responsibilities He gave you, as you honour and worship Him in daily life, expect and watch for God’s answer. Look out – Habakkuk is using his eyes, not his ears, and there’s a reason. God often answers us in the arrangement of events. God’s responses are often built into how the circumstances of life come together. Watch how things turn out. Consider the times and the seasons. God is shaping all of history and all things that come to pass in a way that conforms to His plan. And if we have wisdom – which God will give us if we ask! – if we have wisdom, we can see Him answer our prayers.

CONCLUSION

As we read this book together, don’t forget this. Habakkuk was a man just like us. Yes, he lived in a faraway land, in a faraway time. He spoke a different language. But he was a sinner, just like us. He struggled to understand God, just like us. He faced problems and was frustrated by life, just like us. And so when we see him grow in faith here, when we see his faith and trust in God deepen and strengthen, we are seeing something that can happen in our own lives.

You have to have faith, though, for it to grow. And you have to know God personally to have a relationship to deepen. For Habakkuk’s example to mean anything, you have to be a believer. To learn anything from him, you must believe in the God whose promises he trusted. You have to believe that God is pure and can’t stand sin. You have to realize that you, like the Jews and the Babylonians in Habakkuk, are a sinner, and that like it was for them, judgment is coming because of your sin. You have to repent of your sin – turning away from it and turning to Jesus Christ, who died on the cross in the place of sinners, who lived a perfect life in our place. And you have to believe in Jesus, and trust not in your own goodness but in His work to save you. If you haven’t yet believed, time is short. Death, like Babylon’s army, is approaching. God’s wrath and anger are coming. But if you believe, God will protect you and care for you.

And once you do believe, how do you grow? How does one grow closer to God? How does one’s faith mature and grow strong? And – how can this happen in the face of the pains and struggles of ordinary life? Habakkuk wrestled these issues as well. In his life, shown here in this book, we see him grow. It can happen. It does happen – it happens us when we remind ourselves constantly who God is. It happens when we take our problems and give them to God. It happens when we take our spot on the wall, assume our place and obey Him. And it happens when we wait patiently and expectantly for God’s response to us. Let’s trust Him that He will answer, and let’s seek the wisdom He can only provide so that we may see these answers when they come, and praise Him as He deserves.

– Jeff Jones

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