17 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, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk was a prophet and a contemporary of Jeremiah ministering right before Babylon destroyed Judah, his name means “wrestling,” and he had a number of questions and complaints for God. What is recorded is actually a dialog between the prophet and God. Habakkuk argued that God’s ways were unfathomable and even unfair, he represented the godly in Judah, and he no doubt gives voice to some of our complaints as well. Yet Habakkuk teaches us much about worship. Shane Hipps wrote an interesting article called, “Praise That’s Premature.” Worship is often equated with joy and celebration. It’s a kind of pep rally to inspire thanksgiving and excitement about who God is. While this is a legitimate aspect of worship, it is incomplete. Because grief is an unpleasant emotion we tend to deny our suffering in favor of celebration, authenticity and integrity in worship means expressing both lament and praise. Each element completes the other. Without lament, praise is little more than shallow sentimentality and a denial of life’s struggles and sin. Without praise, lament is a denial of hope and grace, both of which are central to our life of faith…” He points out that the psalms and books like Habakkuk employ a narrative arc, a movement from grief and lamentation to celebration and joy. Chapters one and two contain the pain and the problem while chapter three reveals the praise. So today we start with the pain, where we see what to do when the pain keeps us from praising.
- Declare your questions.
Contrary to some Christian critics it’s not wrong to ask questions, or even complain to God. The Book of Job and much of the Psalms express serious questions to God. Psalm 10:1 begins rather abruptly: “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” God, you may be powerful and you may be personal, but why can’t I sense your presence? Like the psalmist I too have felt the frustration at the seeming aloofness of the Savior, and like the psalms out lives can be saturated with questions. Psalm 13:1: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 44:23-24: “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?”
In Habakkuk 1:3 the question asked is: “How long, O 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 wrong?” Habakkuk is charging God with being both indifferent and inactive. The truth is that when tragedy leaves you teetering, it’s not unspiritual to declare your questions to God. He’s big enough to handle your cares and your cries. What do we do when we are faced with an avalanche of agony and God seems to be playing “hide and seek”? If we feel like we shouldn’t question God we keep our concerns bottled up. It’s in these times that we resort to fake spiritual smiles, suppressing instead of expressing. Yet when we get real we incorporate our sorrow, pain, and grief into our worship and the hurts are ushered into God’s presence with honesty. The word question has as its root the word “quest.” If you’re on a quest to understand, if you’re serious about seeking answers, then don’t hesitate to declare your doubts.
- Describe your complaints.
After declaring his questions to God, Habakkuk next gets specific in describing his complaints. His main issue is that it doesn’t seem fair that God would use a wicked people like the Babylonians to punish God’s people. Habakkuk spells it out in 1:13: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” Today most of our questions seem to be centered around the scales of fairness because there is an almost in born balance when it comes to justice and fairness. The problem is that we want to view fairness from the familiar view of self instead of the Savior. Yet if fairness was centered solely around self, there would be no Salvation because salvation isn’t fair. What are your complaints, today would you cast them upon Christ being conscious that He cares?
- Deepen your commitment
As a result of being honest with God Habakkuk is now in a position to move to the next step in the praise process. In Chapter 2:1 he says: “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.” Habakkuk is prepared to hear God’s answer even though he’s not going to like what God has to say. Today if we are prepared we too can learn from this process. Don’t stop at throwing out your questions and complaints, turn to the Lord. God answers Habakkuk not with answers but with anchors. Often answers just lead to more questions but anchors give us something to hold onto. In verse 2, God tells him to “write down the revelation.” Anchor number one is the Word of God because His word will not fail. God reveals the second anchor in verse 4, which is quoted in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38. In the midst of the mess of life, when problems are pummeling you, hold on to this: “But the righteous will live by faith.” In other words, “God tells Habakkuk to hold on to Him, because He knows what He is doing.” When our faith is anchored to the Word of God we will hold onto Him we will be able to handle what comes our way. Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife once said: “I lay my ‘whys’ before your cross in worship kneeling, my mind too numb for thought, my heart beyond all feeling. And worshipping realize that I in knowing you don’t need a ‘why.’”