A sermon by Steve Cooper
Good morning! When life is confusing, it’s hard to have faith in God. If things are going wrong in our own personal lives, or in our families, or in the wider world, our minds become full of doubts and questions and confusion. We feel like panicking – and it’s hard to remember the promises of God’s Word.
Earlier this year in January we watched as many in Queensland and northern NSW suffered from floods. I observed interviews with people whose houses were flooded – they described the pain and grief at their losses. I wondered how I would cope if floods wrecked everything I owned in my house. Would I have strong faith in God, a firm trust that he’s in control?
This morning let’s consider this theme of how we can have faith in God when life is confusing. We’ll reflect on a remarkable person in the Bible who is an inspiration to us.
When life is confusing, how can we have a steady faith in God? One of the characters in the Bible who inspires my faith in God is the prophet Habakkuk. In the Old Testament there’s a small book named after him, Habakkuk – it portrays the way the prophet struggled with confusion, but emerged with a stronger faith in the Lord.
In the opening chapter of the book Habakkuk is wrestling with confusion. He’s disappointed that God’s people in Israel have turned away from the Lord. He’s shocked at the Lord’s answer to him that soon the Babylonian army will invade and Israel will be taken off into captivity. The prophet struggles to have faith in God when the present and the future seem so bewildering.
The Lord points to the key issue for Habakkuk: ‘the righteous will live by his faith’ (2:4). The Lord desires to strengthen the faith of his servant, so that Habakkuk will grow in his trust in God. The prophet must understand that the Lord is great, good, strong, loving and wise. God explains that he will fulfil his purposes to rescue his people and destroy his enemies (2:2-20). As we overhear this dialogue between Habakkuk and the Lord, we learn what the Lord in doing in the lives of his people every day. This is what God is doing in your life and mine every day. His desire is to strengthen and deepen our faith in his faithfulness. He allows us to be in situations where we can’t work out what’s happening. He asks us: ‘Do you trust me?’ From Habakkuk we learn we can have confidence that God will fulfil his purposes, even though life seems so confusing.
It’s in the final part of the book, chapter 3, that we see how Habakkuk’s faith and trust in the Lord has developed. It’s not that his doubts and complaints expressed to the Lord in chapter 1 were wrong. His complaints are never rebuked by the Lord. A true biblical faith is robust enough to express honest doubt and questions to God when we can’t work out what God’s doing. We see that with Job and several of the psalms of the Old Testament – it’s appropriate to be honest with God and express our confusion and pain. In fact, the Lord is pleased when we’re honest with him about our feelings. It gives him the chance to show his love to us and teach us deeper lessons about God and ourselves.
When my mother died at the age of 69 I was shocked and disappointed. I felt it was unfair that she died so early. I was sad that she wouldn’t be around for me and her grandchildren. I poured out my feelings to the Lord in prayer, and I complained that God had allowed her to die too soon. As I read my Bible, prayed, and shared my grief with friends, the Lord reassured me of his love and concern.
In response to Habakkuk’s genuine complaints, the Lord answers him and shows the prophet a glimpse of God’s greatness and power and purposes. By the time we get to chapter 3 the prophet’s doubts are behind him – at least for a while. His faith is strengthened. Let’s look at the last part of chapter 3, and see what it looks like to have faith in the Lord when life is confusing.
This morning we’re reflecting on how we can have faith in God when life is confusing. The prophet Habakkuk, a man we read about in the Bible, faced confusion and bewilderment. The Lord spoke to him, assuring the prophet that God is in control. At the end of the final chapter we see that Habakkuk arrived at a strong faith in the Lord. It’s an inspiring example to us.
He describes how he feels – he is awed and amazed before such a powerful God. Habakkuk says ‘I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled’ (3:16a). The mighty deeds which the Lord will do astonish him. God will judge his disobedient people Israel, and God will punish the evil Babylonians. The Lord will deliver and protect his people. The prophet’s response is reverent fear – as is appropriate for us too. We can express reverent fear in Christian worship services and in our private devotions as we contemplate the glory and majesty of God, and respond with awe before such a great and mighty Lord. Like the prophet Habakkuk, our weak faith in God will begin to be strengthened when we respond to him with awe and amazement.
The next aspect of Habakkuk’s faith is that he commits himself to patiently wait for the Lord’s timing. He says ‘Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us’ (3:16b). It’s one thing to know the Lord’s promises. But the harder thing is to wait patiently for the time when the Lord chooses to fulfil his promises. God has given wonderful promises to all who trust in the Lord Jesus. He’s promised to be present with all believers, to guide and deliver his people, to lead us safely into glory. But when the wheels come off, and evil seems to win the day, and we’re confused as Habakkuk was, it’s really hard to keep trusting that the Lord will carry through his promises and his good purposes.
Habakkuk faces the fact that the immediate future may be bleak. He says ‘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’ (3:17). The prophet is expecting not just future hardships, but severe devastation on the land. There will be no crops, food or animals. This is likely to happen when the Babylonians invade, as the Lord has promised.
This aspect of Habakkuk’s faith, facing facts, is something we often forget. Perhaps you’ve wondered, as I have, if faith in God is escaping reality. It’s actually the opposite that’s true. Genuine faith in God means we face reality, including the suffering taking place in our lives and in the lives of others. We also face the reality that God is lovingly in control. The people of faith in the Bible certainly did not escape reality. Habakkuk faces the facts, and is realistic about what will happen. He knows he will suffer, and so will all God’s people. True biblical faith involves facing facts, dealing with reality, and also taking into account the promises and assurances God has given his people in the Scriptures.
The prophet Habakkuk is a great inspiration to me. He lived in confusing times. Habakkuk had questions about what God is doing and what the future might hold. But after he faced his questions, and expressed his complaints to the Lord, God spoke to him. At the end of the book Habakkuk responds to the Lord with faith and trust.
Habakkuk knew the future will present challenges. But listen to what the prophet affirms. Habakkuk declares his resolve. He says ‘Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights’ (3:18-19b).
Habakkuk’s focus is no longer on the world around him – including the disappointing unfaithfulness of Israel and the promised invasion of the Babylonians – his focus is on the Lord. Look at the terms he uses to describe God. He refers to God as ‘the LORD’ – Yahweh – the God who revealed himself to Moses and make covenant promises to his chosen people. He thinks of God as his own ‘Saviour’ – the mighty God who promises to rescue his people, including Habakkuk. This God is ‘the Sovereign LORD’ – who will give his servant strength and enabling for the future. Habakkuk declares his resolve to ‘rejoice’, to ‘be joyful’, to draw ‘strength’ from the Lord – this God who has made promises and will be faithful to those promises.
The Christian has even more reason to ‘rejoice’ and ‘be joyful’ than Habakkuk did. God has shown how much he loves us in the sacrifice of Jesus. He was willing for his own dear Son to die in our place, paying the penalty for our sin. He’s demonstrated his mighty power in the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection. Now evil, Satan and death are defeated in the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Whatever happens, in the present and the future, we know that nothing ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8:39). Jesus encouraged his disciples with these words: ‘rejoice and be glad’ (Matt 5:12), ‘you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy’ (Jn 16:22). The apostle Paul urged the Christians in Philippi: ‘’Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ (Phil 4:4). To ‘rejoice in the Lord’ doesn’t mean we try to work up some kind of artificial happiness despite our suffering – it means we focus on the Lord Jesus, our crucified Saviour and risen Lord, delighting in his love, grace and mercy, depending on his promises to watch over his people and to never leave us.
So here at the end of the book of Habakkuk is a profound description of what faith in the living God looks like. Even though life was so confusing for him, Habakkuk was honest with God and listened to God’s Word. He responded to what he learned in the Scriptures about God’s majesty and might with awe and reverence. He was reminded that God promises to judge evil and rescue his people. Habakkuk affirms that while the future does look bleak, he will wait for the Lord’s promises to be fulfilled, he will rejoice in God his Saviour, he will find strength in the Lord his God.
Often life is confusing. We can’t work out what’s going on, and the future seems uncertain and difficult. Yet it’s possible to have a calm and firm faith in God even when life is confusing. Like the prophet Habakkuk, we can turn to the Lord and pay attention to what God says in the Bible. The Lord enables us to wait patiently for him to fulfil his promises in his own time. God helps us delight in him and find joy in his presence, drawing strength from him.
Let me pray for us. ‘Mighty God, our heavenly Father, we worship you as the God who is strong, wise, good and loving. Strengthen our faith in you, even when life seems very confusing. Give us joy and strength as we learn to trust you. We ask through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.’