Sunday, September 11, 2011

Encouragement from Habakkuk

One of the sections of the bible I’ve been studying lately is the book of Habakkuk. I’ve been finding it quite encouraging. It is admittedly a somewhat strange book to find encouraging. That’s partly because it is relatively obscure. It’s a short book (only 3 chapters), is tucked away towards the back of the old testament and doesn’t get taught on often. However, it is more a strange book to find encouragement from due to some of the content. God tells Habakkuk how things are about to turn really ugly because of the impending invasion of a powerful and nasty neighboring nation. Sounds depressing right? However, there are a few things that are far from depressing.

One of these things is Habakkuk’s honesty. While it is quite obvious in the book that Habakkuk is devout, he is also brutally honest with God. The book opens with Habakkuk questioning why God is allowing the negative things he sees happening around him. He is frustrated with God and it shows! He asks why God doesn’t appear to be listening or answering. God then gives him an answer. Rather than being satisfied, he gets started on another round of quite blunt questions and expressions of frustration. God addresses these questions too. God doesn’t get angry at Habakkuk for asking in ether round of questioning.

This should be really encouraging and freeing to us when we pray. While certainly we should remember who we are talking to and not be unnecessarily flippant or rude, Habakkuk shows us that God can take our honesty. We don’t have to make our prayers pretty and pious sounding. We don’t have to pretend everything is wonderful if it isn’t. We can say what we are thinking and feeling. We can tell God our frustrations and question why he has let things happen. He is big enough to handle that. He won’t always give us the answer we want, but nonetheless, he listens and takes seriously our prayers.

Another thing that is encouraging in Habakkuk is how he chooses to respond to the news of the bad things that are about to happen to his country. The book concludes with the following:
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,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19a)
I think he provides a wonderful example of how it is possible to to respond to bad things happening. He doesn’t try to pretend that things really aren’t that bad. Instead, he acknowledges that things are indeed bad and decides to fix his eyes on God. Rather than surrendering to despair, he deliberately chooses to be joyful in God. That isn’t an easy decision to make and follow through on sometimes! He also acknowledges that the strength he needs comes from God rather than himself. That is a humbling but freeing thing to confess.

I encourage you to go read Habakkuk for yourself. There’s a lot we can learn from him.