Worshiping God in Distressing Times

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

A common misconception among those who have just trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation is that God will solve every problem. 

While it is true that the basic spiritual problem (viz. estrangement from God) is resolved by grace through faith in Jesus, that solution often results in circumstances that were never experienced previously. For instance, one’s newly formed trust in Christ as Savior may result in questions such as, “Why do good people suffer and the ungodly prosper?” “Why does God not answer my prayer?” Or, “Why does seeking to live by God’s grace and for His glory, result in hostility from other people?” Be encouraged: the Bible does address believers who experience difficult circumstances (1 Pet 4:12-13).

The life of faith is not always easy. If a believer claims to be without obstacles, he or she is very likely not maturing spiritually, not being truthful, or living a sheltered life. Habakkuk was not that kind of person. As he considered his time, Habakkuk found himself struggling with basic questions and doubt. He had difficulty reconciling what he knew of God in relation to what he observed in his own nation, and even internationally.

Habakkuk knew what it was like to live during a time of national revival, and then to witness God’s people drift into lethargy and sin. The religious reforms that King Josiah instituted were being forgotten when he died in 609 BC, and his son and successor Jehoiakim led the nation into a period of spiritual decline. Furthermore, there were atrocities which seemed to indicate that God was apathetic. Habakkuk responded correctly by seeking the Lord’s guidance. As a prophet, he dialogued with God concerning his perplexity (chs. 1—2), which culminated in his praise (ch. 3).

(Hab 1) The book of Habakkuk teaches how to respond to crises of faith. Habakkuk’s problems are not likely to bother someone who does not trust in God, because that person considers history as lacking purpose and understands events to be determined by chance. The believer, however, who trusts in an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God, must grapple with such problems.

Habakkuk had a burden (1:1). Chapters 1—2 indicate the two questions Habakkuk asked God and the answers he received. The first question is, “How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear?” In verses 2-4, the prophet exhibited an attitude of impatience to God’s seeming indifference. Habakkuk prayed to God during a time of danger and difficulty, and pleaded to the Lord for an answer to his question.

Habakkuk’s faith resulted in concerns, especially as he remembered prior times of revival under King Josiah. He witnessed “iniquity . . . wickedness . . . destruction and violence . . . strife . . . and contention,” prompting him to inquire why God would be indifferent to such prevalent and rampant sin and trouble among the people of Judah. Habakkuk perceived God as silent and thus unconcerned with the lives of His people. The existence of decadent and profane governments in many parts of the world today, causes people to still wonder if God is truly indifferent.

God answered Habakkuk by giving him a revelation rather than an explanation, because it was more relevant for the Lord to reveal Himself and His work to His servant (vv. 5-11). Indeed, the Lord God is involved in human affairs, though His actions may not be readily understood. God announced that He would be “raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people.” Habakkuk hoped God would bring forth revival; however, the Lord had repeatedly warned His people there would be consequences in forsaking Him as they had done (cf. 2 Chron 36:14-21). The Lord God continues to be involved in human affairs, perhaps in acts unseen and through unexpected means. Simply because one cannot understand what God is doing in history, does not mean He is not active.

Habakkuk was not satisfied with God’s first answer, because it only created a new problem that was even more confusing; namely, how a holy God could use a nation more wicked than Judah to punish His own people. The prophet’s confusion did not mean He abandoned faith in God, for unbelief is rebellion—the failure to accept what God says and how He acts. Habakkuk demonstrated patience as he considered the character of God.

He reaffirmed his faith in God’s holiness and omnipotence (vv. 12-13). Regardless of what occurred, the prophet knew that God is “too pure to approve evil.” He could not explain the problem that evil creates, but neither did the prophet ignore it (vv. 14-17). For the present, Habakkuk would patiently wait for God to answer, and expected the Lord to reprove (correct) him.

(Hab 2) Habakkuk did not understand what God was doing, yet he knew the Lord is always right; thus, he awaited reproof. He compared himself to a watchman on the walls of Jerusalem, waiting patiently for God’s answer that could be shared with the people. God revealed that He would indeed judge the Chaldeans for their sins (2:1-4), which are described in five woes (vv. 5-20).

Habakkuk patiently trusted God to fulfill His words. The judgment may not be immediate, yet it was certain to occur: “It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail” (v. 3b). In contrast to the proud, “the righteous will live by . . . faith” (v. 4c). Authentic faith looks beyond self to the Lord God, while the proud are always fixated upon themselves.

The biblical assertion that the righteous live by faith is quoted in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38; it is a verse that changed the world. The “righteous” person is not someone who has satisfied all God’s commands by means of good works. Scripture declares, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16b; cf. Rom 3:20). Justification is a legal (forensic) term with regard to acquittal; it refers to God’s action whereby He makes human beings—who are sinners and worthy of condemnation—acceptable (righteous) before the One who is perfectly holy. Not only is salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), but also the righteous (justified) live by faith, which is called sanctification.

False gods do not have to be made of wood, stone, gold, or silver (Hab 2:19), yet are just as useless and worthless to save if they are. In contrast to lifeless idols, the prophet Habakkuk worshiped the living God, who rules the universe from “His holy temple” (v. 20). Though he did not understand all God’s actions, the Lord reminded His servant of His power and wisdom, and His ultimate triumph over wickedness. God is holy and just, and will always act fairly.

Habakkuk prayed and prophesied during a time of crisis. He teaches how to confront doubts and questions with honesty. One does that by humbly seeking the Lord’s direction; waiting for the Word of God, the Bible, to provide guidance, and then worshiping God regardless of any limited perception. The Lord God will not always alter the circumstances, yet He can change you and me to live by faith in response to our experiences.

Chapter 3 records Habakkuk’s joyous response. Understanding what the Lord would do caused the prophet to tremble (3:1-2). Previously, the prophet was troubled that God was doing too little, and now he became concerned that the Lord would do too much. He prayed for revival, knowing that it is a sovereign work of the Lord and not a human achievement. Knowing how God worked previously to revive His people and how they responded, Habakkuk wanted to witness that again. All that is needed for revival to occur is to beseech the Lord, pleading for His reviving work.

Habakkuk also pleaded for God’s judgment not to be too severe, but “in wrath remember mercy” (v. 2). He knew that God’s promised wrath of the Babylonian invasion was certain, and agreed that the people of Judah were deserving of the Lord’s chastisement. Thus, he prayed for it to accomplish good. Knowing God’s compassionate nature, Habakkuk pleaded for the expression of divine love to be mercy.

A poetic description of God’s prior relationship with Israel is given in verses 3-15. These verses reveal what He is like, and thus prove that true worship is always focused upon the Lord. Habakkuk’s concluding thoughts (vv. 16-19) indicate that he trembled at the expectation of God’s coming judgment, yet waited “quietly for the day of distress” (v. 16). Even when considering the impending calamity, the prophet would “rejoice in the God of [his] salvation” (v. 18). Habakkuk would not have responded as he did if dependent upon his emotions. As he considered the present disintegration of his nation, the prophet’s “inward parts trembled” (v. 16). Habakkuk’s fear diminished only when he considered the glory, holiness, and power of God. Living by faith means focusing upon the Lord’s goodness, greatness, and glory.

One of the characteristics of faith is the resolve to wait patiently for the Lord to act. The prophet Isaiah (28:16) referred to the one who believes as he or she who is “not disturbed” (i.e., does not act in a hurry; cf. Exod 14:13; Ruth 3:18; Ps 37:7; 46:10). Habakkuk could be patient because he knew the Lord God is involved in human affairs, though His actions may not be readily understood.

Habakkuk depicted a declining economy: “the fields produce no food,” and there were “no cattle in the stalls” (Hab 3:17; cf. Deut 28:15-24). What had provided happiness, satisfaction, and security was gone. Nevertheless, the Lord God would continue working His divine purposes for those who love Him, “to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Habakkuk was, therefore, resolved to rejoice in the God of his salvation, who alone provides strength for living (Hab 3:18-19). The one who trusts in God is always safe and secure, and can rejoice in the Lord regardless of the circumstances.

Midnight Call - 07/2022

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