Keeping going – Habakkuk

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Keeping going can be hard where society around you seems to be getting more and more immoral. When things at church seem a bit stagnant – things are still in place, but not really moving forward. It can seem as if God himself isn’t really doing very much. You’ve been praying and working but not really seeing much happen.

Those were Habakkuk’s times and they are our times. Habakkuk asks the hard questions of God that you and I might well want to ask today if we dared. And he gets unexpected answers.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You’ll find more sermons in our Sermon Index.

Keep going, honest in prayer (1:1-11)

Verse 1 gives us Habakkuk’s name but nothing else. That’s quite unusual for the prophets, but it’s not hard to see when he was writing once you read through. We’re back in ancient Israel, probably around 620-600 BC. The northern part of the country had been overrun and exiled by the Assyrian empire a hundred years earlier. It was a judgment from God. The nation had turned from the living God to other gods, breaking the covenant God had made with them. Exile was a covenant curse, and that’s what they got.

So how would Judah in the south conduct itself? A return to faithful worship of the true God? No, the people turned their backs on God – or rather, they integrated worship of other gods with their Temple worship. The courts became unjust; poor people were mistreated; the Sabbath was ignored (which was meant to be a key public sign of covenant relationship with God). You can see all this in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah.

And Habakkuk can’t stand it. He’s distraught at the wickedness he sees around him. He longs for revival in his nation – a return to the worship of God. Read Habakkuk 1:2-4.

How long?

“How long?” – such a common prayer. How long will this pandemic go on? Or how long will my treatment last? How long before we see growth in the church? How long do I have to do this job?

It’s not something you usually ask on day 1 of something. It’s typically a heart-felt weariness: “I’ve been suffering this for so long already… how long will it go on?”

When Habakkuk said “how long?” to God, look at what it was he’d been doing. Read v2 again. Habakkuk was weary of the world around him. But he asks not “How long will all this go on?” but rather “How long must I pray and you don’t listen?”

That’s quite a shocking prayer. And it’s a challenging prayer: He’s been praying for a long, long time. Months, years? You might well pray for the country or this neighbourhood – but can you honestly say you’ve prayed consistently? Isn’t it time you had a prayer diary, or notebook, or list in the back of your Bible, or a phone app, or something to make sure you’re being diligent in prayer?

Because it turns out that God had been at work all the while, though Habakkuk didn’t know it. In Habakkuk 1:5-11, God replies by saying that he is indeed coming in judgment on the nation:

  • He’s been raising the Babylonian empire to come and execute justice.
  • Habakkuk had been hoping for a revival; God had been planning judgment – exile, even.
  • Habakkuk’s thinking was local; God had been planning an international event. This was not the response Habakkuk imagined or expected.
  • But, in all his praying, God had been very much at work – out of sight, far away, in ways beyond Habakkuk’s imagination.

God works more than you can imagine

No wonder Paul would later write, “all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

Some people think that because God doesn’t seem to be doing anything that he doesn’t exist, or doesn’t care, or won’t do anything. But you need to know your sin against him counts. Will you let the wickedness of the world drive you away from God? Or will you be like Habakkuk, driven to pray to him? God will deal with all sin against him, including yours.

By faith in Jesus, your sin can be counted against him instead of you. We all have reason to pray, and keep praying:

Keep Going: Living by Faith (2:2-4)

Having received the news that Babylon will be the means that God will use to bring judgment, Habakkuk is appalled! They’re a wicked nation – even worse than Israel! Surely God wouldn’t do such a thing! He makes his case to God in Habakkuk 1:12-2:1.

God then responds a second time. Read Habakkuk 2:2-4.

Habakkuk had prayed “how long?” and then “how come?” Greater clarity is coming: As for how long, “If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place” (v3). As for how come, Habakkuk is dismayed that Israel will be judged at the hands of such a brutal nation as Babylon.

The answer is that God knows, and that all the wicked will be judged by him – Israel, Babylon, everyone, anyone. “But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God” (v4).

There’s nothing unclear about the judgment on nations that don’t honour God – including our own. God spells it out in Habakkuk 2:5-20:

  • The wicked (anyone who rejects God and lives their own way) have an insatiable appetite for wickedness – they do it more and more and more. 
  • But “woe” / “what sorrow” awaits them
  • 6-8 What sorrow awaits nations who steal and stockpile wealth – it will be taken from them.
  • 9-11 What sorrow awaits nations who isolate themselves – their very lives will be cut off.
  • 12-14 What sorrow awaits nations who want to build empires – only the Lord’s glory covers the earth (read v14)
  • 15-17 What sorrow awaits nations where crudeness and drunkenness is celebrated – they will drink God’s wrath.
  • 18-20 What sorrow awaits nations that worship and adore created things and reject the Creator – they will discover that the Creator does indeed live.

What sorrow awaits us?

You might well ask, “What sorrow awaits this country?” Who could say that we are run in a godly way, or that society is moving towards godliness? As and when this nation continues its decline – as all empires and nations do – who could say that God is unjust, when all he’s actually doing is giving us over to our sinful desires and giving us what we want?

Paul speaks similarly in Romans 1:28 “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned [people] to their foolish thinking.”

But there is hope, for those who see their own sinfulness against God. There is hope for you.

  • Alongside the dread of “what sorrow awaits” there’s also a message of hope: a kind of “what life awaits”
  • Instead of sorrow and judgment on you, God is ready and willing to forgive you for all you’ve done.
  • You can’t make up for the wrong you’ve done – God is just, and all your wrongdoing must be punished.
  • So he’s willing to count that punishment against his Son, Jesus, instead of you.
  • You turn to him, ask him for forgiveness, and put your trust in God’s promise to count Jesus as guilty in your place.
  • You put your faith in God’s promise to forgive everyone who comes to him and asks.
  • It’s that simple: You must turn to God in faith, and ask.

That’s why Paul quotes Habakkuk and says this is Good News, the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life” (Romans 1:16-17, quoting Habakkuk 2:4).

Faith every day

But when we go back into Habakkuk to see that verse in its original context, we learn something important: Yes, Paul is 100% correct to use the verse to make the point that someone can escape God’s judgment by coming to faith in God. But in Habakkuk, the verse speaks not of a simple moment of faith but a whole life of faithfulness to God.

Remember, Habakkuk was grieved at the wickedness of the world around him. And he was told that things would likely get worse before he saw God acting – though God would act.

  • But the righteous were to live each and every day by faith.
  • As child of God, you are to live by faith every day.
  • That means praying honestly and fervently for those around you every day. Pleading with God.
  • It means making sacrifices and loving others every day.
  • Living by faith means denying your sinful self, and clothing yourself with holiness every day.
  • When things go against you – as they obviously will – you will trust God to know what he’s doing, that it is somehow for your good, and you’ll put one faithful foot in front of another and keep going.
  • Keeping going, living by faith is a daily trust in the Lord. Not “stiff upper lip, have some backbone” – but trusting in the Lord to give you strength and peace for each day.

Keep Going: Joyful through pain (3:1-2, 16-18)

Chapter 3 is different from chapters 1 & 2. It’s a song! It’s in the style of the psalms and even ends with instruction to the choirmaster. And like the psalms, it’s both personal and corporate, and very much something we experience.

Read Habakkuk 3:1-2. It’s an awesome prayer. I don’t know if you’ve ever hesitated to pray something because you know it might actually cost you in some way. “Lord, I know I must _____ Please help me to _____”

“I am filled with awe” in v2 is literally, “I fear”:

  • “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear.” Fear God, and fear his work!
  • “In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known” – when nothing seems to be happening, O God, make something happen!
  • He finishes with “in wrath remember mercy” – O God, please.

What a prayer for Bromborough, for Wirral, our nation! Lord, please do something in our day – but please, have mercy!

Verses 3 to 15 remind you of what it’s like when God acts in judgment: He is utterly unstoppable.

  • He acts with plagues, afflictions and war.
  • We’re given images of death at Exodus, and conquest in the days of Joshua.
  • Images certainly to be repeated on the great and terrible day when Jesus returns to bring judgment on all peoples and nations.
  • Images to be repeated on a smaller scale, over and over, as nation after nation – including this one – experiences painful judgment and dismantling at the hand of God.

If you revere God’s name, you’d actually pray for that kind of judgment to come – and yet, “in your anger, remember mercy”. That’s a prayer that could cost you to pray. 

Praying and waiting

Habakkuk knew it. He knew that when Babylon came it would be horrendous for him and all he loved – yet God would be at work, and God would be glorified. So he was ready to pray and pray, wait and wait.

He was ready to keep going in prayer, to live by faith, and even to be joyful through pain: Read Habakkuk 3:16-19.

A woman goes through childbirth in expectation of the joy ahead. You might go through invasive medical procedures in the hope of being well again. Habakkuk was ready to face pain and trial – both from those opposed to God and from even more wickedness that would follow it.

  • He was willing because it would display God at work in his time. Isn’t that something you want to see?
  • Are you ready to pray that God would work, even though it might cost you to see it?
  • Habakkuk didn’t rejoice at the pain; he rejoiced in the Lord knowing by faith that he would see the Lord’s salvation.

Keep going: honest in prayer.; living by faith every day; joyful in the Lord through pain.