Lessons in Prayer from Habakkuk

ISIS. Terrorism. Iran nuclear deals. The threat of Russia and China. Low oil and gas prices. A plummeting stock market. The 2016 Presidential race.  We live in a crazy world of uncertainty, mayhem, political manueavering, and confusion. We may wonder if God hears our prayers and if He is going to do anything about the senseless violence and depravity in our culture.

Habakkuk the prophet lived in a similar culture thousands of years ago when the southern Kingdom of Judah was steeped in wickedness at the hands of their violent king. He cried out to God for answers and dared shout in God’s face. One commentator has said this: “God is the friend of the honest doubter who dares to talk to God rather than about Him.”

Habakkuk levels two major complaints against God. First of all, he laments that God is silent when he prays. Habakkuk 1:2 states, “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?” He wonders if God is even listening. How many times have we cried out in anguish and pain wondering if God in heaven hears our prayers or even cares?

God answers Habakkuk’s lament with an astonishing response that takes his breath away. God will indeed punish the violence and depravity of Israel by sending in an even more wicked and pagan enemy in the nation of Babylon to take them into 70 years of captivity. This is not the answer he wanted to hear. How in the world could God punish evil with evil?

Do we have a category in our minds that allows for a sovereign God to discipline His people in ways we would think “unthinkable”. It is not beyond the scope of God’s providence to ordain discipline in many different ways.  Hebrews 12:5-6  states, “…My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

The second major complaint is that God sits idly by and does not intervene and put a stop to the violence and rampant wickedness. The prophet charges God with this in 1:13: “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”

God again answers Habakkuk’s lament with a phrase that is repeated three times in the New Testament and is crucial to what it means to be a Christian. In 2:4, God answers: “…but the righteous shall live by his faith.” In other words, trusting in the power and sovereignty of God is what always brings salvation. Salvation from our sins comes in faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone. Once we trust Christ alone for salvation our sins are credited to Him and His perfect righteousness is credited to us. As a result, we are declared innocent by the Father and are accepted into His presence as those no longer under His just condemnation.

After Habakkuk wears himself out with venting before the LORD, he hears these deafening words from a holy God in 2:20: “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” Literally in the original language God tells the whole world to “hush”! God is sovereignly ruling from His eternal throne in heaven and He commands all people everywhere to bow in humble and quiet submission before Him. He is God and we are not.

In response to this, Habakkuk offers a very moving prayer in Chapter 3 and asks God to intervene and to work on behalf of His people and to bring revival on the land. In 3:2, he prays this: “…in wrath remember mercy.”  That truly is the “sinner’s prayer” if there ever was one in the Bible. We all deserve to experience the full brunt of God’s wrath because of our rebellion against Him and yet the only thing we can plead is for His mercy. We cast ourselves on the amazing grace of a sovereign God who has every right to obliterate us off the face of the planet and yet chooses to show us kindness through the sacrifice of His one and only Son Jesus Christ.

In an act of worship and faithful resignation, Habakkuk comes to a powerful conclusion. Though all the things that he clings to should be taken away, we find in 3:18-19 these poignant words of a man who has truly wrestled with his God: “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”

He finds ultimate joy in His salvation. If everything were stripped away from you—your family, spouse, career, children, and even your health—would only having Christ and your salvation be enough. Would Christ still be your ultimate treasure? The sovereign and majestic LORD is our strength and He will guide our paths so that we can remain steadfast and unmovable on those high places.

Whenever you experience the pain of this world or question the reality and goodness of God or wonder if He listens to your prayers, remember the struggle of Habakkuk who realized that God was sovereignly reigning from heaven and that we need to keep silent before Him and find our ultimate joy in this great God who will never leave us nor forsake us.

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