HAVE YOU REACHED A VERDICT?
Community Thanksgiving Service, November 24, 2009
I don’t know how much you know about Habakkuk. He’s not exactly on the Mount Rushmore of Bible characters or even Old Testament prophets. But, obscure though he may be, he has, I believe, a very powerful message in his short 3-chapter book. I think his message will be more meaningful to you if I give you a bit of background information.
Habakkuk lived during a very difficult time in Israel’s history. The Babylonians were invading the country, doing what Babylonians seemed to do best – robbing, murdering, kidnapping, pillaging.
And so Habakkuk’s book begins right away with a complaint to God: “God, why do you tolerate this wrong?” And right away Habakkuk gets an answer. He senses God telling him, the Babylonians were His idea to bring reproof and correction to Israel.
But then you read a second complaint from Habakkuk that says, in effect, “Okay, message received, lesson learned. It’s time to get rid of these men.” And then apparently there comes a period silence from God. No action is taken.
And then Habakkuk gets this message from God which we read in Habakkuk 2:2-4:
Then the Lord replied:
Write down the revelation so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time: it speaks to the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous will live by his faith
The message in crystallized form was this: “Habakkuk, you are just going to have to tell the people to hold on.”
That is neither inspiring nor helpful to most people, especially to someone who is at the end of their rope. But God says something else to Habakkuk: “In the meantime, there will be a sifting process that will take place among the Jewish nation. Those who were only paying God lip-service will eventually quit even that form of worship. But the truly righteous will live by their faithfulness. Good will be served.”
Now as a fellow preacher I realize how vulnerable Habakkuk must have felt to not have any miraculous event or any great story of deliverance to point to and show the people how close God was. To sincerely tell people over and over again, “God says, ‘Hold on’” must have made Habakkuk feel inadequate. I know that.
But there’s something else I know. I know of the tremendous value there is in be coming the kind of person who can truly be called ‘faithful to God’, tested by life’s hardships and still devoted to being a person of integrity and goodness. I find at this stage of my life that personally I am inspired by deeply devoted people. Many has been the time in my pastorate when just seeing some family in our church who maintains their integrity in the face of deep difficulty has made me think to myself, “As long as we have people like that around here, I am going to keep on giving it my best.”
I know how vulnerable Habakkuk felt and so I realize how fortifying it was for him to say what we read at the end of this book; that regardless of how anyone else responded to this difficult crisis, he knew how HE was going to respond—
“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.”
Read into that Habakkuk’s conviction that God has already proven Himself sufficiently enough so that he can say, “My mind is made up. The verdict is in: God is there and He is a Rewarder of those who serve Him.” And I’ll continue to believe that regardless of what’s ahead.
Now before you conclude from that beautiful statement of Habakkuk’s that that was pure nobility on his part and that there was nothing for him to personally gain by his loyalty, I would just remind you that there is a lot to be gained by reaching a point in life where you say, “For me, the verdict is in. God is there and God is good. And I am going to serve him regardless of what is up ahead.”
Let me point out two blessings that come from this “come what may” loyalty to God. The first blessing is the blessing of becoming a person of constant gratitude—a person full of thanks to God even when there are no cattle in the stalls. I have found that gratitude is not just a key to life. It is a Master key – one that unlocks several things, not just one.
For one thing, you cannot stop and dwell on how good life is and how good God is and at the same time harbor negative emotions like resentment and hatred and anger.
Someone has said, gratitude turns what we have into enough and more. Nothing will allow you to enjoy material things like gratitude.
And, I’ve found that nothing relieves stress like spending time being grateful. Many of us are geared so that we are constantly focused on the next hill to climb or the next goal to be achieved. We stay so focused on the progression that we never stop and enjoy what we have. To practice the attitude of gratitude requires that we bring all of that “onward, forward” thinking to a halt and you stop and enjoy the fruits of labor.
The other evening I was in Lowe’s. Now Lowe’s, by its very nature of being a home improvement center, means that whenever I am in there, I am in the mode of thinking that is onward and forward. But this time it happened that just as I was about to enter the store, there was this elderly couple exiting. The man was using a walker and, of course, was leaving the store rather slowly. But this was a couple that was very gracious. They were apologetic about their slowness. It made me want to stop and talk with them to let them know I didn’t mind their slowness at all. When we were done talking about this and that, I patted the man on his shoulder and said, “Good-bye” and he said right back to me, “Well, go on in there and have a great time.” It was all very pleasant and another reminder of how gratitude always brings relief from the “Go, go, go,” way of thinking.
There is one other benefit I would like to point out to you that comes to anyone who arrives at Habakkuk’s level of devotion to God – his come-what-may loyalty: the blessing of personal security.
There is something very settling to arrive at the point where your decisions about God and His goodness are no longer up for grabs; no longer waiting for any more proofs to come in. The fact is, if we are waiting for enough proofs to gain complete certainty, we will wait our whole lives and never enjoy the blessings that come from having a settled confidence about matters of faith.
To go ahead and make up your mind about God’s goodness, that’s really what trust is all about, isn’t it? I can tell you firsthand the tremendous blessings that come from being in a relationship with someone that you trust, where you don’t stress about what you don’t know and you don’t change your convictions about that person. What does it mean when the husband or wife comes home later than they were supposed to? Well, what it might mean when it’s someone you trust, is a shorter list than when there is no trust.
There are a lot of blessings that come with arriving at Habakkuk’s place of trust in God, with being a thankful person come what may – gratitude and security being two things at the top of that list.
As some of you know, our oldest son passed away two years ago from a rare form of bone cancer. I remember as the time drew nearer to the end that I began having these questions in my mind that mainly had to do with the protocol of having a child pass away. I know this will sound almost foolish to you, but I remember wondering if his passing meant that we would have to take down all the pictures we had of him and if I would have to be careful after his death not to make any mention of him in conversations with outsiders. Those were just silly concerns that I had very briefly.
The answers to those concerns, of course, was that there is no protocol. It was up to us. His pictures adorn our walls and we speak of him often with wonderful ongoing affection.
But I also remember wondering if, after he passed, would I be obligated to change my demeanor – would I have to become more serious, and yes, I wondered if I would inevitably become more embittered.
I came to see that the answer to that question was taken care of for me long before Spencer’s passing, in fact before he even had cancer. God has proven Himself to me many, many times and even though two years ago our crops didn’t come in the way we had hoped and the fruit we wanted and prayed for never appeared on the vine, that didn’t change what we had already found to be true of God. It was the same thing Habakkuk said about Him – salvation comes from the Lord.
Habakkuk expressed what God had done for him in the past with very colorful language.
“He makes my feet like the feet of the deer
He enables me to go on the heights.”
Having lived in Colorado growing up, I’ve spent some time above timberline in the mountains. I watched with amazement bighorn sheep climb sure-footed along some rather precarious mountainsides. It’s all in the feet.
Habakkuk thought that was a pretty apt description of what God had done for himself. Living the truly good life in this world with all of the tugging temptations and all of the potential pitfalls can get awfully precarious. It’s tough to live your life at above average levels. And slipping and falling from your ideals can make it awfully hard sometimes for you to even want to dust yourself off and try again.
Habakkuk, though could tell you of times when just at the right moment, just when he started to slide, God gave him new feet to climb with. A prayer was answered, a friend came by and spoke just the right words or the presence of God’s Spirit came from nowhere and chased away all of his discouragement.
And so Habakkuk is telling us that nothing that might happen to him up ahead could change what God had already done. So for him, the verdict is in – God is alive and God is good.
What about you? I’m speaking now to that place in your life, your personal jury room, where you settle the fundamental questions of life: My question to you is, Have you reached a verdict?
Let me tell you as one who has been given deer’s feet to keep me standing in high places, to settle for yourself that God is and that God is good – that is a very good place to be.
Rev. Lonnie Green is pastor of Church of the Nazarene in Bryan, Texas.