Trusting God No Matter What

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Habakkuk 3:16-19

INTRODUCTION: Today is the last day in our message series on the book of Habakkuk. We have called this series, “The Journey from Doubt to Faith.” And so today’s message marks the end of the journey for Habakkuk, as we look at the closing passage from the book that bears his name.

Throughout the series we have been tracing Habakkuk’s own personal journey from a place of questioning, doubt and confusion at the beginning of the book to a place of faith, hope and confidence by the end of the book. As we said in our introduction to the series: the book of Habakkuk “begins with a question mark and closes with an exclamation point.” (J. Vernon McGee) And as we close out the book today, I think you will agree that that is a very apt description for the book of Habakkuk.

In this closing passage Habakkuk makes one of the strongest statements of faith you will find in all of Scripture. This statement makes a fitting climax to the whole book, and in many ways we have saved the best for last with these verses.

Habakkuk 3:16-19

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
17 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,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments. (NIV)

When we began this series five weeks ago, we began by looking at the prophetic books in general, and we asked the question, “Why are the prophetic books important for us to read and study today?” One of the reasons we gave was this: the prophetic books deal with the weighty issues of life, and that without the prophets, our faith can grow shallow and weak, unable to stand up to the rigors and challenges of life.

This is certainly true with the book of Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk is all about faith in God. In fact we saw that the key verse of the whole book was Habakkuk 2:4: “The righteous will live by faith.”

We live in a day and age where the best-selling Christian books seem to be the ones that tell you how to prosper, succeed and live the good life. And I would guess that most of us would probably find it easy to exercise faith in God when we are prospering, when life is going well and according to our plans.

But the book of Habakkuk challenges us to put our faith in God even during the worst of times. When Habakkuk reached the end of his journey, he had moved from a place of doubting God to a place of trusting God no matter what. And that “no matter what” was a serious issue for Habakkuk, far more serious than most of the issues we deal with on a daily basis.

God revealed to Habakkuk that his country was about to be invaded, pillaged and ransacked. Habakkuk and his people would lose everything that they had built up over the years, everything they had worked for. It would all be gone. That is a whole different matter than trusting God even though you got a traffic ticket, or even though you had a bad day at work or at school. The book of Habakkuk challenges you to learn to trust God no matter what.

Let’s put the question in the same terms Habakkuk faced. If the United States was invaded and conquered by a foreign power in your lifetime, how would that affect your faith in God? Is your faith strong enough to stand up to that kind of a trial? Could you still rejoice in the Lord if you lost everything – your job, your home, your family? Is your faith strong enough to trust God no matter what?

That is the place to which the book of Habakkuk brings us at the end of chapter three. How do you exercise faith in God during the worst of times? Habakkuk shares with us three things that he did, even when he was facing the worst calamity of his lifetime. Let’s look at these closing verses together and see what we can learn for the strengthening of our own faith.

I. Wait patiently for God even when you are afraid. (verse 16)

The first thing you can do is wait patiently for God even when you are afraid. Look at verse 16. Habakkuk writes: “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.” (Habakkuk 3:16)

God had told Habakkuk about the coming invasion by the Babylonians. God had described the arrogance, violence, and cruelty of these invaders in chilling detail. God also told Habakkuk about the great and awesome judgments he would bring upon Babylon and indeed upon all the nations of the earth that refuse to submit to God. Habakkuk may even have seen all this in a vision. And Habakkuk is terrified at what will soon take place. He is afraid. His heart pounds in his chest, his lips quiver, he feels physically weak and hardly able to stand. This is Fear Factor multiplied by a hundred and ten.

Tomorrow marks the five-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. I just speak the words, and that horrible mixture of emotions that hit me on that first 9/11 starts to rise again to the surface. The purpose of terrorism is not just to cause damage and harm but to cause fear. And sadly it works. In the weeks following 9/11, every time I turned on the news I braced myself just in case there had been another attack on our country. Five years later, I still brace myself sometimes before turning on the news.

Habakkuk wasn’t just dealing with the possibility of attack on his country but with the certainty of attack. He was deathly afraid, and his fear affected him on a deep and even physical level.

How do you deal with extreme fear? What do you do when the fear grips you in such a way that your heart is pounding and your legs give way? Do you try positive thinking? Deep breathing? Just try and push it out of your mind? How do you exercise faith in God during the worst of times?

Habakkuk says to wait patiently for God even when you are afraid. Look at the second half of verse 16: “Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” God had told Habakkuk the Babylonians were going to invade. There was no stopping that. It was going to happen. But God had also assured Habakkuk that he would judge the Babylonians for their sin, and that he would ultimately deliver his people. And so in the midst of his fears, Habakkuk chose to wait patiently for God.

The phrase “wait patiently” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to rest, or to settle down and remain.” It is the same word we find in the Ten Commandments where God tells us to rest on the Sabbath Day. It is the same word we find in the narratives about the Promised Land where God promised to give the Israelites rest from their enemies in the land. Here Habakkuk determines to wait patiently during this time of trial, to rest himself in the Lord.

God promises to give us his peace when we give our worries and fears to him. Philippians 4:6-7 says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

How do you exercise faith during the worst of times? Wait patiently for the Lord even when you are afraid. Rest yourself in God.

II. Choose to rejoice in God even when everything in life goes wrong. (verses 17-18)

A second thing you can do is choose to rejoice in God even when everything in life goes wrong. Look at verses 17-18: “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.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

I am working through a Scripture memory program right now, and this is one of the passages that I hit at the beginning of the summer. It was such a beautiful passage to memorize and to meditate on, and God used it among other things to direct me to preach this series on Habakkuk. These verses represent one of the strongest expressions of faith you will find in the whole Bible as Habakkuk determines to rejoice in God even when everything else in life goes wrong.

Habakkuk paints three scenarios here. Each scenario contains a matching couplet of images.

The first scenario is this: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines.” The blossoms on the fig tree and the grapes forming on the vine refer to those things you are trusting for the future. They are a symbol of hopes to come. It is just a blossom, just a flower, and yet it is a tangible sign that the figs and the grapes are coming. But in this scenario there are no signs for the future. The fig tree does not bud. There are no grapes on the vine. There is no visible sign that these things will ever come to be.

Do you have hopes and dreams for the future, but no visible signs that they will ever come to fruition? Do you ever feel like saying, “God, please just give me a little sign, some type of hope that things are going to change, something to hold on to?” Then you know how Habakkuk felt. And Habakkuk would tell you, when you have nothing to hold on to for the future, hold on to God, and that will be enough. Habakkuk says, trust God no matter what. “Though I have no visible sign of hope for the future, nothing tangible that I can see or touch or grasp, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

The second scenario is this: “Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food.” The olive crop and the fields refer to those things you are trusting in the present. They are a symbol of your present means. But in this scenario what you are trusting lets you down. The olive crop fails. The fields produce no food. They disappoint you. In fact the word “fails” in the Hebrew is a word that means “to deceive, to disappoint or to fail.”

The idea is this. You have planted and cultivated the fields, you have worked the land, tended the crops and now it is finally time for harvest, and the crops fail. The fields produce no food. It was all a deception. All that work, all that effort, and it all comes to nothing. You get laid off after years of faithful service to the company. You lose your job and have no current source of income. You invest all your money in what looks like a killer portfolio and the market goes bust. You put years into a relationship with another person and now the relationship breaks apart.

What do you do when all that you are counting on in the present suddenly comes crumbling down? What do you do when you suffer bitter disappointments in life? Habakkuk says, trust God no matter what. “Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

The third scenario is this: “Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls.” The sheep and cattle refer to those things you are trusting from the past. They are a symbol of your reserves. But in this scenario you have no reserves to fall back on. There are no sheep in the pen. There are no cattle in the stalls. Or, to put it in today’s terms, there is no money in the bank. There is no more equity in the house. Your friends and family have helped you all they can. Your credit cards are maxed out. Your physical strength is tapped. Your reserves are all used up.

What do you do when you have nothing to fall back on? Habakkuk would tell you, fall back on God, and he will hold you up. “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.”

It is easy to trust in God when the fig tree is budding and there are grapes on the vines, when the olive crop succeeds and the fields are producing food, when you have plenty of sheep and cattle in reserve. But are you really trusting in God at those times? Or are you trusting in the things that you have? Think about Job. This was exactly the question Satan asked God about Job. “Does Job trust you because he trusts you, or because you have blessed the work of his hands?” Job showed his true colors when God removed the blessing, and Job continued to trust him no matter what. Habakkuk challenges us with the same question. Do you really trust God, or do you only trust him when you know his blessing on your life?

Here’s another way of phrasing the question. Which would make you feel more financially secure – having a million dollars in the bank or having a God who promises to meet your daily needs? Stop and think about that one for a moment. Be brutally honest with yourself. If the answer is the million dollars in the bank, then you are not trusting God. And you know what? That million dollars could be gone tomorrow anyways. But if the answer is having a God who promises to meet your daily needs, then no matter what your situation, you can feel more secure than the person who has the million dollars in the bank! That’s pretty good! That is trusting in God no matter what.

Habakkuk determined to rejoice in God despite visible circumstances, even if he did not see any visible signs of God’s presence or favor. F.F. Bruce writes: “It is right and proper to voice appreciation of God’s goodness when he bestows all that is necessary for life, health and prosperity. But when these things are lacking, to rejoice in God for his own sake is evidence of pure faith.”

Habakkuk says, “Though you have no visible hope for the future, and what you were trusting in the present has let you down, and you have no reserves from the past to fall back on, still rejoice in the Lord, still be joyful in God.” Why? Because he is God your Savior who will deliver you in his time and will not let the righteous fall. We find a similar instruction in the New Testament in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 which says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

How do you exercise faith during the worst of times? Choose to rejoice in God even when everything in life goes wrong.

III. Find strength in God to scale the heights even when you are down. (verse 19)

And then a third thing you can do is find strength in God to scale the heights even when you are down. Look at verse 19: “The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19) Habakkuk had learned to find his strength in God, not in his own resources or ability. Habakkuk was about to go through some rough times. The thought of it scared him so much that his heart pounded and his legs trembled beneath him. Yet as he rejoiced in God in the midst of difficult circumstances, he found new strength from God to deal with the trial ahead.

What is this strength like that God gives you? Habakkuk said, “God makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to go on the heights.” Habakkuk paints the picture of a female deer running on the heights of the mountains, steady and surefooted, uninhibited and unafraid, full of freedom and confidence as she scales the heights. Do you long to enter the higher places with God? Then find your strength in him alone. Trust God to lift you up when you are down.

There is an old devotional book based on this final verse in Habakkuk written by Hannah Hurnard called Hinds’ Feet on High Places. The word “hind” is an old English word for a female deer, so it refers to the feet of the deer on the heights. Hinds’ Feet on High Places is written as an allegory, similar to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progess. It tells the story of a girl named Much-Afraid and her own journey from doubt to faith. Her story begins as she leaves the Valley of Fear. It is all she has ever known, but in faith she embarks on a new journey. Her path is marked by much sorrow and suffering along the way, but through it all she learns to depend on God and to find her strength in him alone. And as she learns to trust God no matter what, he leads her to the higher places of fellowship with him that she has always longed for.

How do you exercise faith during the worst of times? Wait patiently for the Lord even when you are afraid. Choose to rejoice in God even when everything in life goes wrong. Find strength in God to scale the heights even when you are down.

CONCLUSION: And so we have reached the end of our journey together through the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk’s journey mirrors our own journey through life. We saw that Habakkuk began his journey with a lot of questions. “Does God care? Is God fair? Is God there?” But instead of running away from God with his questions, Habakkuk kept bringing his questions to God, and finding the answers that he needed. Habakkuk began his journey in the valley of doubt and fear, and ended his journey scaling the heights with God with feet like a deer.

It is a beautiful journey, and one that is open to all who will come honestly to God with their questions, and seek him with all of their heart. God promises in Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” And so wherever you may be in your own personal journey from doubt to faith, let me encourage you, keep seeking God. Keep coming to him with your doubts and with your questions.

And I pray that God will also lead you to a place where you will learn to trust him no matter what, where you may run along the heights in God’s presence with the feet of a deer. May God help us to learn the beautiful lessons that he has recorded for us in the book of Habakkuk.

© Ray Fowler

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