Over my 45+ year journey as a follower of Christ, I have gone through and used several pat answers to the question, “Steve, how are you doing?” For a large portion of my life I gave the typical “Fine, thank you” answer. But at one point I decided that I wanted to be more honest with my responses. So, I borrowed a reply that one of my favorite authors, Chuck Swindoll uses, “I am growing and learning.” I mean, that’s pretty much true no matter when I am asked that question. Now, my favorite reply has become, “I am more blessed than I deserve.” That statement is true on my best days, and worst.
Why is that important to me? Because one of my goals in life is to be real, honest, and authentic. I never want to be a “fake it till you make it” kind of guy.
Ingrid Bergman was a Swedish-born actress who starred in a variety of films, television movies, and plays. She won three Academy Awards, two Primetime Emmy Awards, and a Tony Award. One of the directors she worked for was Alfred Hitchcock. It was Hitchcock who, according to Bergman, gave her the best piece of acting advice that she ever received.
Once when she was working on a film with Hitchcock, she didn’t like the way he wanted her to play a certain scene. She explained her difficulties to him and suggested possible alternatives. She just couldn’t do the scene naturally. Hitchcock patiently listened to her complaint, and then said, “All right, if you can’t do it naturally, then fake it.”
That may be the secret of success when it comes to acting, but it’s the sure route to failure as a Christian. Too much of modern Christianity is faking it. We pretend to be more holy than we are and we pretend to be more happy than we really are. We pretend to be more satisfied with God than we really are at the moment, especially when God doesn’t seem to make sense – when, despite our prayers, our lives get filled with trouble.
From the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, we learn how to be satisfied with God, even when He doesn’t seem to make sense. Habakkuk is one of the best books to read in those circumstances. Though it was written about 600 years before Christ, it’s as contemporary as the morning newspaper.
Habakkuk’s situation reflects our times. As a good person living in a corrupt society, he wondered why God didn’t do something to make things better. Sound familiar? Consider this five-sentence summary of the book:
Habakkuk (to God): Why don’t you do something about the mess we’re in? (1:2-4)
God: I am. I’m going to punish your bad nation by using a worse one. (1:5-11)
Habakkuk: But won’t that just encourage our oppressors in their wickedness? (1:12-2:1)
God: It’s OK. Their day is coming. (2:2-20)
Habakkuk: OK! But even if things don’t turn out my way, I will trust You, for You are a God worth trusting! (3: 1-19)
In this book we meet two Habakkuks: One struggles with God – and one sings to God. One is filled with questions – and one is filled with praise.
When you’re feeling like the first Habakkuk, here is how you can become like the second one without faking it.
1. Question God.
That’s right. Question God. Habakkuk did: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” (1:2, 3)
Like many of the great characters in the Bible, Habakkuk questioned God. It can be scary to question God. We’re afraid that we might make Him mad. But that concept is nonsense. The fact that God included this book in Scripture is enough to dispel that fear.
Still, we may be reluctant to question God because we’re afraid we might lose our way. We’re afraid that once we start down the road of questioning that we may end up with a ruined faith. That may be a possibility. But I suspect that more believers have ruined their faith by not questioning God than by questioning Him. The only way to resolve doubts and questions about God is to get them out in the open. Otherwise, they fester.
When our expectations about God don’t match our experience of Him, we’re bound to have questions.
Habakkuk did. He knows God is good; he just could not square that truth with His apparent unresponsiveness to evil. Habakkuk found it hard to harmonize these three facts:
God is good.
Society is bad.
God seems to be silent.
You might better relate to his struggle by replacing that second statement with what troubles you today, “America seems to be going off the deep end!” Sometimes God just doesn’t seem to make sense.
When you question God, don’t be disappointed if you don’t get the answers you’re seeking. Even Habakkuk didn’t get the answers he sought. Still, God ministered to his heart, even though He didn’t answer all the questions in his head.
Like Habakkuk, you might just find something worthwhile beyond all your confusion if you’ll just look. In questioning God, however, watch out. As sinners, we love to use skepticism to mask sinfulness. It’s always easier to be skeptical of God than it is to submit to Him. Make sure that your doubts and questions are honest spiritual struggles, not just a cloak for your flesh.
When God doesn’t make sense, the journey of becoming less like the first Habakkuk and more like the second one sometimes begins in the uncertain territory of questioning God. But don’t stop there.
2. Don’t Stop Short.
Many people fail to see this process all the way through. Don’t just trust God up to the breakdown, trust Him until the breakthrough. Some never discover that God’s faithfulness is bigger than life’s disappointments.
I shepherded one mother who experienced the tragic and unexpected loss of a beautiful child. My heart ached for this grieving mother. Her tragedy, however, was compounded by the toll it took on her faith. At one point she said to me, “I used to believe in God and the Bible. Now I don’t want to hear about that. If there was a good God, He would not have put my baby through that. If I live to be 80, I will never go into a church again.”
She trusted God up to the breakdown, but not until the breakthrough. Yes, disappointments and tragedies strike even genuine believers. Most trust God up to the breakdown. But some leave the church, others leave the Lord. Yet, a few hang on until the breakthrough. Habakkuk did. Though his questions were met with more confusion, he persisted. He faced the breakdown by seeking the breakthrough. He said, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.” (2:1)
Habakkuk wasn’t defiant, just persistent. That’s what it takes to reach the breakthrough. If, when God doesn’t make sense, we are ever going to become less like the 1st Habakkuk and more like the 2nd one, we must trust Him not only up to the breakdown but to the breakthrough.
3. Accept Reality.
We must learn to accept reality, especially the reality of God’s promises. God assures Habakkuk that judgment would visit the wicked nation that punished the Jews. Habakkuk recounted God’s faithfulness by saying, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” (3:2)
He, in the midst of his tragedy, remembered God’s faithfulness, and envisioned His triumph (3:3-15). We need to develop eyes of faith that can see beyond our disappointments to God’s promises. As Paul said, “For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Disappointments, even the death of a child, are not the last word. God promises us far better things. Accept that reality. Accepting reality means not only accepting God’s promises but accepting our pain, too. In perhaps the most beautiful section of the book, Habakkuk acknowledged his pain:
“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. 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.” (3:16-18)
Habakkuk accepted his pain without forsaking his faith. He demonstrates a profound truth. The greatest faith is not necessarily the faith that delivers believers from evil. The greatest faith is the faith that sustains them in the face of evil. That’s a tough reality to accept.
Finally, to accept reality, accept God’s presence. Habakkuk said, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” (3:19)
Through all of this, Habakkuk believed God was with him. He believed the Shepherd’s Psalm truth that those who walk through dark valleys don’t have to fear evil, for they never walk alone.
When you start to feel like the first Habakkuk, you can become like the second one if you…
- Dare to question God
- Don’t stop short
- Accept reality
Though God doesn’t always make sense, He can always be trusted. Be honest with your struggles, yet trust in God. If you do, you’ll become like the second Habakkuk, full of praise for your King.