Keep The Faith

We are living in unsettling times.  We are in the midst of a pandemic that threatens our health, our jobs, our bank accounts, our basic way of life.  America is polarized, armed, rebellious, and unabashedly dishonest.  Many seem to have no intellectual ability or desire to deliberate or employ reason in pursuit of truth.  In fact, most people no longer seem to accept that truth exists in any form or that it even matters, living instead by their own created “truth,” which they make up to suit themselves.  People deny there is a God, openly serve a false god, or engage in false worship in religious movements whose leaders appropriate Christianity for their own riches, political influence, and fame. 

In such an environment, it is easy for even mature Christians who finds themselves dwelling on their circumstances to grow disillusioned, become anxious, and lose their joy, when we should be shining our light in a dark world.  We must combat the temptations that would cause the most blessed people in the world – wretched sinners saved by Christ – to feel and behave like there is no hope.  A Christian’s ability to maintain his or her bearings in a hostile world requires training and perseverance.  Christ noted to the disciples who fell asleep instead of praying for Him, shortly before His betrayal at the hands of Judas, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41, ESV).  Amazingly, the Creator of the universe who would soon voluntarily give up His life for believers, keenly understood our battle with temptation, having fought and won the battle against it during His earthly ministry.  And He left us a perfect formula by example:  prayer and Scripture.  In short, He constantly communed with God the Father in prayer and, of course, had a lifetime devoted to studying, teaching, and employing the Scripture. 

His Apostles, under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, counseled Christians to be on guard against temptations.  For instance, Paul tells us we must "keep alert with all perseverance," Ephesians 6:18, and Peter admonishes us:  “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV).  It is difficult to stay alert and be prepared to employ the Word of God to defeat the enemy, if our spiritual senses are dulled through our own neglect of prayer and Bible study.  As much as we struggle with it, the formula for keeping our spirit up and our light shining is simple:  pray and study the Word.  Maintain a practice of offering thanks to God for who He is and what He has done and cast your cares on Him (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 5:7).  Renew your mind daily by spending focused time studying the Bible and it will transform you into someone capable of discerning and pursuing God’s will, rather than someone who finds themself conforming to the lost world around them (Romans 12:2).

As I noted above, Christians will persevere in the faith.   To be clear, we have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior – a gift, itself, from God (Ephesians 2:8-9) – and that saving faith leads to a life of faithful living, for “the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).  Faithful living is faith in action, motivated by and evidencing our love for Christ.  In times of difficulty, we can be tempted to allow our circumstances and feelings about those circumstances to control us and weaken our faithfulness.  The minor prophet Habakkuk found himself discouraged in a time of trouble, but through prayer and focusing his attention toward God, rather than his circumstances, he serves as a living testament to encourage us in our faith.

Habakkuk was living amongst the people of God from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, but the people were unfaithful to God, sinful, hypocritical, and wicked.  Habakkuk was distraught about their rebellion and God’s lack of intervention, calling out to God to intervene:  

2O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save?  3Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.  4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4, ESV).

God answered Habakkuk, but it wasn’t the answer he was hoping to receive.  God was not going to bring revival, wipe away the sins of the rebellious, remove or reform the wicked; instead, he was raising up an enemy, the Chaldeans, to exact judgment.  Scripture describes the Chaldeans as fierce horsemen warriors who were to be feared for their bitterness and violence, and their ability to destroy kingdoms and take captives.  And the god they worshipped was their own terrible, destructive might.  Habakkuk couldn’t understand.  The Chaldeans were far worse than the rebellious people of Judah.  Why would God use them to slaughter Judah, His covenant people?  Perhaps, some of us are asking a similar question now in the midst of the pandemic and corresponding turmoil we face.

What does Habakkuk do?  He continues to pray to God and he begins to be reminded of who God is – the theology of his God as laid out in Scripture:

12Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.  13You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, …” (Habakkuk 1:12 -13a, ESV).

He notes that God is eternal – He existed before the rebellion of Judah and the coming Chaldean onslaught, and He will be there after.  He is sovereign, able to ordain judgment.  He is holy and righteous, wholly separate from evil.  God is a rock, Habakkuk’s Rock!  In other words, Habakkuk is reaffirming what he knows to be true about God, and that truth becomes the bedrock foundation on which he can find his footing in the midst of the turmoil.  God then encourages Habakkuk, contrasting the sinful and rebellious people whose faith is in themselves, with the children of God:

"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith (Habakkuk 2:4, ESV).

Amazingly, nothing had changed about Habakkuk’s circumstances, except that he had called out to God in his distress and God had reminded him of who God is, giving Habakkuk a completely different perspective on his situation.  He knew God to be bigger than any particular point in time, in control of everything, a keeper of His promises, who never makes mistakes.  Habakkuk, now anchored and strengthened in his faith, embraced God, saying: 

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places (Habakkuk 3:17-19, ESV).

So, when the circumstances of our world are turned upside down and we don’t understand them, we know we are able to trust God to be our strength.  When the things going on around us make us feel like we are on the edge of a cliff, when we are tempted to be anxious, to depend on our own strength, and to become discouraged and depressed, we can call upon the example of Habakkuk:  (1) cry out to God, (2) focus on who He is (through the Scripture), and (3) remember that we who belong to God possess an enduring faith and He is our strength.  And though we may find ourselves pitched on the rocky ledge of life, we can stand firm and strong as a mountain goat’s hooves safely and securely planted, unfazed by the perilous cliff on which we stand.