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.
“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.” Never underestimate the value of learning the discipline of waiting and the role it can play in the development and display of your faith.
Last words are very important, and Jesus felt it important to impress upon His disciples the need to wait as they anticipated what God wanted to do next. There are four sentences spoken by Jesus which were recorded in Acts 1:4 just before He ascended to His Father in Heaven. They included the instruction for the disciples to exercise faith by waiting. Listen: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” Jesus was saying, “Don’t go out and preach. Don’t go out and try to heal people. Don’t do anything until the Holy Spirit comes on you. Sit tight and wait.”
God has built the component of waiting into our lives to give us an opportunity to grow our faith. Scripture records examples of people who suffered painful consequences because they didn’t wait for the manifestation of God’s promise.
Take Abraham and Sarah, for example. God made a promise to Abraham that he would bless Abraham and Sarah with a son through whom the rest of the world would be blessed. Abraham’s descendants through the Son of Promise were to be as numerous as the sand on the seashore. Abraham was 75 when God made this promise to him, so I am sure Abraham was expecting that it would be a pretty quick conception since he and Sarah were already seasoned seniors. But, listen, when God gives a promise it is because He wants to do something that can only be attributed to Him. He wants His fingerprints to be on it. He wants His glory to be seen. He wants His people to trust Him to do it. He doesn’t give us promises so we can achieve something but so that we can believe something and then receive something that is just from Him and not your effort.
The passing of time doesn’t diminish the promise of God. It strengthens it. It validates it.
Rather than nurture the promise, rather than confess the promise, rather than possess the promise by faith, Abraham and Sarah tried to possess the promise by the flesh. Sarah suggested that Abraham have a child with her Egyptian maid, Hagar. And so he did.
Before I go on, let me just tell you that when you try to possess promises in the flesh, you will reap problems in the flesh. As a result of Abraham’s sexual relationship with Hagar, Ishmael was born. God did allow many descendants to come through Ishmael, but said that as a result of Abraham and Sarah’s impatience that there would always be contention and hostility between Ishmael and his brothers.
Scripture tells us that it was 25 years between the time Abraham and Sarah were promised a son and the manifestation of that promise. That’s a long time to wait! Interesting that Isaac, the Son of Promise, through whom the Hebrews people were “birthed” and through which all people would be blessed was conceived through a miracle just like another Son of Promise through whom the world would be blessed! For Jesus, the One through whom all people would be reborn was also conceived through a miracle, but that’s another sermon.
Unfortunately the hostility between Ishmael and Isaac is still perpetuated today. Present-day Muslims point to Ishmael as their forefather while Jews descended from Isaac. How the Middle East could be different today had Abraham and Sarah just waited! Interesting that even though Abraham and Sarah got impatient and acted in the flesh, GOD STILL HONORED HIS PROMISE! Praise God that He is still in control even when we mess up.
Listen, there is a difference in creating an Ishmael in the flesh and in waiting on an Isaac in faith. When you act out of impatience what you produce will be born out of your efforts, your will. There will be a component of “settling for” or accepting something than is less than God’s best, something you have to wrestle with for a long time or even a lifetime. But when you wait on God, what will be conceived or born in your life will be the result of God’s will and will be God’s best.
Genesis 18:11 tells us that when Sarah got pregnant, there was no earthly way it could have happened. For she was well past childbearing years. Abraham and Sarah got the credit for Ishmael. God got the glory for Isaac. If you are truly committed to God getting glory through your life then you will choose to wait in faith rather than create something in the flesh.
Doug and Cassie Escue have come through a time of waiting recently as they waited for Doug to get a full-time teaching job, and they were reminded during their waiting that delay is not denial. It’s not really a delay in God’s economy anyway because God is always at work. While we may look at the passing of time and think that indicates something can’t or won’t happen, God uses the passing of time to prove He can do the impossible!
In our Habakkuk text, Habakkuk said he would wait for the destruction of the nation that was going to destroy Judah. God was going to allow Judah’s enemies, the Babylonians, to bring destruction to them, but God assured Habakkuk that there would come a time when the score would be settled. Babylon would also be dealt with appropriately. Habakkuk said he would wait patiently for that day. Though it looked like the enemy of Judah was getting the upper hand, God was going to make sure they received justice.
Psalm 37:7-8 “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.” God is just. He will settle the score.
So in your waiting, resist getting angry. Resist getting anxious. Resist acting in order to make something happen and RELAX. Breathe in the peace of God. Don’t settle for anything less than the fulfillment of God’s promise. Don’t compromise your faith by trying to make something happen. Don’t create an Ishmael that you will have to wrestle with the rest of your life. Faith rests.
Not only does faith rest, but faith also rejoices! Look at verse 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, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Living by faith means your relationship with God is more important than any earthly provision or comfort. It means that when provisions or comforts are stripped from you, you can still rejoice when you possess Jesus.
In the vision described in Habakkuk about the impending destruction of Judah by the Babylonians, Habakkuk saw how bad things were going to get. He saw their crops gone, their fields inactive, and their livestock reduced to nothing. They would be decimated because of their unfaithfulness to God. How could he rejoice?
Because he knew that even though they would suffer loss, God would still be there. His love for God wasn’t conditional. It wasn’t based on how easy life was, how good he had it or how much God blessed him. People of faith will still choose to rejoice even when they suffer loss. Loving God means loving Him regardless of life’s circumstances. Only a person of faith can make that choice.
Circumstances are ever changing. Just like there were years of plenty and years of famine in Egypt; just like Job’s life constituted years of prosperity followed by years of pain and suffering followed by another round of prosperity and how even people who are here this morning have witnessed the effects of a Great Depression followed by a time of great affluence and now another downturned economy, it ought to be obvious and accepted that circumstances are going to change.
But there is one thing Christians can always rejoice in. God is never changing! He is always the same. He can always be trusted. He is always at work, and His love for you is unfailing. Even if you wind up with nothing, if you possess Christ, you have everything you need.
George Matheson was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1842. As a child he had only partial vision, and his sight became progressively worse, until it resulted in blindness by the time he was eighteen. Despite his handicap, he was a brilliant student and graduated from the University of Glasgow and later from seminary. He became pastor of several churches in Scotland, including a large church in Edinburgh, where he was greatly respected and loved. After he had been engaged to a young woman for a short while, she broke the engagement, having decided she could not be content married to a blind man. Some believe that this painful disappointment in romantic love led Matheson to write the beautiful hymn which begins with the following stanza:
O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
When earthly love fails, there is a Love that is deep and lasting and committed to our highest good. Rejoicing in Christ is a decision of your will. “I WILL bless the Lord at all times. His praise WILL continually be in my mouth.” REFERENCE Our decision to rejoice can’t be contingent on how things are or how you feel about how things are.
If Habakkuk had depended on his feelings, he would never have decided to rejoice. If his praise was contingent upon physical blessings he would never have rejoiced. But Habakkuk didn’t look inside to his feelings. He didn’t look around at his circumstances. He looked up and saw a God that would never fail him even though everything around him in the natural was failing.
Exercising faith by learning to rejoice in crisis is not only the mark of a mature Christian, but it is also the mark of a wise one because as you learn to rejoice whether you feel like it or not, your mindset, your perspective, and your attitude about your circumstances takes on a different dimension. You gain a spiritual mindset that will increase your tenacity, renew your spirit and spur you on to keep going.
Philippians 4:4-5 says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything. . .”
While these verses go on to talk about how to pray about everything, you can’t overlook the fact that a verse that tells you not to be anxious about anything starts with a repeated command to rejoice over everything.
Rejoicing is an act of faith because it demonstrates that we believe God is more than enough even in the toughest of times. Christian, rejoice. Faith doesn’t rejoice because of what it sees, but because of who God always is. You can rejoice that there is a Sovereign God who has a good reason to allow you to go through what you are going through and you can rejoice that He will see you through it.
There is a story about a woman who was very discouraged because of the many problems in her life. As she was walking down the street, she met a fellow believer who asked, “How are you doing today?” With a sour look and a bitter shrug she replied, “Oh, not too bad–under the circumstances.” The other person quickly countered, “Well, get above the circumstances! That’s where Jesus is.” One way you get above your circumstances is by rejoicing, by rejoicing in Jesus, by worshiping Him.
Not only does faith rest and faith rejoice, but faith also receives.
“The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”
As you rest in God’s Sovereignty and rejoice in God’s goodness, faithfulness, and salvation, you are then in a position to receive supernatural strength and a change in your outlook that prompts you to look towards the future. Though a person’s circumstances could dictate that a person feel low, think low, and stay low, the person of faith will receive supernatural strength and an enablement to be able to anticipate a new location, a higher plane, a place beyond where you have ever been before.
“I can do all things all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:13)
“I Love Thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”
“He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, But the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me. (Psalm 18:1-3; 16-19)
The key words in these passages are “Christ,” “the Lord” and “He.” When everything around a person is falling apart, there is only one place, there is only one Person to whom we can look and expect to deliver us.
The number of people coming to the church every month asking for financial assistance has more than quadrupled since I have been your pastor. I don’t know if we have gained the reputation for being a caring church who tries to help people in need or if times have gotten that much worse. I am glad people come to the church for help. I am happy when we have the cash flow to assist, but it is so hard to see people walk away with just a little food or with a small check to help with their rent when what I know they really need is Jesus.
This past week, one of our new members, Greg Gibson picked up some transient people and transported them to a homeless shelter in Huntington. He called to tell me that the whole time he was driving them to the shelter, he was telling them about Jesus and how if they would just turn their lives over completely to Him it would be the beginning of a whole new positive way of life. I was praying for Greg and that time of ministry because the people he was trying to help were in the kind of situation Habakkuk described. They were in a desperate situation. They had nothing. Giving a handout and helping people just to get from city to city might move them physically, but it won’t produce long lasting stability in their lives. It was Jesus they needed more than lodging, more than money, more than anything.
I am not saying that if you have Jesus you will never be homeless or without a job or without rent money or food, but I am saying that when you possess Jesus and look to Him you will receive strength to not only get through each crises, but to get above them.
Habakkuk made a great transformation or shift in his thinking from verse 16 to verse 19 of chapter 3. His faith stabilized him! In verse 16, we catch a glimpse of his emotional and even physical state. When he thought about what was ahead he said, “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.” He was weak in the knees, faint of heart and faint in his body. His heart was racing. He was basically describing a panic attack.
But what happened when he made the decision to rest in the Lord and rejoice in God alone? He received strength to think that not only would he get through it, but that he would be sustained to the point where he would land up on the heights!
When we decide to totally rely on the Lord, it is amazing how refreshed we become. Instead of being overwhelmed we are empowered. Instead of being in despair we become determined to conquer. And what is different about being on a high place? You gain a perspective above your problems that you can’t get when you are walking in the midst of them.
When Habakkuk talked about his feet being strengthened to be like those of a deer, he used the word for female deer. Why? Because the feet of a female deer are especially designed so they won’t lose their footing on uneven terrain. Mountainous landscapes won’t trip the deer up and she will be able to overcome things easily, elegantly, and with grace and strength. People of faith receive strength to believe they WILL overcome any challenge through God’s enabling power!
Habakkuk 2:4 tells us the “just” or the “righteous” shall live by faith. Link that with I Corinthians 2:5 where we are told our “faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” Christians have a power available to them that can enable them to climb a steep and rocky cliff and outrun any enemy that nips at their heels.
Minister Bob Russell wrote about a father who watched through the kitchen window as his small son attempted to lift a large stone out of his sandbox. The boy was frustrated as he wrestled with the heavy object because he just couldn’t get enough leverage to lift it over the side. Finally the boy gave up and sat down dejectedly on the edge of the sandbox with his head in his hands.
The father went outside and asked, “What’s wrong, Son? Can’t you lift that rock out? “No, sir,” the boy said, “I can’t do it.” “Have you used all the strength that’s available to you?” the father asked. “Yes, sir,” the boy replied. “No, you haven’t,” the father said. “You haven’t asked me to help you.” http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2000/december/12778.html)
The first step to living by faith isn’t receiving God’s strength, but is admitting that you need help. All of us here today, whether Christians or non-Christians are facing or will face something that could crush or consume us and without God’s help we won’t make it. I don’t care who you know, how much you know, how much you are capable of or how much your assets are worth, you will never climb to the highest heights without faith in Christ.
Living by faith begins by receiving Christ as your Lord and Savior. It means accepting that when you ask God to forgive you of your sin that He will. It means embracing a new way of life and living in a state of dependence upon God to make you succeed and settle every score on your behalf.
Resting, rejoicing, and receiving Christ as Savior in order that you might receive the strength to rise above life’s challenges. That’s what faith does!