“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 Saviour.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV).
One of the ways the maturity of a believer in Christ can be seen is in his or her moods while in hard times. When hard pressed, many Christians are hard to be identified as people belonging to Christ because of the manner the hard time conditions them to behave. The ‘trouble time test’ is likely to be failed by many Christians, I have seen dozens who drift away from the faith when such time comes, I have seen faithful brethren forsake the faith after encountering hard moments that are troublesome.
In part one of this series, troubled but joyful, I share with you the experience of prophet Habakkuk who first quarrelled with God while in trouble. After God had revealed himself to Habakkuk, telling him of his plans for Judah despite what they are experiencing, he discovered that God is never distant in trouble times. The prophet writes that even if everything on which hope for life is basically anchored doesn’t yield, he “will rejoice in the LORD, he will be joyful in God his saviour.”
The trouble of Judah and Habakkuk’s complaint
The northern kingdom Israel drifted away from God, the Lord allowed them to be carried away and inhabited by a foreign power, the Assyrian empire. Several years down the road, the somewhat godly southern kingdom – Judah soon fell short like the northern kingdom. As a result, God raised a foreign power that by no means was holier than Judah, but just a gentile nation to discipline Judah by invading Jerusalem. There was violence and destruction of the city, trouble soon jetted in Judah, Babylon a mighty empire was pushing hard against Jerusalem and everything looked in disarray, hope was taken away by troubles. Joy in Jerusalem became a myth, joy became a history, there was trouble everywhere. There was a serious crisis for which everybody was worried.
David Malick referring to Ron Blue’s work writes:
“Babylonia had just emerged as a world power. When the Babylonians rebelled against Assyria, Judah found a brief period of relief reflected in the reforms initiated by Josiah. The Assyrians were forced to devote their energies to stop the Babylonian rebellion. The Babylonians finally crushed the Assyrian empire and quickly proceeded to defeat the once-powerful Egyptians. A new world empire was stretching across the world. Soon the Babylonians would overtake Judah and carry its inhabitants away into captivity. On the eve of pending destruction, a period of uncertainty and fear, Habakkuk wrote his message.”
Twice Habakkuk complained to God, he asked series of questions to God, questions of a troubled man. Habakkuk in his first complain, asked.
“How long, LORD must I call for help, but you don 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 wrongdoing?” Habakkuk continued his complaint; “Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore, the law is paralysed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4 NIV).
The Lord’s first response to Habakkuk appears not convincing, he launched another complaint to God again in series of questions.
“LORD, are you not from everlasting?… why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? …” (Habakkuk 1:12-17 NIV).
Habakkuk was concerned about the troubles of Judah, he was concerned about what he terms injustice, ‘the wicked’ triumphing over the ‘righteous.’ He was bitter before God. Many times like Habakkuk, we let complaint fill our mouths, we pour bitterness to the Lord without examining ourselves and seeking God’s will in the trouble.
The Lord’s answer
As Habakkuk complained, the Lord wasn’t silent to his complaint. In which God assured Habakkuk that what was happening to Judah was known to him. He assured Habakkuk that he is actually working at it, that he is going to do something which Habakkuk would not believe even if he is told, a wonderful thing. He actually tells Habakkuk that the rise of the Babylonians against Judah was his cause. Sometimes God brings troubles in our lives to help us be realigned back to his ways, he may cause the trouble to hit us, yet in control of the trouble.
Whereas we can inquire and seek God while in trouble, the nature of our complaint shouldn’t be as that which sees God no longer active and concerned about our trouble. Nevertheless, our complaints to him will never pass unnoticed.
In his second response, the Lord says however powerful and mighty an enemy may arise against his people, they are soon puffed. However, his righteous ones MUST live by faith even while in trouble times. I quote the Lord’s response to Habakkuk,
“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” (Habakkuk 2:4 NIV).
After God’s second response to the complaint of Habakkuk, the prophet was convinced that trouble times are short lived. He was convinced that the fame of God in the past is the same fame today, that God is worthy of doing the greater things of the past in his own times. Habakkuk wrote a prayer of praise which he prayed to the Lord.
“LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk concludes his prayer of praise in a marvellous hopeful statements that shows he cultivated a strategy of living by faith and not by sight as a means to be joyful even when troubled. He writes; “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 Saviour.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
What a powerful song, a powerful statement that shows the sorrows of a man turned to joy, a statement that shows Habakkuk developed a faith that kept him Joyful even when Troubled. Below, I ask you to live Joyfully even when in hard times using Habakkuk’s strategy of living by faith.
Faith only but not sight brings Joy even when troubled
Dear friends, we are living in a very wild environment, that it is very inevitable for us to escape troubles. They (troubles) come to us in many faces, acute illnesses, loss of business and jobs, lost relationships and marriages, wars and conflicts; and endless list of whatever can cause us troubles. As I write, I know of a few people who are going through hard times, perhaps as you read through this post, you have a list of things troubling you. There is but one thing I point you to, that is unwavering faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith that shall never see you moved when shaken by hard times.
Those who will manage to remain joyful even when in hard times are the faithful in the Lord. Those who rejoice regardless of their troubled times are those who live by faith and not by sight.
For the Christian calling is to live by faith, this is God’s exhortation to us that we are to “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). It is the same thing that God told Habakkuk, that “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (Habakkuk 2:4). And what is faith? “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1).
Faith will enable you see the brighter side of the dark cloud, faith will enable you stand firm even when Babylon and his war chariots are rising against you. Faith will help you believe in the awesome woks of the Lord, stand still and know he is God. Faith will help you depend on God rather than on your might not even on the basic source of your income and earnings. It is by faith that even when salaries delay, that even when you encounter losses, even when natural disasters sweep away your farm, you can yet rejoice because you know only God cares for you. With faith, you can say,
“The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19).
Dr. David Jeremiah, one of the contemporary American bible teacher whose Turning Point radio program I follow regularly says;
“If you have put your faith in Christ and have spent significant time in the Word of God, the tough times can be like a magnet that draws you to the Lord Jesus. Nothing is going to happen – ever – that will catch Jesus Christ by surprise. He is able to help His children work through anything, and not a single thing is going to happen in the future that can change that fact.” – Dr. David Jeremiah.
My prayer for you is that by faith in Christ, you are able to live Joyfully even when in hard times. May you when in Trouble be Joyful.
This message is written by Rev. Julius Izza Tabi who is a pastor in the Anglican Church of Uganda, Ma’di & West Nile Diocese. Julius served as an assistant Chaplain and lecturer at the Arua Campus of the Uganda Christin University. He is currently a candidate of Master of Philosophy in Religion, Society and Global Issues at Det Teologiske Menighetsfakultet alias the Norwegian School of Theology, in Oslo, Norway and is an assisting Priest at St. Edmund’s Anglican Church, in Oslo. For any pastoral assistance or support of this ministry you can email Rev. Julius you can also reach Rev. Julius here.