How Long, O Lord

Originally published at TRC Magazine (The Relevant Christian) on April 30, 2014.

Habakkuk Devotional Series

By Anna Popescu

This prophecy of Habakkuk tells of a struggle and triumph of faith which took place in the soul of the prophet himself. “It begins with a sob, and ends with a song; and it is in the process from the one to the other that the little book discloses the heart of its meaning to us.” —Dr. Harold L. White

Picture1Chapter 1: Habakkuk’s Conflict

How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!” yet You do not save.
—Habakkuk 1:2

Have you ever questioned how God seems to be working—or not working—in your life? We might be struggling with financial problems, wondering how much longer we can keep a roof over our heads. Perhaps we’ve been praying for such a long time for a specific need, and still don’t have the answer. Maybe we’re living a life filled with physical pain that doesn’t ever seem to end.

And then there is all the crime and evil in our society. The unborn and young children are still being exploited and preyed upon. Too many people feel entitled to have it all without making any effort to earn those possessions. Christianity is being mocked as never before. Our values and beliefs are constantly being laughed at, provoked, and demonstrated against. The claims of open-mindedness seem to embrace everything but Christianity.

Then we look around at the people who seem to sail through life with hardly a care. They have lots of money, the latest tech gadgets, gorgeous clothes and cars. It seems to us that they are never lacking anything.

So we may ask ourselves: Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Doesn’t He love or care about me anymore? Can’t He see how I’m struggling just to get through each hour of the day? Beloved, things are no different today than they were back then.

Habakkuk’s Concern

Habakkuk had a big problem. He was looking at all the injustice in his world and wondering why God wasn’t taking care of it. He knew God was just, righteous, and punished evil, but it seemed to him that God was doing nothing to punish the sin and violence he saw all around him. In fact, to Habakkuk, it looked like God was simply ignoring all the wrongdoing and wickedness. Habakkuk’s heart was broken, and in his anguish, he believed God did not care.

Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises.  Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted. —Habakkuk 1:3-4

Habakkuk lived in a time of some very evil kings. The people of Judah had strayed very far from God, away from Mosaic Law, and had chosen to follow their own path rather than God’s way. Habakkuk became very concerned that God apparently did not care that His chosen people were living such sinful lives, and wondered why God wasn’t taking care of this. How could God ignore such obvious corrupt behavior from His own people?

At this point, Judah was about to be invaded by the Chaldeans who lived in southern Babylon. These Chaldeans (also called Babylonians) were intelligent, aggressive and loved war. They worshiped many idols rather than the One True God. Habakkuk was appalled that God would punish Judah by allowing such a corrupt people to invade them.

J. Vernon McGee described the scene this way:

“The people of Judah apparently felt that they were God’s little pets and that He would not punish them for their sins.”1

Habakkuk was concerned that if the Jews were indeed God’s chosen people, why didn’t God do something? Why was He allowing this to happen to them?

He is about to see that although God’s ways don’t seem to make sense in this case, God is still in control.

God’s Confrontation

Picture2God didn’t mince words with Habakkuk:

Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—you would not believe if you were told.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs.
They are dreaded and feared; their justice and authority originate with themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards and keener than wolves in the evening. Their horsemen come galloping, their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swooping down to devour.  All of them come for violence. Their horde of faces moves forward. They collect captives like sand. They mock at kings. And rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress and heap up rubble to capture it. Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their god.
—Habakkuk 1:5-11

Habakkuk was understandably confused at this point. Although he knew how wicked the people of Judah have become, and heard God say that He will yet set things right, he doesn’t see why God would use such a wicked people to chastise Judah. After all, they weren’t nearly as bad as those awful Chaldeans!

Habakkuk protests first against the violence and injustice of his countrymen in Judah (Habakkuk 1:1-4), and then against the violence and injustice of the Chaldeans whom God is sending to punish Judah.2

Habakkuk’s Confusion

Yes, God answered Habakkuk’s first question but God’s answer confuses Habakkuk so much that he has another, even more troubling question:

How can a holy God use a sinful nation to accomplish His purposes?1

Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; and You, O Rock, have established them to correct. Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they? Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler over them? The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook, drag them away with their net, and gather them together in their fishing net. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they offer a sacrifice to their net and burn incense to their fishing net; because through these things their catch is large, and their food is plentiful. Will they therefore empty their net and continuously slay nations without sparing? I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved. —Habakkuk 1:12-2:1

In essence, Habakkuk is lamenting: 

LORD, I know You are in control but You are holy and righteous, so how can You possibly allow this? And then, in spite of his confusion, Habakkuk returns to what he knows to be true: the LORD is almighty, unchanging, holy, just and absolutely faithful. Habakkuk knows that whatever and however God is working in this situation, it must be righteous because God is the Righteous One: LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this.” —Ezra 9:15

I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. —Psalm 7:17

For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face. —Psalm 11:7

The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. —Psalm 19:9

I will come with the mighty deeds of the LORD God; I will make mention of Your righteousness, Yours alone. —Psalm 71:16

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all it contains; let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness. —Psalm 96:11-13

Can’t you just imagine Habakkuk’s bewilderment at these series of events? I can feel Habakkuk’s confusion and anger at God’s strange way of dealing with people who refuse to worship Him and Him alone.  He asked God, “Why are You allowing this, but how can Your way be just?”

Habakkuk’s Contemplation

Habakkuk see the Chaldeans as self-serving–a people who honor their own cleverness. They refuse to worship the LORD, but instead worship the works of their own hands. In verse 1:16 we read that they are worshipping the fishing nets that bring up huge catches of fish. Really?How far they have strayed from their LORD!

Habakkuk’s why was not meant to challenge God’s sovereignty. He was simply confused and asking God for clarification. Questioning God is not wrong as long as we do it with a sincere heart.

“It is entirely different to wonder why God allowed a certain event than it is to directly question God’s goodness. Having doubts is different from questioning God’s sovereignty and attacking His character. In short, an honest question is not a sin, but a bitter, untrusting, or rebellious heart is. God is not intimidated by questions. God invites us to enjoy close fellowship with Him,” from GotQuestions.org: Is it Right to Question God?

Beloved, are things any different today than they were in Habakkuk’s time? Violence and chaos surround us. We are daily inundated by news of catastrophic weather all over the world, like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, wildfires, and the list goes on.

What about the diseases and chronic pain illnesses that plague mankind? And what about trying to make ends meet when we can’t even find work? How can we afford health insurance when we can hardly pay for the basics such as housing, food and clothing? How do we rationalize all the casualties of war?

Where, oh where, is our God in all of this?

Beloved, hang tight with me while I explore Habakkuk’s change from gloom to glory.1 Next time we’ll sit with him while he waits and dwells on God’s attributes, confirming what he knows to be true:

God always knows best and always works for our good and His glory!

***

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,
that He may exalt you at the proper time,
casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.

Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion,
seeking someone to devour.

But resist him, firm in your faith,
knowing that the same experiences of suffering
are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.

After you have suffered for a little while,
the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ,
will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.

—1 Peter 5:6-11

1 Thru the Bible with Vernon McGee ©1982. Thomas Nelson.
2 From John Piper’s sermon: The Just Shall Live by Faith.

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For Everything There is a Season

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every purpose under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

—Ecclesiastes 3:1-18

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Mercy, Peace and Love

Jude1-2

Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James,

To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: 

May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.

—Jude 1:1-2

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God is Able

2Cor9-8

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
 
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart,
not grudgingly or under compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
 
And God is able to make all grace abound to you,
so that always having all sufficiency in everything,
you may have an abundance for every good deed;
 
as it is written,

He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor,
His righteousness endures forever.”
—2 Corinthians 9:6-9

 

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Faith For What We Do Not See

 

The other day I posted about a time in my life when I served as a counselor at a camp for abused and abandoned children. Several of you commented about how serving children in this way has impacted your life too. Since this seemed to resonate with you, I’d like to share a little bit more about my first year as a counselor at that camp. I apologize for the length of this post but it’s necessary to tell the story.

Heb11-1-things-hoped-for

 

Faith For What We Do Not See

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for
and certain of what we do not see.
—Hebrews 11:1

 Lord, how can You possibly ask me to do this? I’m not trained to be a counselor!

The words welled up in me as I struggled to understand God’s persistent nudging. Suddenly I could feel His loving arms wrapped around my shoulders like a warm shawl. And then I felt the Holy Spirit’s words in my heart:

“My child, I want you to do this for Me.” 

Well, how could I ignore that? I bowed to God’s greatness and silently whispered my thanks to Him for being so patient with me. And then I prayed one last thing: God, if You really want me to do this, please enable me for the task.

When God called me to be a counselor at a Christian camp for abused and abandoned children, I thought this would be a blessing to some very needy children. Week after week, the Lord pointed my eyes to the announcement in the church bulletin, yet I kept ignoring the urgings I felt that God wanted me to participate in some way. The word “counselor” stood out more than anything else in that announcement, but I felt completely unequipped for this position.  

GodHasAPlanFour short months later I was at camp. One of the little girls in my charge was a particularly tough case. Eight-year-old Debbie* had been shuffled from one foster home to another. She was certain of only one thing: that she could expect abuse or negative treatment on a regular basis. Like so many of these abused children, she learned to bury her true emotions and instead developed a defensive posture, along with the frequent tendency to declare “No!” in response to any suggestions, fun or not. 

Debbie’s stubbornness was not easy for any of us to deal with. Whenever we were to start anything new, whether it was crafts, chapel, or even games, Debbie’s standard response was “No!” She would literally crouch down and keep shouting this over and over again. I found myself praying almost constantly that entire week. My prayers would start, “Please God…” and as the Lord helped me deal with each difficulty, they then became, “Thank you, God…” 

Our goal was to give these children a week of carefree fun, but Debbie’s tantrums kept testing my patience and that of the camp directors. After a couple of days of this negative behavior, we had a discussion about sending Debbie home early which greatly upset me. How could we take away this one week of fun from someone who rarely had the chance to do anything enjoyable? I pleaded with the directors to give her another chance and they agreed. 

That same night, I found myself unable to sleep because of Debbie’s exceedingly vocal night terrors. She tossed and turned as she relived some terrifying experiences, and mumbled words such as Don’t! and Stop! 

I got up to make sure she was all right and found her sleeping on her stomach facing me. I ran my hand lightly over her forehead, then up and down her back in a soothing manner. She didn’t seem to be sound asleep yet she was not fully awake either. As I kept rubbing her back, she continued to moan in a sing-song way. Even when I talked to her in an attempt to wake her out of her bad dream, she just moaned as if in pain. After about twenty minutes of this, I lay back down and tried to get to sleep, but it was impossible with all her moaning. 

I lay wide awake. What to do now? I got up again and tried to quiet Debbie by rubbing her back. Once again, that didn’t work. Tears coursed down my face as I prayed … for guidance … for Debbie to stop … for me to be able to fall asleep again. I was so tired. How was I going to handle the rest of the week? 

Once more I tried to sleep. When that did not work, I went back to Debbie and tried to wake her up. “Debbie, are you all right? Are you having a bad dream?”  

This time she seemed to hear me. The answering groan was different from the others, almost like a real answer.  

“Do you want to get up and talk for a while?” I asked.  

Debbie’s eyelids flickered and then opened briefly. “Yeah,” her sleepy voice croaked as she sat up in her top bunk. 

“Come on, I’ll help you climb down.” I assisted a very groggy Debbie by placing one of her feet at a time on each of the steps. When she was standing on the floor, I led her to the designated play area next to her bed and sat down, pulling her to a sitting position next to me. 

The night air was cold and crisp up here in the mountains, so I put my arm around her and covered us both with a blanket. I looked down at her in anticipation of our little talk. Instead, she leaned her head against my arm and fell asleep again. 

I shook my head in disbelief, thinking that maybe all she had needed was a change of position. I decided to sit with her this way for a while and leaned my head back against the wall and started praying for her again. 

I asked God what I could say or do to help Debbie adjust better because I wanted her to enjoy her camping experience. He showed me that Debbie’s life was full of commands. She was never asked about anything. He then gave me one word: choices. 

Even here at camp, she was expected to adhere to rules and a schedule, which in itself is not a bad thing, but difficult for her to deal with considering what the rest of her life was like. As I prayed about all of this, God showed me that if Debbie was given some limited choices, her responses might be different. 

I sat with Debbie like this and prayed for about two hours. I realized then that I had better get some sleep before this day officially started. I eased Debbie away from me. “Do you want to sleep down here the rest of the night?” I whispered to her. 

She seemed to understand and gave a sleep nod, so I fetched the pillow from her bunk. Lifting her head gently, I placed the pillow beneath it and then tucked the blanket around her better. I stood next to her for a few minutes to make sure she was all right. Now it was time to get back to my own bed. 

It was already 4:30 a.m. as I fell into a light, fitful sleep. I had to be up again in about an hour. This time Debbie slept peacefully. 

Several hours later, Debbie started her usual tantrum when informed it was time for chapel. Before she could get carried away, I told her she had the choice of going to chapel with me or to the nurse’s office. Of course, she chose to stay with the nurse. But not more than fifteen minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there stood Debbie. “I want to be here with you,” she whispered. 

I smiled at her and nodded to the nurse, who had escorted Debbie to chapel. As we stood to sing, I felt Debbie’s small hand slip into mine. Thank you, God…

Before that week was over, little Debbie asked Jesus Christ into her heart. Matt19-14--come little children

When we returned home, all who had served at camp were treated to a special dinner at church. The counselors each received a certificate inscribed with a Scripture passage our leaders thought best described us. Much to my surprise, I saw that my certificate contained Hebrews 11:1, the verse which begins a chapter all about faith. 

Faith.

I had started out on this journey with a great deal of skepticism. I didn’t understand why God would call someone like me to serve Him in this way, but He kept me going by faith throughout the entire week and left me with a new understanding of His enabling power.

Whenever God resolves to use us in His work,
He will enable us to do it!

The following year, the camp administration carefully asked if I would be willing to have Debbie in my charge again. They were well aware of her frustrating behavior the previous year. “Of course I want Debbie back!” I replied. “She needs some consistency in her life.”

The Debbie who jumped off the bus that year was a totally different little girl. In fact, she helped me work with my other little charge, a girl who had been abused in many ways, including being physically beaten and thrown around. She suffered some brain damage because of this abuse and was very temperamental at times. Debbie helped me keep her calm, which was a huge help.

At the end of that week, Debbie told me she wanted to be a counselor when she was old enough, and a few years later, I heard that she was indeed a counselor-in-training. I’ve since lost track of her but God has had His hand on her all along so I know she is doing well.

Beloved, when you believe God is leading you to serve Him in some way, never forget that He will be right there beside you. He never leaves us alone to do His work. 

Then people brought little children to Jesus
for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.
But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,
and do not hinder them,
for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
 
When he had placed his hands on them,
he went on from there.
—Matthew 19:13-14

*Not her real name for her protection.

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My Redeemer Lives!

 

 

I love listening to Nicole C. Mullen’s “My Redeemer Lives,” so when a good friend posted this video on her Facebook page, I knew I had to share it with you considering that we just celebrated Resurrection Sunday.

I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and that in the end He will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see Him with my own eyes—
I, and not another.

    How my heart yearns within me!
—Job 19:25-27

 

 

If for any reason you cannot view the video, click here to read the lyrics or listen to the song.

Other places to read more about Jesus Christ, our Redeemer:

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Shout for Joy

 

ShoutForJoy

Shout for Joy

Shout for joy, O heavens;
rejoice, O earth;
burst into song, mountains!
For the LORD comforts His people
and will have compassion on His afflicted ones
—Isaiah 49:13

 

Here comes the bus!

The entire camp staff had assembled to greet our campers. We gathered in a circle, each in turn offering prayers for these precious children who had been placed in our charge for the week.

Years ago, I was one of the counselors at this camp for abused and abandoned children. Because of all the hurt, pain and anger they experienced every day, we were determined to show them the joy, love and grace of their Heavenly Father.

We heard the rumble of the diesel engine before we saw the bus and smiled nervously before turning to greet the unknown faces in the windows. We waved, wondering if they were as nervous as us—probably more so.

The bus stopped in front of us and the door opened. When Peter, our ‘fearless leader,’ appeared at the top of the steps, we began waving again and welcomed our little visitors with shouts and whoops. Peter smiled his approval at our enthusiasm, then yelled, “Are you ready to meet your kids?” We clapped as hard as we could and were rewarded with smiles and waves from many of the children.

Peter stepped out of the bus and consulted his clipboard. Every time he yelled a camper’s name, we jumped, clapped and shouted a spirited welcome. The children seemed to enjoy the noise and attention so we continued to act like crazy fools, hopping and jumping in accompaniment to our shouts of welcome.

These children, who usually had no hope or joy in their lives, were like sponges in our care. They soaked in the wonderful news about a Father Who truly loves and cares for them and during that short week, learned how to turn to Him for comfort and peace.

Unlike those little children, we’re old enough to understand that life isn’t always easy. Instead of lamenting what we can no longer do, let’s try shouting and singing joyfully for what we do have. No matter what is going on in our lives, God is always there with us and shouldn’t that make us want to shout for joy?

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