The Strength We Need, and Just in Time
based on Paul Powell
Habakkuk 3:17-19 17. Though the fig tree do 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 joy in the God of my salvation. 19. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like hinds' feet, he makes me tread upon my high places.
General George Armstrong Custer is a name familiar to everyone. He was an Indian fighter in the west over a hundred years ago. Despite all his bravery, he is best known for his defeat to the Sioux Indians at the Little Big Horn river June 25th, 1876. His troop was ambushed, and all 250 men perished.
But there was one way that Custer could have easily won the battle against the Sioux. Instead of sending all this braves against Custer at once, if only Sitting Bull would have sent them one by one, the Sioux would have easily been mastered, and the history books would read quite differently today.
It's a lot like troubles - if troubles would just come one by one, we could easily defeat them. But when troubles come, they come in squadrons against us, and overwhelm us, just as Custer was overwhelmed at the Little Big Horn.
The Psalmist attests well to the coming of trouble in his 118th song: "all nations surround me.... They surround me on every side.... They surround me like bees, they blazed like a fire of thorns.... I was pushed so hard that I was falling!" (Ps 118:10-13 RSV)
Trouble is no gate crasher in our lives - it seems to have a reserved seat. Heartache has a pass key to every home. When trouble comes to the wicked and ungodly, we can understand that - they deserve trouble. But when trouble comes to us or other innocent people, it's a different matter. And there seems to be four different attitudes we can take toward trouble when he comes knock, knock, knocking on our door.
First, we can become cynical, skeptical, unbelieving. We can allow trouble to shake our faith in God. Arthur Gossip once said, "Some people, when belief comes hard, fling away their Christian faith altogether. But, in heaven's name," he said, speaking from the depths of his own personal disaster, "fling my faith away for what?" In other words, what can take the place of faith in the face of trouble?
Discarding our faith is never the answer to our troubles. We are like the first disciples who saw many people turn away from following Jesus because his teachings were hard. But Jesus asked them, "Will you also go away?" They replied, "Lord, where else shall we go? You alone have the words of life" (John 6:67ff). Though things may happen that make it hard, and first glance, to believe in God's providence, we have no other option but to believe. In our world, it is either swim with Jesus or drown in the despair of our own pitiful devices.
Another attitude we can take is to demand total intellectual understanding. We can refuse to be satisfied until we know all the reasons for all the troubles of life. When there is an evil effect, we demand of ourselves a cause; and, if there is no immediate cause detectable, we invent one.
In the midst of suffering, Job's three friends came to comfort him, but their real interest was an intellectual one. They wanted to use Job as a guinea pig to understand in their minds why all these troubles had come upon him. They turned his tragedies into riddles to be solved by reasoning and went to great lengths analyzing and speculating and theorizing about their causes.
Job wasn't satisfied with the explanations his friends proposed. But he got caught up with them in the game of seeking an explanation. He took the game to the ultimate point, crashed right into the presence of God himself, and demanded of God reasonable, intellectual explanations for why things had happened as they had!
Frederick Buechner points out that God did not comply with Job's demands for the simple reason that Job's capacity to understand was unequal to the issues in question. Buechner says that "explaining fully to Job would be like trying to explain Newtonian physics to a [blue crab]." The capacity of human understanding is simply not equal to the task of seeing as God sees.
A third position we can take toward our troubles is that of unquestioning resignation -- whatever will be will just be. To quote Doris Day, "Que Sera, Sera." We can't change it. We're not to question it. We're just to accept our troubles as God's will. Some people believe we have no right to question God about anything. But I can't agree. In my hospital duty I've seen many horrible deaths, diseases, and accidents that, to me, demands explanation from God. There are many graves in the cemetery that need to be justified. On the cross, even Jesus Christ cried out, "My God, my God, why...?" I believe that we are allowed and encouraged to ask the same question of God. Yes, scripture bears out that complaints and queries are valid forms of praise.
But the best stand we can make when we encounter "heartaches by the number, troubles by the score" is that of faith and trust in God. Faith means believing in God even when you don't understand why something bad has happened. It means continuing to trust him although there appears to be no justice in the whole world. It is relying on God even when God seems silent and God's presence seems far away.
This kind of faith was expressed by Habakkuk when he wrote:
Habakkuk lived in times that were hard on faith. All around him he saw injustice. The wicked were prospering and the righteous were suffering. Sound familiar? He cried out to God for justice, but God said nothing and did nothing. Habakkuk concluded that either God was insensitive to the needs of his people or inadequate to do anything about those needs.
After t e n d a y s God spoke to Habakkuk and told him what he was going to do. He was about to do a work that Habakkuk wouldn't believe. He told Habakkuk that he would raise up the Chaldean and use them as an instrument of his judgment against the ungodly.
Habakkuk was astonished at God's answer! You see, the Chaldeans were worse that the ungodly people that he'd been complaining about all along. How could God use such brutal, wicked people to dispense his justice?
Now that God had Habakkuk's attention, God revealed that he was working out his plan in the world; that his work was right on schedule, and that, if Habakkuk would wait patiently and in faith, he would know that God doesn't lie. Then came the statement that would one day be the watchword for the Reformation, "The just shall live by faith."
That's when Habakkuk gave his great confession of undaunted faith. He declared that though everything he'd trusted in and relied on should fail, he would keep perfect faith in the power and providence of the Lord. He would allow no affliction to sever him from his faith. He was convinced that though the ways of the sinful world are beyond understanding and though God's timing seems far too slow, he would keep on trusting the Lord because the Lord was the only one who had power to strengthen him and sustain his life.
If he were alive today, Habakkuk might say, "Though I lose my job, my health, and my loved ones, yet I will trust the Lord for my restoration."
We need this kind of faith for the trials of life. We need this kind of confidence that keeps us believing in him and trusting in him despite our adversities or our limited perceptions. We need to be so sure of God that no matter how dark the day or gloomy the night, we'll maintain our confidence in him, his love for us, and his ability to restore.
This kind of faith is not easy to come by. It is not an inheritance- it is an achievement that is accomplished through practice, patience, persistence, and presence.
Finally understanding these things helped keep Habakkuk believing. And knowing three things will help us increase our faith in hard times, also.
Trust God's Thoughts
The first thing that will help us increase our faith is to make the decision to trust the thoughts of God without reservation. The Lord said,
The word translated "thoughts" refers to more than the intellectual process. It refers to the intentions, purposes, and plans of God.
Habakkuk had trouble understanding the means of God's rescue in his day, but he determined to trust God anyway. We must do the same. Our problem is that we look at life from street-level and only see one event at a time. The Lord looks from above and sees all of life at one glance. He sees both the beginning and the end of things while we see only the present moment. We are victims of our limited, street-level watching. We must learn to trust the thoughts of God although we can't see the end of them.
Trust God's Timing
Not only are God's thoughts above ours, but his timing is different from our timing. So if we are going to keep believing during the times of trouble, we must also learn to trust the timing of God.
God wasn't acting fast enough for Habakkuk, and it shook his faith. Then he learned what we must learn: God has his own timetable. God has already set the time for justice, and he will surely do what he has determined to do, and justice will come as we await his answer in ever-expectant hope.
God doesn't measure time as we do. God doesn't own a clock. God moves on kairos time. When the children of Israel traveled through Egypt to the promised land, it took them 40 years. That's a lifetime to us, but not to God. Peter tells us, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). If a thousand years is a day to God, then 40 years equals about an hour! So by God's standards, Israel was only in the wilderness about an hour, and that's not very long! We may operate on central time, but God operates on eternal standard time, and we must learn to trust his timing rather than ours.
Trust God's Techniques
Habakkuk determined that although everything else failed, he would keep trusting the Lord because, as he said, "The Lord is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me walk upon high places."
The hind is a mountain-climbing deer known for its strong, steady feet. Habakkuk believed that God would make his feet strong and steady. He would keep him on his feet in the midst of the difficulties around him.
That is most often the technique of God. God doesn't always shield us from troubles, but strengthens us in our troubles. Nowhere does God ever promise us exemption from troubles, but he promises to keep us on our feet in spite of them.
Perhaps you remember the story of Corrie Ten Boom - how she lost her family in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. In her book, The Hiding Place, she tells of her first encounter with death. A tiny baby of one of their neighbors died, so she and her sister, along with their mother, paid a visit to the home. The child was lying there dead and cold. Finally, Corrie mustered up enough courage to put her finger on the little girl's cold hand. Corrie said, "It was cold as I walked back to the house. It was cold as I washed for supper. It was cold even in the snug gaslit dining room."
As they sat around the supper table, the thought of those small, icy fingers crept between her and each familiar face. She thought that if that baby could die, then her mother and father, and even her sister could die. Still shivering with cold, she and her sister went up to their room and crept into bed. After awhile her father came to tuck them in. "As he stepped through the door," Corrie said, "I burst into tears. 'I need you,' I sobbed, 'You can't die, you can't.'"
Her father sat down on the edge of the bed and said, "Corrie, when you go to Amsterdam, when do I give you the ticket?" (You see, he often took her on business trips.) She sniffed a few times, considered what he had said and replied, "Why, just before we get on the train." "Exactly! and our wise heavenly father knows when we are going to have needs, too. Don't run ahead of God, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and you will find the strength you need, and just in time."
That's the way God works. He always gives us "hinds feet" to traverse the heights of our troubles, and just in time. So no matter what happens, keep actively and expectantly trusting God. Learn to trust his thoughts, his timing, and his techniques. You trust God for salvation, don't you? Now, trust him for strength in the face of trouble.
Whenever I am troubled and lost in deep despair,