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Now Is the Time for Faith

What has the world come to?

Habakkuk was a prophet whose words we have in a very small book in the Old Testament named after him. Habakkuk sees the violence, injustice and the multiplication of evil all around him and asks God “what is going on?” As we live in these days of craziness we ask God the same thing. “What is going on?”

Habakkuk is a book for those who find themselves asking God “why?” or “how long?” It is for those who pray, “Lord don’t you see how our world is drowning in a pandemic, terrorism, natural disasters, and injustice? Aren’t you going to do something about it?” Someone said, “It is a wise [person] who takes his questions about God to God for the answers.”[1]

That’s what Habakkuk does. And he was then determined to simply sit on the wall, and watch and wait until the Lord gave him a satisfactory answer to his complaint.

We don’t know how long Habakkuk had to wait. But to watch and wait for the Lord’s timing is a spiritual exercise in great patience and faith.

Waiting on God takes time. We can’t make God hurry up.

Waiting on God is lonely work. Habakkuk seems to be alone standing on the wall.

Waiting on God takes quiet and stillness. Don’t expect a lot to happen. You have to be OK with the great silences of God which can last for days, weeks, even years.

Someone once said, “The silences of God [are] mysterious, exasperating, consoling, pregnant with meaning [and they] require our trust at least as much as does the Word of God. God does not talk all the time and God’s silence is as emphatic as his speech.”[2]

Waiting on God means we are willing to be corrected. We ask God for an answer and he may say “no”, or that we need to think differently about the matter.

We wait and watch while we go to work, shop, study, take care of our families, and live daily life. We do it while we move through life. But there is a stillness and expectancy within us.

Waiting on God is worth it. We grow in faith by learning how to wait. Our impatient selves resist that but it’s true.

Habakkuk prayerfully waits and watches.

And the Lord answers Habakkuk. And when he does he tells Habakkuk to write what he is going to reveal to him. He tells Habakkuk to write it with big letters so that everyone can read it. In those times messages were often broadcast by people going up and down the streets with large tablets for people to read. That’s how the word got out in the mass media of Old Testament times. Kind of the forerunners of sandwich-board guys.

It is like the Lord is saying, “Read my lips.” Make it plain, Habakkuk. Make it plain.

And God says the vision is coming. It has an appointed time. And when God says there is an appointed time, believe it.

God has a definite time when his purpose will be fulfilled. God’s time is determined by him and not by any human being. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is Lord over all time, and will make the call as to when his promises will be delayed and when they will be fulfilled. When the time is right, when the appropriate hour has come, God will fulfill his purposes for us, for our times, and for all the world.[3]

This revelation – which is the plan God is working out - is not false. The Lord says to Habakkuk that it may seem like it is coming slow, but wait for it. It will surely come.

The Lord tells Habakkuk that indeed “the enemy is puffed up” and “his desires are not right.” In Habakkuk’s day the enemy were the Babylonians. They were a ruthless, violent, take-no-prisoners enemy who the Lord said he is sending to come upon Judah. That was what Habakkuk couldn’t handle and that led to his complaining to the Lord.

“Lord, what are you thinking?” “Why don’t the Babylonians get their just due?”

The Lord’s acknowledges to Habakkuk that he understands that the Babylonians are not right. They are greedy, arrogant, and unjust. They take what isn’t theirs.

Their wealth has been stolen through treacherous means. They never have enough, always wanting more, never satisfied.

Many people in the world get steamrolled by the ambition and power moves of others. It happens in international affairs, in corporate affairs, in personal affairs. Greed, pride, and the quest for power hurts God’s world.

God says Babylon’s desires are not upright. But amidst the terror, pressure and shadow of all of this God says, “The righteous will live by their faithfulness.” Some Bibles read that the righteous person will live by his or her faith. In bad times the righteous live by faith.

Paul used this verse from Habakkuk in his letters to the Romans and the Galatians.[4] The writer of Hebrews also quotes Habakkuk. Hebrews is written to a group of Christians who are being persecuted and treated harshly. And they wanted to give up.

As I was riding with the funeral director to the cemetery after the service for Barb Hymes this week, we were talking about the challenges of the past year for both of us. One of the things he said he is seeing is that people are giving up. Older people in senior homes are losing the spirit to live. People stressed and anxious about the pandemic, political divisiveness, and turmoil in our nation are turning to substances or giving up altogether.

We are going to send cards to our local healthcare workers because today some of them are thinking about giving up.

It’s tempting to want to give up. There are days I get weary and I have no doubt Satan wants God’s people to give up. If we go down…

The writer of Hebrews tells believers not to “throw away their confidence” and to persevere.

Struggle and suffering can weaken our confidence. We wonder if it’s worth it. We get shaken. Hebrews points Christians back to Habakkuk and his struggle. It reminds Christians that the righteous live by faith.

Faith doesn’t give up. It may grow weak. It may stagger. It may be an uphill battle, but it perseveres.

It says “the righteous will live by faith.” The righteous are not those who are morally perfect. The righteous are those who are right with God. They have a relationship with God, and amidst their mistakes and weaknesses, seek to live for him. We are righteous when we live in dependence and trust in the Lord.

Those right with God live by faith because we know what kind of God we have faith in. My faith isn’t in my ability to have faith. There are plenty of days my faith doesn’t look so great. My faith is in God who holds this universe in his hands, who is a God of love, or is a rock and fortress, who can do far more than all we ask and all we can imagine.

Faith believes God can. Faith believes God is always working out his purposes. Faith says God is at work even when we can’t see or understand it.

And in a day where there is so much fear – and there is plenty to be scared about – those who belong to God need to live by faith. Now is the time to live by faith. Our world needs faith If someone asks you if you are scared about all that is happening in this day say, “Yes. But I am persevering because I still believe God is moving.”

Faith is the opposite of fear.

Marilynne Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and person of Christian of faith. She is primarily a writer of fiction. Her book “Gilead” won the prize, and her other works are highly acclaimed. She has become one of this nation’s most well respected writers and thinkers.

In an essay she wrote called “Fear”, Robinson said that she believes two things:

“…first, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”

Note she says “habit of mind” because we all get fearful from time to time. But to make fear our daily habit isn’t living by faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Marilynne Robinson said that part of our Christian heritage and faith is knowing that part of Psalm 23 that goes, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

And part of our faith is that after his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” “Christ is a gracious, abiding presence in all reality, and in him history will finally be resolved.”

And the Bible says “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…” Yet, Marilynne Robinson says that contemporary Christianity doesn’t seem to be living in these beliefs. She has a problem when Christians of this nation don’t accept the authority of our own Bible. We have people running around calling themselves Christians, doing this and that. And they don’t live by the very things our Bibles say.

Can you think of places in God’s story where God tells his people that living in fear is really the lifestyle he wants?

“As Christians we are to believe that we are to fear not the death of our bodies but the loss of our souls.” And we lose our souls when we don’t live by faith in the living, gracious, eternal God, who is active in history and is still God over this crazy world.

Fear is growing. We are afraid of not having enough.

We are afraid of guns and of not having guns.

We are afraid of certain people, people of certain religions, or certain ethnic background, or certain political persuasions.

There is fear about power, who is in power, and not having power.

We fear being perceived as unpatriotic, too conservative, or too liberal.

We fear being vaccinated or being unvaccinated.

We fear how people perceive us and of not being invited.

We fear our food, our schools, our neighbors, and the air we breathe.

We fear what we find inside of us – feelings, thoughts, and desires.

We fear any movement in the stock market.

We are doing fear quite well.

That is not to say there are not concerns or worries to be considered. Yes, there are dangers to beware. But fear blinds us to the difference between a real threat and the irrational thinking that everything and everyone is a threat.

If we forget God, who is our rock, our confidence and our strength, we “make irrational responses to irrational fears”.

Jesus says again and again, do not fear, but have faith and believe.[5] You can’t read the story of God in the Bible and not get that.

The writer of Hebrews takes those words from Habakkuk and reminds Christians that God does not take pleasure in people who won’t live by faith and who shrink back. It says, “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

Do you stimulate fear or faith for those around you? Are we the type of people others would choose to share a crisis? “If I am going through the storm, I want you with me.”

Faith in times of evil takes perseverance, hope, and trust. It takes not buying into the values of the kingdom of this world but living in the reign of God. It takes resistance. It is evident in our words and actions. Faith isn’t just a mindset. It is lived and shows in our lives. And that comes by a deeper, grander and more biblically based vision of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ara Badalian is living by faith in a place of great fear. We are all aware of the conflict that has been going on for years in Iraq. Badalian is the pastor of a church in Baghdad, Iraq, a place that has seen many years of war, the threat of ISIS, and massive turmoil. The violence over the past 15 years has reduced the Christian population of Baghdad by 20 percent as Christians have fled, some by force and some by choice.

Perhaps some of us don’t even know there was a vibrant church in Iraq, and that, no, not everyone is Muslim. Yes, there are Christians in Baghdad and, until recently there was a much larger church there.

One time I heard Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, says that when our country is thinking about war (and we have been in plenty the past fifty years), he asks three questions:

How will invasion affect the body of Christ that is in that country?

How will it affect the spread of the gospel?

How will it affect Christian, humanitarian efforts?

Good questions if Jesus is your Lord.

The fall of the city of Mosul and the villages on the Nineveh plain had a terrifying effect on the Christian community in Baghdad. It was a catastrophe for Christians and other minorities. Yes, much of the church has had to flee, but there is still a Christian community there.

Badalian and his vibrant congregation have seen refugees arriving in their city, and they have tried to meet the needs of those people. He believes reconciliation needs to be promoted among the different groups in the Iraqi communities. He says he thinks the Church has a role to help the community obtain new values – to reject violence, accept the other, and love the other.

The young people of Badalian’s church arranged food for their Muslim neighbors during Ramadan. Muslims fast from sun up to sun down each day during the month of Ramadan. These young Christians provided their Muslim neighbors with food after sundown each day.

Badalian doesn’t gloss over the challenges of being a Christian in Iraq. He admits that he cannot be open with the gospel outside of his church. He says the violence in Iraq brings many negative experiences, but, he says, “We can’t abandon biblical values like loving others.”

He says, “The situation in Iraq now prompts people to think carefully about eternity and gives us an opportunity to evangelize. The devil shows us sin, displacement, and death, and many people see the contrast in Christ and believe in his love and salvation.”[6]

I would think there would be a lot of fear living in Iraq, and especially being a Christian in Iraq. But Ara Badalian is leading his church not in fear but in faith. He is not shrinking back.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in a Nazi prison, he wrote to his fiancé about living with faith in the face of the situation of the world at that time, and what he called “the complex darkness.” He said, “I do not mean the faith which flees the world, but the one that endures the world and which loves and remains true to the world in spite of all the suffering which it contains for us.”[7]

“Live by faith” is what God tells Habakkuk as he struggles with the darkness that is happening around him. The ones who are right with God and pleasing to God will live by faith.

God is looking for his people to live by faith in this world shrouded in such complex darkness

We live by faith through the waiting. We live by faith through the silences of God. We live by faith in the face of fear. We live by faith, not in ourselves, but in our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

As Paul wrote in one of his letters, we want “…to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”[8]

So let’s not give up. Help others not to give up. These are days that need people who live by faith. Someone needs your faith. We are a people who know God. We live by faith.

Prayer: (silent reflection to be attentive to whatever word God has for you.)

Give us, Lord, lives of faith. Give us unconquered hearts which no difficulty can wear out.

Give us the understanding of you that will allow us to persevere, and a vision of our victorious coming Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to make a different for those with whom we live. And that in us they will see you, the light who shines in the darkness, that the darkness cannot overcome. Amen.

[1] Carl Armerding, quoted by David Prior in “The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk”, The Bible Speaks Today, p.227 [2] Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Quoted in Prior, p.231 [3] Elizabeth Achtemeier, Interpretation Commentary Nahum-Habakkuk, p.43 [4] Romans 1:17 [5] Luke 8:50, Luke 12:32, Matthew 14:27, among other places. [6] “Standing Firm”, by Jessi Strong, Bible Study Magazine [7] from “A Testament of Freedom”, quoted in “A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer”, p.19 [8] 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

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