The Righteous Will Live by Faith (Habakkuk)

One of the most irritating things in life has to be the frustration of trying to resolve a problem with a company over the phone. Maybe you’ve got a product that’s not working the way it’s supposed to, or you’ve been charged for something that you shouldn’t have been charged for. So, you call the company to try to get the matter resolved. But that’s when the fun begins.

According to one survey I saw, the top three complaints that customers have about customer service are these:

1. “I can’t talk to a real person.” It’s “push this button”, then “push that button”. And sometimes it seems to be impossible to actually connect with a real person.
2. “It takes too many calls to resolve an issue.” You have to call back time and time again before you finally get an answer.
3. “The company takes too long to respond.” If people complain by e-mail, 44% of them expect an answer to their e-mail within four hours. With some companies, you’re lucky to get a response within a week.

As I read through that list, I thought about how those same things apply to people and their relationship with God. Because we all complain to God. There are things in our lives aren’t going the way we want them to. And there are many things in the world that certainly aren’t going the way we want them to.

And so, we go to God in prayer and we tell God, basically, “You need to fix this. You need to make things right.” But, notice again those complaints that customers have about customer service.

1. “I can’t talk to a real person.” It sometimes gets frustrating when we’re praying because we wonder, “Is God even listening?” We sometimes feel like there’s nobody on the other end of the line, and we’re just going on and on, talking to ourselves.
2. “It takes too many calls to resolve an issue.” How many times are we going to have to pray about something before God finally does something about it? It’s not like we’ve just prayed once or twice. Some of us have prayed hundreds of times, and we still haven’t gotten an answer.
3. “The company takes too long to respond.” If we get impatient when we don’t get an answer to our emails within 4 hours, how much more impatient are we going to be if we don’t get an answer to our prayers within a few days, or months, or years, or decades?

So, I have to conclude that, from a business standpoint, God doesn’t seem to have the best customer service. In our text this morning, Habakkuk is going to find that out for himself. He’s going to go to God with a complaint. When God finally does try to resolve his issue, Habakkuk is going to say, “That’s not what I wanted you to do. That’s not going to make things any better.” Habakkuk is going to have to wait and wait and wait without seeing any changes made. But, in the end, Habakkuk is a satisfied customer even though absolutely nothing has changed!

So, let’s take this journey along with Habakkuk. But first, let’s watch this overview of the book of Habakkuk and then I’ll be back to take a closer look at God’s customer service.

Play VIDEO (Habakkuk)

The book of Habakkuk begins with these words, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help?” (Habakkuk 1:1)

As the video said, this is a lament. It is a desperate cry for help in the midst of great trouble. Habakkuk’s words are a complaint. He’s got some major issues that he wants to take up with God. And I suspect that, if we’re honest, we also have a few complaints for God.

Habakkuk says, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:1), or as the New Century Version translates it, “LORD, how long must I ask for help and you ignore me?” He basically says, “God, you don’t even seem to care.” Habakkuk looked around at what was going on around him. He sees violence, injustice and wrongdoing everywhere. He says to God, “You’re letting all these terrible things go on in this world. And it just doesn’t even seem like you care.”

Then in verse 2, “Why do you make me see iniquity? Why do you idly look at wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:3), or as the NET Bible translates it, “Why do you force me to witness injustice? Why do you put up with wrongdoing?” “God, why won’t you fix it?”

Now, Habakkuk has enough respect for God to say, “God, I know you could do something about it if you wanted to. You’re all powerful. I believe you have the ability. You have the power to change everything. But I don’t understand why you won’t. You just don’t seem to care about what’s going on.”

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help?”

It wasn’t easy for Habakkuk to watch the oppression of the weak, the abuse of the poor, dishonest dealings, endless litigation, constant fighting, the destruction of the very fabric of social life — in short, a complete abandonment of God’s will by the people whose very reason for existing was to be a visible witness as God’s light to the world.

And apparently, this wasn’t the first time that Habakkuk had brought his concerns to God. He had repeatedly called upon God to act, to intervene, to set things right, to just do something. But it seemed to Habakkuk that God hadn’t even heard him and that God wasn’t going to do anything to make things right. And so, out of his frustration and confusion, he cries out to God, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?”

There are few things in life more frustrating than speaking without being heard, pouring out your heart to someone who doesn’t listen or respond. This was especially difficult for Habakkuk. He was a Jew who had spent a lot of time in the Psalms, the prayer book of Israel. And at the very heart of the Psalms was the conviction that the Jewish people could approach the God of Israel through prayer, speaking to God, expecting him to listen and to answer.

And it’s not like Habakkuk was praying for selfish reasons. He wasn’t praying to be famous or successful. He wasn’t asking for a big house, an expensive chariot or a higher paying job. He didn’t ask God to make him a major prophet like Ezekiel, Isaiah or Jeremiah.

In fact, Habakkuk didn’t even pray for himself at all. What he offers up to God are prayers on behalf of others, especially those who were being mistreated, those who were suffering unjustly. It was a cry for justice in the world.

There’s a popular bumper sticker that’s been around for a long time that says, “Prayer changes things.” But what do we do if we pray and nothing changes?

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?”

Some churches offer classes and workshops on prayer. Christians buy books on how to pray and what to pray, so that by praying, Christians can make a difference in this world. But none of those resources offer much instruction on what to do when God doesn’t answer our prayers.

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?”

And if we’re being honest, we would have to say that we’ve all had those moments when we felt the same way as Habakkuk. We know what unanswered prayer feels like. We pray, “Lord please do this, please act here, please set this right, please make this person well, please right this wrong, please stop this evil, please heal this damage, please end this conflict, please change this heart. God, please do something! Can’t you see that we’re tired of seeing people mistreated?”

We all feel that same sense of injustice that Habakkuk felt. We share the pain of the suffering of so many people around us, and like Habakkuk, we want to take up our complaints with God: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?”

So, God gives Habakkuk an answer. But he tells him in advance that he’s not going to like the answer. God said, “Look at the nations! Watch them and be amazed and shocked. I will do something in your lifetime that you won’t believe even when you are told about it.” (Habakkuk 1:5, NCV)

God answers Habakkuk’s lament, his complaint against God, his cry for justice. Now, the answer wasn’t what he was expecting, but it was an answer. God tells Habakkuk that he’s already working on a solution to the problem, and Habakkuk is going to see something so amazing that he won’t believe it.

God tells Habakkuk that he is going to destroy all of those people in Judah who are mistreating others, and he’s going to do it by bringing in troops from Babylon to wipe them out. “I will use the Babylonians, those cruel and wild people who march across the earth and take lands that don’t belong to them. They scare and frighten people. They do what they want to do and are good only to themselves.” (Habakkuk 1:6-7, NCV).

God says to Habakkuk, “I am well aware of how wicked the Jews are and I have my plans to take care of things. I’m going to bring in the Babylonian armies, and that will be the way that I bring judgment against Judah for their sins.”

And God was right – Habakkuk couldn’t believe it! Because he knew about the Babylonians. Everybody knew about the Babylonians. They were the most hated and the most feared nation on the face of the earth. Under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar, their armies plundered the nations around them. They were cruel and vicious. If they wanted a city, they took a city.

And if a conquered city wasn’t obedient enough, the Babylonians might put a pile of skulls in the city to serve as a warning not to rebel against them. They poked out the eyes of conquered kings and marched the rulers off in chains, sometimes with hooks through their jaws.

The point is, these were nasty people, and God knew how bad they were. When God decided to punish Judah, he picked the meanest nation there was to do the job for him.

Now, Habakkuk knew that the evil in Judah needed to be punished, but he couldn’t understand why in the world God would punish the wickedness of his own people by using a nation that was even more wicked. That just didn’t seem to make any sense.

But, to his credit, Habakkuk took God at his word, and he says in chapter 2 that he planned to be on the lookout for what God will do and say next. Habakkuk trusts that God knows what he’s doing.

“I will stand like a guard to watch and place myself at the tower. I will wait to see what he will say to me; I will wait to learn how God will answer my complaint.” (Habakkuk 2:1, NCV)

And this is the key to the whole story of Habakkuk — he waits. Because waiting is an expression of faith, trusting God, ready to accept whatever God may do. To wait is to be patient. It is to trust that God is at work even if we can’t see or understand what God is doing at any given moment in time.

There are some people in this world who will tell you that all you need is faith and everything will turn out all right. In other words, faith fixes things. But we don’t have faith so that all the problems in our lives will get fixed. Faith is not a tool in our hands to make things happen the way we want them to. True faith is a willingness to accept God’s will whatever that may bring to our lives.

In verse 3, God said, “It is not yet time for the message to come true, but that time is coming soon; the message will come true. It may seem like a long time, but be patient and wait for it, because it will surely come; it will not be delayed.” (Habakkuk 2:3, NCV).

Those are not words that we like to hear – “be patient and wait for it.” We certainly never liked hearing those words as a child. We wanted Christmas to get here soon. We wanted school to be out soon. We wanted to go on vacation soon. And we never liked hearing our parents say, “Be patient and wait for it.”

And now that we’re adults, we still don’t like hearing those words. Patience is a virtue, but it’s not a virtue that many of us really want to have. We live in an impatient world and we are an impatient people. We want what we want, and we want it right now. No matter how fast our fast food gets to us, it’s not fast enough. The line in the grocery store never moves fast enough. The traffic is always keeping us from being where we need to be when we want to be there.

Having to wait is always frustrating, but it is particularly frustrating when it comes to God because God never seems to operate on our timetable. God, I want you to get rid of this ache or pain and I’d like for you to do it within the next 5 minutes. God, I’m having some issues at work with my boss, and I’d like for you to take care of it by the end of the week, please. God, we’re tired of dealing with the coronavirus and we’d like to be done with it by the end of the month.

When you get in a rush for God to answer your prayers or to take care of a problem that you’ve shared with him, you would do well to remember the children of Israel in the land of Egypt. In Exodus 3:9, God said to Moses, “Behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.”

God heard their cries for help and God answered their prayers, and we say, “Isn’t that wonderful?” But, keep in mind, the Israelites had been in bondage for about 400 years. Is there anybody here willing to wait 400 years for an answer to your prayers? “Be patient and wait.” It’s important for us to remember that God may sometimes seem to be slow, but he always takes care of everything at just the right time.

And so, God says to Habakkuk, “I understand your concern about the wickedness of the Babylonians, and I’m going to take care of things. Not today. Not tomorrow. But I will deal with it. Be patient and wait.” God even says, “It will surely come.” You can mark it down. After the Babylonians destroy Judah, the Babylonians themselves will be destroyed. Someday, God will make all things right. But he doesn’t operate on our timetable.

And then we find this beautiful verse that is quoted three times in the New Testament – in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews — “the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

Those who are right with God will live by trusting him. Those who are wicked will eventually be destroyed, but the righteous man or woman who has faith in God will live.

Throughout the rest of chapter 2, God pronounces judgment against the wicked Babylonians. But that day was still a long way off. Babylon wouldn’t be destroyed for almost 70 years. In the meantime, they continued to do a lot of wicked things. So, what do you do while you watch the bad guys continue to steal and kill and thumb their nose at justice? You keep in mind — the righteous will live by faith.

What do you do when your prayers seem to go unanswered? You keep in mind — the righteous will live by faith.

When all you see is trouble on every hand, Christians are reminded that God is still on his throne, and when dark clouds fill the sky, we are able to take comfort in knowing that “the righteous will live by faith.”

Faith is trusting that God knows what he is doing. Faith is trusting that God always has our best interests at heart. Faith is trusting that God always does things at just the right time. And faith is trusting that no matter what it may look like in this world, God is still in control.

And when you get right down to it, I think that’s what Habakkuk was really struggling with. Because it seemed to him that the Jews were doing whatever they wanted to do, so they were in control. And if the Babylonians came through and wiped out the Jews, then that meant the Babylonians were doing what they wanted to do, and they were in control. And it just didn’t seem like God was in control of any of it. But he was. And he is.

No matter how many people in this country advocate fornication and homosexuality and abortion and divorce, our God is still in control. No matter what horrible acts terrorist groups may do or how many riots there are, or how widespread COVID-19 gets, our God is still in control.

And when all the dust settles, “the righteous will live by faith.”

Which brings us to the end of Habakkuk where we find one of the most beautiful expressions of faith in all of scripture:

“Fig trees may not grow figs, and there may be no grapes on the vines. There may be no olives growing and no food growing in the field. There may be no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the barns. But I will still be glad in the Lord; I will rejoice in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18, NCV)

Habakkuk says, “No matter what may go wrong in my life, even if I lose everything I own, God, I will still trust you and I will still serve you because I believe that in the end you will make everything work out all right.”

Keep in mind that ancient Israel was an agricultural society. If you ran out of figs, olives, grapes, grain, sheep, and cattle, you were in big trouble. You would have lost everything.

And, so this raises the question for us – What would you do if you lost everything? What do you do if you get wiped out? What if your investments disappear? Eight months ago, the stock market hit an all-time high. But what if tomorrow the stock market implodes? What if it totally tanks and goes from 30,000 all the way down to zero? What would you do then? Investments gone. 401(k) wiped out. What then?

• Or what if you lose your job?
• What if you can’t pay your bills?
• What if the doctor says, “It’s terminal”?
• What if your spouse has a heart attack and you’re left alone?
• What if your house burns down with everything in it?
• What then?

Are we able to say, like Habakkuk, “Even though I don’t like it, and even though I don’t understand it, and even though I know God could do something about it if he wanted to, but he doesn’t, even still, my trust is in the Lord my God.”

There are some Christians who have a God of the good times. They serve God and love him and praise him as long as everything’s going great. Their idea of faith is, “Lord, you take care of me and I’ll follow you. You make sure I’ve got enough money, and you keep me from being sick and you fill my life with lots of blessings, and in return I’ll believe in you and I’ll serve you.”

But what do you do when the hard times come? Because if all you have is a God of the good times, then you don’t have the God of the Bible. Because…

• Sometimes the fig tree doesn’t bud.
• Sometimes there are no grapes on the vine.
• Sometimes the olive crop fails.
• Sometimes the fields produce no food.
• Sometimes there are no sheep in the pen.
• Sometimes there are no cattle in the stalls.

What do you do then? You can get angry with God. Or you can give up on God altogether. Or you can choose to trust God. Habakkuk said, “Even if everything in my life is going wrong, I will wait patiently and I will rejoice in my God, because I trust you.”

This morning, do you have that kind of faith? Because “the righteous will live by faith.”

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