William Carey was known as the “Father of Modern Missions.” He went to India to minister but during his first years there, everything seemed against him. Consequently, he was a man who so needed to live by faith.
His wife had not wanted to go to India and was constantly hostile and seemed to be sinking into insanity. His four children were often sick with tropical diseases. John Thomas, his co-worker, wasted their money so that Carey was almost penniless.
Carey had opposition from the local authorities and he felt he had little fruit, at least at first. But here is an entry from his journal:
“When I first left England, my hope of the conversion of the heathen was very strong, but among so many obstacles, it would entirely die away, unless upheld by God. Nothing to exercise it, but plenty to obstruct it for now a year and nineteen days…I have had hurrying up and down; a five months’ imprisonment with carnal men on board the ship; five more learning the language; my colleague separated from me; long delays and few opportunities; no earthly thing to depend on, or earthly comfort…Well, I have God, and His word is sure.” (from his biography by Mary Drewery)
We, like William Carey, often have “everything against us” and must learn, or continue, to live by faith, not by what we see. The prophetic book of Habakkuk is a wonderful blessing for upholding us when life seems especially rough, even impossible.
What is the Book of Habakkuk About?
This exquisite little book of the Bible (only 3 chapters) takes up the issues of living in evil times and suffering. How do we live by faith in hard times and get through them? How do we keep having hope? Habakkuk’s answers from God in ancient times apply today.
Not a great deal is known about the man, Habakkuk, who wrote this book. His name means embraced [by God] according to the Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. He wrote down his vision and encounter with God probably around 600 B.C. The huge, conquering empire of Assyria was fading and being overtaken by the Babylonians who were ascending in power. They had also defeated Egypt. When he wrote down his words, it looked like Habakkuk’s nation of Judah would be conquered next.
Habakkuk’s words are summarized this way in the Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible, “His hatred of sin compelled him to cry out to God for judgment (Hab. 1:2-4). His sense of justice also led him to challenge God’s plan to judge the nation of Judah by the pagan Babylonians (Hab. 1:12–2:1). His deep faith led him to write a beautiful poem of praise in response to the mysterious ways of God (Habakkuk 3).
Habakkuk Lives by Faith so He is Honest with God
When we really love and feel safe with God, we learn to speak honestly with Him. Yes, we are filled with awe, reverence, and praise, but we tell Him what’s on our heart. You and I know this is the measure of real love with other people in our lives – that we’re candid, not fake.
And so Habakkuk raises his first complaint to God in 1:2-4:
“How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do 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? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”
Habakkuk’s country had just gone through a time of revival with King Josiah and yet Habakkuk could see injustice and wrongdoing, strife and conflict all around him.
Many of us feel like Habakkuk in America today. Our country feels disunited, in turmoil, corrupted. Many are hurting due to the restrictions of the pandemic. These times feel so hard.
And people have personal stories of hardship. I read the prayer request of a husband for his wife this morning – she, diagnosed with a very difficult disease, and the family having a child, severely autistic. We can feel overwhelmed by what we see.
Further Reading: How to Avoid Shutting Down When You Feel Overwhelmed
God’s Answer Was and is That He Brings Justice
God responded to Habakkuk’s concern about all the trouble he was seeing. The answer would be the Babylonians. “I am raising up the Bablyonians, that ruthless and impetuous people who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own…they sweep past like the wind and go on – guilty people, whose own strength is their god.” 1:6, 11
Habakkuk cannot believe it! This is God’s solution? To straighten up his nation by bringing far worse people, pagan people to punish them? He says to God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? 1:13
Habakkuk says, though, that he will wait and watch for God’s next words. And what they are is glorious. God says to him to “write down the revelation” for it will come at an “appointed time.” (2:2-3) Even if it seems delayed, God says, “Wait for it.” The Babylonians will pay the price for their wickedness and ultimately “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14) God is just and His plans will ultimately bring justice.
Meanwhile, the righteous person (the one truly connected to God) will live by faith. (2:4)
Habakkuk’s Response is a Song of Faith
Habakkuk realizes that God is not unaware of what everyone is doing and their motive in doing it. God knows exactly how to bring everyone and everything to His purposes. And, His purpose is to have His goodness fill the earth. That is ultimately where everything is leading. It was that way for Habakkuk. And, it continues to be that way for us. God is in charge and He is working despite every broken thing we see.
In chapter 3, Habakkuk remembers God’s power and past actions against the enemies of his people. “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 declares, “but he marches on forever.” (3:6)
And so he finally ends with a prayer of faith. No matter how long it takes, no matter what he sees, Habakkuk will cling to God. He will hold on to the idea that God is good and is working behind the scenes.
“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 Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength: he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (3:17-19)
So, How Do We, Like Habakkuk, Live by Faith?
So, how do we come to the place of declaring with Habakkuk, even if we don’t “see our stalls full, or fruit on our vines,” that we will still have a bedrock, unshakeable trust in God? That is a glorious place to be – when all hope seems gone to still say, “I will hope in God. He will come through for me/us.
I look at five things Habakkuk did and take my cues for how to persist in faith from them. Habakkuk:
- Talked honestly with God. He waited and listened for God’s voice.
- Remembered past victories and connected them, gave credit for them to God.
- Looked above his circumstances to the fullness of what God was bringing about in eternity.
- Rested in hope. It’s a much better choice than despair.
- Declared his faith in God. What you speak over yourself becomes your reality.
I love a closing comment in the entry about Habakkuk in the Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. It says:
“The Protestant Reformation under Martin Luther was influenced by the Book of Habakkuk. Luther’s discovery of the biblical doctrine that the just shall live by faith came from his study of the Apostle Paul’s beliefs in the books of Romans and Galatians. [Paul quoted Hab. 2:4, “the just shall live by faith.” It’s also in Hebrews] Thus, in this brief prophetic book, we find the seeds of the glorious gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
This Christian faith is 100% about believing and trusting the LORD for our salvation and for surviving the troubles of this world. Don’t give up. Keep looking to the Lord. He is always working whether you sense it or not and His plan is to fill this earth with the knowledge of His glory like the waters cover the seas.
How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times
Four Things to Do On the Days You Are Discouraged
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