Lessons from Habakkuk, part one

I spent four weeks this summer with a group of wonderful women studying the book of Habakkuk, and leading this study was a huge joy. Habakkuk is one of those books that no one studies ever. At least not most people I know! If you’ve ever glanced at this short, three-chapter book of prophecy found in the Old Testament, your first assessment might be that it reads completely depressing. I don’t think you’d be wrong in assuming that it is a difficult text to work through, full of topics heavy to the heart and issues that aren’t the most fun to explore. (It’s all about suffering, in case you didn’t know.) But, I LOVE this book. Absolutely love it! My Bible study friends who journeyed to the end all agreed – when deeply dug into, this book mines treasures of hope and is filled with good news. Ploughing through the difficult, dark, and depressing was worth it because we saw God sow seeds of joy in our hearts that we didn’t expect.

It was during the springtime this year that God began to work on my heart with this tiny little book, and I am still processing and learning more about the lessons he pounded into my heart during that time. I like revisiting it because there are principles from this book that stood out, changed me, and inspire me. Yet I forget the important stuff far too easily and need constant reminders. Consider this post a reminder I’m giving to myself.

This study’s official description on the promo materials was this,
“Join us in exploring a conversation between God and the prophet Habakkuk that deals largely with the hard questions we have about suffering, God’s place in it, and how to experience true joy in the midst of it.”
I love that we get to eavesdrop on a conversation between those two.

Here’s my confession: I like eavesdropping. I won’t intentionally pursue it (creepy!), but if you accidentally call me and leave an unintended voicemail allowing me to listen in on the argument you’re having with your spouse in the car, please know that I will listen to every. single. word. I’ll hear that voice telling me to delete without listening, but I never do. I can’t resist the temptation. I know I’ll learn so much more about you if I eavesdrop than if I only listen to what you say directly to me. Think of it this way: I just want to know you better; I must like you.

How much there is to learn from hearing the conversation unfold between God and one of his faithful prophets, Habakkuk. What we see is that Habakkuk is struggling to understand God allowing such serious suffering to come to his loved, chosen people, and the process he goes through communicating with God demonstrates many principles helpful to us as we journey through our own painful, unexplainable experiences.

The first of such principles that encouraged my heart is found within the first four verses of the book when we see Habakkuk crying out over the bad things happening to Israel:

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

He is completely honest in his lament, bold in his address to the Almighty God. If you’re anything like me and struggle with deep-seeded legalistic tendencies, you might expect him to get a slap in the face for the way he speaks to God and how he protests what God has allowed. That’s most definitely not God’s response! In fact, it’s so refreshingly different than what I expected.

God doesn’t push him away or shut him out; he engages Habakkuk in personal conversation. He draws him close. He responds. He cares about Habakkuk’s experience and wants this prophet to know Him in new, deeper ways. He does not condemn him for this heartfelt, honest cry. (There’s more to the nature of Habakkuk’s cry – the Hebrew words here convey his cries as ones “to God” and also “for God” – and we discern that his cries are cries of lament, not complaint. There’s a difference!) But the thing I can’t get over is God’s response:

No condemnation!

Not only does The Lord respond to me in the same way, he actually invites it! Have you read Psalm 62:8??

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

Did you know the Hebrew word for “pour out” (shaphak) actually means to bare one’s soul in sorrow and anger? Anger!

Why is it hard for me to accept that God wants me unloading my angry cries to him? It’s so different than what I always thought! I was taught that it was good to be honest, but I always felt pressure to quickly attach truth of God’s goodness to it, rushing through the bad feelings and neglecting the part where I just sit in my emotion for a while, feeling it to the extent I need. I felt I had to slap on something good in my thought life immediately instead of just feeling the bad for a while if bad was what I felt.

Next post, I’ll share more of the reason behind that change, why I believe it honors him, and what it looks like to move through the bad instead of getting stuck.

Do you also struggle to believe God wants you bringing your anger to him? Or do you feel, as I have much of my life, a need to get your thoughts cleaned up and made to sound all good and trusting before you approach him? Why is that?

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