The pastor of the church I work in found out Tuesday that he would not be able to be at church Wednesday night, so he asked me to lead the prayer meeting, which also includes a sermon/devotional (haven’t really found out which it is supposed to be) – not quite as long as Sunday, but still full and meaningful. The pastor is preaching from Revelation in the mornings and John in the evenings, and is covering the various attributes of God on Wednesday usually. So I decided to launch from the Old Testament. Also, with things that had been going on in the lives of myself and my wife, I decided that I wanted to find something on security. I start with a theme, pick a text, and may or may not preach on my theme once I find my text. (Funny how the Bible has a way of deciding what it means on its own terms, not ours.)
So I chose Habakkuk. The minor prophet. People stared blankly at me when I mentioned the name of the book. I had directions ready for them. The page number of the pew bibles, and “Start in Matthew, and turn back five books.” I don’t know that I have ever heard a sermon from Habakkuk. Why is that?
I read through Habakkuk and decided to give an overview of the whole book and pick out some meaningful themes. Of course, I came in predisposed to ideas of faith and security…
Habakkuk basically asks God why there is so much wickedness and violence in the world, and why the righteous suffer for it equally with the unrighteous. Interestingly, as in Job, God never really addresses Habakkuk’s concern. He promises to raise up the Chaldeans to punish the Assyrians (and wandering Judah), but he never explains why the corrupt go free and the upright waste away or undergo persecution and punishment.
I left the text (and the congregation) with the impression that God was telling Habakkuk that he was asking the wrong question. It was not a matter of why the righteous and unrighteous endured the same punishment, but a question of where our faith is placed. In chapter 2, there is a list of woes against a number of the things that the wicked/unrighteous tend to trust: wealth, personal gain, and works of our hands (i.e. idols) among others. But faith does not need to be in any of those things.
My wife and I have been struggling with issues of money and finances. Since moving to our new ministry, we have been considering whether or not she should work. This week she was offered a full time job in a good career (though not one in which she has been trained or has experience, of course). We considered it, and we both quickly spent the paycheck she would bring home every week. But we both knew that she would not be happy (she LOVES to cook, and has even been wanting to clean and vacuum – not even because she has to, but she just wants to). In the end, the only reason for her to take the job was for the financial input. And we agreed that the decision should not be based on finances alone.
Fact is, we can live on what the church provides for us. We can’t be happy-go-lucky or take a Mediterannean Cruise or visit the Grand Canyon. We won’t be able to go see a bunch of movies in the theater or even eat out once a week. But we can live really well without those things. (And, being in a relatively rural community, we don’t really see to many of those things on a regular basis to tempt us.) So we decided that she should decline the offer and stay at home where we both know she will be the happiest. It is a great and freeing decision. We faced the option of being discontent but believing we were financially secure, or choosing to do with less and be happy. And we chose to do with less and be happy, trusting that God will provide for our real needs. And I mean trust in a very middle-class American kind of way, which means trust the size of an up quark (smaller than a grain of sand). But, for us, a very real and important start.
What I learned from Habakkuk was that we should trust God completely and trust God only. Our trust cannot be in our health or our wealth or our productivity. Our trust must be completely in God. He alone is our guide and provider. And I think I can just about begin to really understand Habakkuk 3:17-19. Praise the Lord!