When You Feel Like Quitting
September 9, 2014
Most of us recognize the name Anne Graham Lotz. She’s the daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham. Besides being a well-known author and speaker, she is also a keen observer of contemporary events. In early July she called on American Christians to spend seven days in fervent prayer for our nation. This is part of what she wrote in her call to prayer:
“One of the things He has impressed on me is that we are living at the end of human history as we know it. In light of this, He has given me some practical assignments. One was to be the Honorary Chair for the National Day of Prayer 2014 this past May. He gave me the message I was to deliver, which was from Joel 1…the Day of the Lord is at hand. It was a message warning that judgment is coming.”
Then she added these words:
“Please be assured there is no other agenda in this initiative. This is not about promoting anything or anyone. This is all about calling God’s people together to pray, before it’s too late, and judgment falls on our nation.”
I agree. We all agree. America is in trouble.
Evil is running rampant in our world.
Jesus must be glorified in our lives.
We desperately need the Holy Spirit to fall on us.
America is in trouble
One phrase stood out to me: “Before it is too late.” We must pray for God’s mercy while we can. There is a time when judgment comes. We have many phrases for this: When the chickens come home to roost, when skeletons come out of the closet, when it’s time to pay the piper. Sooner or later we all face the consequences of the choices we have made. This is true for nations and for individuals.
You cannot mock God forever, you cannot ignore him or pretend he isn’t there, you cannot do as you please without inviting judgment from on high. I believe Anne Graham Lotz is right. We need God to do something “before it’s too late.”
There is a time when judgment comes
That sounds a lot like Habakkuk. God had told him clearly: “Judgment is coming!” Now at last he understands the message. When we come to Habakkuk 3, we turn a corner in our study. The whole tone of the book changes. We move from confusion to clarity and from fear to faith. Here is the key observation on which the whole book turns:
Nothing has changed on the outside.
Habakkuk has changed on the inside.
We find a lot of bad news in Habakkuk 1-2.
But Habakkuk 3 is full of good news.
The book ends on a note of hope and praise.
How did the prophet move from his initial worry and fear to a place of confidence, joy and praise? How did he get there when nothing around him has changed? The people are still mocking God, violence still fills the streets, and the Babylonians are still coming to Jerusalem. Outwardly everything is just as messed up as it was in the beginning.
Nothing has changed on the outside
Yet Habakkuk the man has changed on the inside.
How did that happen?
This chapter gives us the answer.
The outline is very simple. Habakkuk 3 contains 3 things:
Let’s take them one at a time and see what we can learn from the prophet’s spiritual journey.
“Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord” (1).
“Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known. In wrath remember mercy” (2).
In the face of impending calamity, the prophet prays for a full manifestation of God’s power and for mercy in the midst of judgment. It’s as if he is saying, “Lord, I know bad times are coming. I accept that. I’m not fighting against your plan. But oh Lord, if hard times must come, don’t let the Babylonians wipe us out. Remember mercy or we will perish!”
That’s a perfectly biblical prayer.
It’s the kind of prayer God will answer.
Notice that he asks God to do again in his day what he has done in the past. Twice he says, “Do it now, Lord, in our day, in our time.” This ought to be the prayer of every thoughtful Christian at this critical moment of history. Consider the perilous situation in the Middle East as ISIS continues its reign of terror. No one seems to know how to stop these brutal thugs who kill in the name of Islam. A few days ago they beheaded a second American journalist. They are not shy about announcing their plans to move on Europe and the United States. We truly live in dangerous times. When our own experts tell us that we are in more danger than before 9/11, we’d better wake up and pay attention.
Are we on the brink of a great revival?
We ought to read this prayer against that backdrop. Everywhere I go I hear Christians asking what they can do. Some people say we are on the brink of a great revival. Perhaps that is true. I certainly hope so. But I’m not sure about the timing. When I read about the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, the Layman’s Prayer Revival, and the 1904 Welsh Revival that spread around the world, it feels like stories from another planet.
Are such things possible in our day?
It’s easy to give in to doubt when you consider the gravity of the world situation.
Fire comes down from above
But that may actually be a good sign because revivals usually come in desperate times. You generally don’t receive a miracle until you desperately need one. It seems that God often will not move in power until things have fallen into dire straits.
If that is true, then I would say we are in a good place for a mighty move of God. I understand that revival is a sovereign work of God. He can move from heaven any time he wants. Fire comes down from above. It is not “worked up” from below. But if revival fire must come down from heaven, we can at least put the kindling in place.
Your don’t receive a miracle until you desperately need one
At the end of my ruminations on revival, I come back to an old Chinese prayer that goes like this: “O Lord, change the world. Begin, I pray thee, with me.” Or in the words of the old spiritual,
“It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.
Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standing in the need of prayer.”
My greatest challenge is the man in the mirror. That’s where revival must begin.
After his prayer Habakkuk has a vision of God. Theologians call this a theophany. That’s a fancy term for an appearance of God on the earth. In this case, God revealed himself to Habakkuk in something like a dream or a vision. The prophet recorded his experience in verses 3-15. These verses are highly poetic, which is what you would expect when a man has a vision of God. But the point is very clear. Knowing that his nation faces imminent judgment, Habakkuk prays, “Lord, do something!” This vision is God’s answer. It’s as if God says, “Habakkuk, you’ve forgotten who I am. You’re talking as if I can’t hear you. As if I don’t have any power. Let me show you who I am because if you understand who I am, you’ll be able to sleep at night.”
Habakkuk had a vision of God
In these verses Habakkuk recounts God’s activity in the past. He especially focuses on the Exodus, the time in the wilderness, and the crossing of the Jordan River. That was a period in which God repeatedly worked spectacular miracles. By recounting all of this, God is saying, “Have you forgotten what I did for you in the past?”
If he did it before, he can do it again.
If he did it before, he can do it again
Sometimes we read the Bible and secretly wonder if God can do it again in the 21st-century. Here is the answer. He’s God! He can intervene any time he wants.
We can get a flavor of this theophany in verses 13-15 which focus on the defeat of Pharaoh at the Red Sea:
You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
With his own spear you pierced his head
when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
the wretched who were in hiding.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
churning the great waters.
Look at the verbs: You came out . . . You crushed . . . You stripped . . . You pierced . . . You trampled. This is what God did. He gets all the credit. We can see two things very clearly here:
We need a big God!
1. The utter defeat of those who oppose God.
2. The divine determination to do whatever it takes to deliver God’s people.
Why is this here? Because many people have not found a God big enough for modern problems.
If you had a bigger God, you wouldn’t worry as much.
If you had a bigger God, you would be stronger in the moment of crisis.
If you had a bigger God, you would be less tempted to compromise.
Now we come to the end of the book. First there is acceptance:
“I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us” (v. 16).
This is Habakkuk’s way of saying, “I get it, Lord. The Babylonians will attack us and then you will judge them. I will wait for that day to come.” As it turns out, Habakkuk most likely didn’t live long enough because Babylon would not fall for almost 70 years. It doesn’t matter. Habakkuk’s words mean, “Message received.”
“I get it, Lord!”
Second, there is commitment. Verses 17-18 show us what faith looks like when life tumbles in around us:
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 word “rejoice” literally means to jump for joy. We might even say it means to dance for joy.
But how is this possible?
Habakkuk has described a total economic meltdown. Ancient Israel was an agricultural society. If you ran out of figs, olives, grapes, grain, sheep, and cattle, you were in big trouble. This isn’t just a random list.
What if your investments disappeared tomorrow?
This is a portfolio!
What do you do when you are wiped out?
What if your investments disappear?
Recently the stock market hit an all-time high. Let me pose the question this way:
What would you do if tomorrow the stock market imploded? What if it totally tanked and went from 17,000 all the way to zero? What would you do then?
401(k) wiped out.
How do you face that?
What if your children end up in jail?
What if you lose your job?
What if the safety net fails?
What if you run out of food?
What if you can’t pay your bills?
What if your children end up in jail?
What if your loved ones never come to Christ?
What if the doctor says, “It’s terminal”?
What if your spouse has a heart attack and you are left alone?
What if America falls to a foreign power?
What if you lose your job because you are a Christian?
What if you end up in jail for your faith?
Kay Warren is the wife of Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California and the author of the mega-bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. Rick and Kay were put in the spotlight in a very sad way last year when their 27-year-old son Matthew committed suicide after struggling for years with mental illness. In July Kay made some personal reflections on what would have been Matthew’s 29th birthday. Here is part of what she wrote:
On July 18, 1985, I gave birth to our beloved gift of God, Matthew David Warren. Holding him in my arms that morning, I had no idea how dark the journey would get for him – and for those who love him. All I knew that bright morning was that I was madly in love with him, and could see nothing ahead but a mother’s dreams of a good life for her son.
I remember Easter 1985 – I was sick in bed, unable to go to church. Rick took the kids to church and I stayed by myself for a few hours – the TV remote by my side as my only companion. Somehow I dropped the remote and couldn’t retrieve it – so there I was, alone on one of the most joyous holidays, with not even a TV preacher to keep me company, full of anxiety and fear for myself and my unborn child. I painfully reached for my Bible and it fell open to Habakkuk 3: 17-19 (NIV): “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, 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 go on the heights.”
This was a word from the Lord to me – and I determined that even IF my worst nightmares came true – if my baby died, or I never walked again – that I would trust in God my Savior; I would rejoice in in the Sovereign Lord.
Matthew David Warren was born and everything seemed fine. But by his first birthday, we began to wonder. And by his second and third birthdays, we knew he wasn’t like his older sister and brother. . . .
When he took his life last year – after battling and fighting so hard for decades – a friend sent me Habakkuk 3:17-19 in a sympathy card. She had no idea this passage was incredibly significant to me, but it was a fitting “bookend” to his life. Because I had feared for years that he would take his life….it became his greatest pursuit and my deepest anguish…..I had to come to the point in which I said as I had 27 years before – “EVEN IF my worst nightmare comes true and he takes his life, I WILL rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
So today – his 29th birthday – through weeping – I shout it to the watching universe: I will rejoice in Lord; I will be joyful in God my Savior. My heart remains wounded and battered, but my faith is steady. There is, and will be, as Steven Curtis Chapman says, a “glorious unfolding” of all that God has in store for me and my family. God is faithful to his promises of rebuilding and restoring the ruins – and I am confident that I will yet be a witness to many, many, many lives healed and hope restored – all because of my beloved gift of God, Matthew David Warren. I miss you, darling boy…..but it will just be for a little while.
Could you say, “Yes, Lord,” when the dearest thing in life was taken from you?
Could you still say, “Yes, Lord”?
Too many Christians have a God of the good times. They serve God and love him and praise him when all is going well. But what will you do when hard times come? If all you have is a God of the good times, you don’t have the God of the Bible.
Sometimes the fig tree does not 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 believe in God anyway. Often we mistake faith and our feelings. Faith isn’t about my feelings, much less about my circumstances. Faith chooses to believe when it would be easier to stop believing. Habakkuk said, “I will wait patiently” and “I will rejoice.” He found new strength in the midst of desolation.
Faith chooses to believe
The last verse of Habakkuk is often overlooked:
“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (v. 19).
The phrase “my feet” speaks of our journey through life. If you have ever traveled to the Holy Land, then you probably saw deer scampering on the barren hills near the west side of the Dead Sea. The deer are sure-footed where the rest of us would slip and slide and eventually fall. If you know the Lord, he will give you stability in the slippery moments of life. He will give you grace to stand when otherwise you would fall apart. It reminds me of Ephesians 6:13 which says that when we put on the armor of God and “having done all,” we will stand safe and secure when the battle is over.
We can stand when others fall around us
That’s where the book ends, and that’s where we will end our journey.
Let me repeat once again the single most important observation from Habakkuk. As the book ends, nothing has changed on the outside. The people of Judah have still forgotten God. Violence still reigns in Jerusalem. The wicked still oppress the righteous. And the Babylonians are still God’s appointed instrument for judgment. Hard times are coming and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Habakkuk has changed on the inside
Nothing has changed!
Habakkuk has changed on the inside.
We all come from different situations.
Some are happy, some are sad.
Some are healthy, some are sick.
Some are excited about the future, some face dark clouds of uncertainty.
But if we know the Lord, if God is our Savior, we can still have feet to tread on the heights in the worst moments of life. We can stand when others fall around us.
When V. Raymond Edman was president of Wheaton College, he used to tell the students, “It’s always too soon to quit.” That’s a good motto for us as we wrap up our study of Habakkuk. I told you in the first message that Habakkuk is “Strong Faith for Confusing Times.” Everyone reading my words is in one of three places:
It’s always too soon to quit!
You’re coming out of confusing times.
You’re in confusing times.
Or you’re about to go into confusing times and you just don’t know it yet.
So take this series and put it in your back pocket. If you don’t need it today, you’ll need it tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
I leave you with one final thought.
You’ll never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.
And when Jesus is you have, then and only then will you discover that Jesus is all you need.
That’s the real message of the little book of Habakkuk.