Trusting without understanding
Habakkuk 2: Look at that man…full of himself but soul-empty.
The prophet understands that sinful Babylon is God’s chosen instrument for punishing sinful Judah. As bad as Judah is, Habakkuk is having a hard time understanding how God could ever use such an evil nation as his tool against the Children of Abraham. Habakkuk reverently takes his concern to God and now God answers. A part of that answer is contained in chapter two of this brief book of the Bible. The Lord tells Habakkuk he’s well aware of the sin of Babylon. Although the language used suggests that the remarks are about only the King of Babylon, the context tells us that it’s the nation as a whole that’s being described. The Lord wants Habakkuk to know that he hasn’t underestimated the sin of Babylon and he isn’t about to overlook it. Babylon’s self-indulgent pride, its injustice, and its immorality will be dealt with. Just because God intends to use this nation for his own purpose doesn’t mean that he’s going to overlook its sin. The Lord remains sovereign and, in the end, he always has the last word. This godless empire is, indeed, a tool in the hands of the Almighty. At some point it may seem that Babylon is getting the benefit of this arraignment, but the real result will only be seen when the final chapter is written. Today, I’m reminded that all of Creation is in God’s hands. Anytime he wants, he can use whoever he wants for his purposes. The Lord doesn’t need for me to explain his actions or to make apologies for them. He does, however, insist that I trust him even when I don’t understand him.
Take Away: I’m not required to understand the Lord but I am called to trust him.
Waiting for God’s response
Habakkuk 2: If it seems slow in coming wait…it will come right on time.
The prophet has stated his concerns to the Almighty. He’s troubled that a holy God would use such unholy people as his workers in the world. Having asked his questions of God, Habakkuk braces himself for God’s answer. The first thing he hears from God is that the Lord does, indeed, have an answer for him. The second message he receives is that sometimes God’s answers appear to be slow in coming but they’re worth waiting for, and when they do come, it’s plain that God not only answered well, but the answer came at just the right time. This passage is a wonderful blessing to all who have dealt with hard things in their lives; who have asked God for help in understanding them but haven’t yet received an answer. At such times God’s word to Habakkuk is also his word to us: “wait.” I’m not a big fan of waiting but in this passage I’m reminded that God hasn’t forgotten me and he isn’t ignoring me. At just the right time – in God’s time – the answer will come. When it does, it will have been well worth the wait.
Take Away: Sometimes the Lord’s answers appear to be slow in coming but they’re worth waiting for.
At just the right time God will speak
Nahum 1: And God has something to say about all this.
Things don’t look good for God’s purposes in the world. A wicked nation is doing very well. Their capitol city sits at the heart of incredible power and evil. God’s people are small in number and spirit. Is this the end of it all? Will sin and evil win the day? Nahum calls for calm as he declares good news for all those who love that which is good. Nineveh appears to be on top of the world, but “God has something to say about all this.” The “top of the world” position of that wicked city is a mere anthill in the eyes of God and when the Almighty acts, even that anthill will be “mowed down flat.” Through the centuries there have been many times when it seemed this world was out of God’s control and that the cause of righteousness was lost. There have been times when God’s people were speechless in the face of overwhelming sin. That’s okay. You see, even when we’re at a loss as to what to do or say, at just the right time, God will speak. What appears to us to be overwhelming circumstances is a mere anthill to the Lord. My mission in such times is, first, to keep trusting in him even when it seems evil has the upper hand and second, if he can use me, to be a part of God’s remedy for a sin-sick world.
Take Away: At just the right time the Lord will speak.
Getting stuff from God
Micah 2: I’ll preach sermons that will tell you how to get anything you want from God.
God’s man says that when the people of his nation send out a pastoral search committee that they’re looking for a specific kind of preacher. They aren’t interested in hearing sermons about repentance and judgment, but they’d love to hear sermons that tell them how to get God to do stuff for them. Such a preacher is sure to be hired on the spot. Obviously, this desire isn’t limited to Micah’s day. For many people manipulating God is what religion’s all about. Many years earlier the suffering Job says, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15) Earlier, Job had gotten an enormous amount of stuff from God. Now, it’s all gone and all he has left is a broken life and a stubborn faith. So which approach to God describes me? Am I in it for what I can get? What if everything I hold dear is taken from me and it seems God’s no longer playing Santa Claus? On one hand, we have people who don’t want to hear what God has to say but are very interested in what they can get God to do. On the other hand, we have a man who’s so committed to God that even when most of his theology has crashed he insists on continuing to hope in the Lord. I pray I never have to travel Job’s road but I’m certain I don’t want to follow that of the people of Micah’s day.
Take Away: Do we serve the Lord for what we think we might get from him?
Don’t worry about it
Daniel 12: Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax.
The things Daniel sees contain some disturbing and confusing information. He’s concerned about that. He doesn’t want to miss out on the message he’s been given. However, God’s messenger tells him not to worry about it. What he’s been shown is a long way off and, while some will waste a great deal of energy “running around, trying to figure out what’s going on” Daniel isn’t expected to grasp it all. Rather, he’s to merely pass the word along and when the time is right it’ll be opened up to those who need to understand. When he’s done that, Daniel’s off the hook. He’s to go about living life without fretting or worrying about how it will all play out. The Lord’s final message to Daniel is “relax.” I firmly believe that there are crucial events in world history when God puts specific people in a specific place for just that moment. However, most of us are called to simply live for God day by day. We don’t have to figure it all out and we don’t have to become famous Christians. If I give my life to Jesus and by his grace live for him I can “relax.” As Daniel’s promised, “When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.”
Take Away: Most of us are called to simply live for the Lord day by day.
God trusting us to trust him
Daniel 3: The God we serve can rescue us…but even if he doesn’t….
I love this story! The pagan king orders the three Hebrew men to worship his statue; it’s either worship or die in the furnace. Their response is one for the ages: “The God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace…but even if he doesn’t…we still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” Now, that’s trusting faith! I’ve never been where they are and I hope I never am. However, if such a day comes I pray that I’ll have the same backbone they did. At a much less intense level, I’m taken by their “even if he doesn’t” statement. They knew what God “could” do but they weren’t sure of what he “would” do. If they’re given a choice, they’ll vote for divine rescue, but, obviously they aren’t the ones choosing. If they have to, they’ll go with option two: obedience even to death. I, too, believe the Lord knows how to rescue his people. However, there are times when it seems God has something bigger going on and my predicament isn’t at the core of what’s happening. At times like that the Lord trusts me to trust him. So, “even if he doesn’t” do what I want, I declare my allegiance to him and then hold fast to it.
Take Away: The great test of faith isn’t believing for a miracle. Rather, it’s believing when the miracle never comes.
Splintered reeds don’t make good crutches
Ezekiel 31: Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt, that pompous old goat….
This portion of Ezekiel contains page after page of condemning prophecies concerning Egypt. Ezekiel says that just as a world power of previous generations, Assyria, fell like a big tree so will Egypt. This is a double edged prophecy because Israel has looked to their previous enslavers for help against Babylon. Therefore, the prophecy is not only directed to Egypt but to Israel as well. The nation Israel turns to (rather than turning to God in repentance) will shatter before them. Ezekiel calls the Pharaoh a “pompous old goat,” acting as though he’s important and powerful but is, in reality, reigning over a dying, powerless country that won’t be able to protect itself much less protect Israel. My devotional thought from all of this is a simple one. I need to be careful that I don’t lean on a “splintered reed” in my life either. My hope isn’t in the U.S. economy or some political figure or in anything else. I hope for better things for this nation, but I know that all these “securities” can all come crashing down at any time. Christ is my hope, my strong rock and in him I find security.
Take Away: Only in the Lord do I find real security.
Lamentations 3: It’s a good thing to quietly hope…for help from God.
In the midst of this book of laments I find the wonderful oasis in chapter three. Like a desert traveler I can’t help but to stay for a while and pitch my tent and enjoy the beauty of this place. Jeremiah has seen all the worst of life and it’s likely that he won’t live to see things get much better. Still, he’s concluded that “it’s a good thing to quietly hope” in God. I love the phrase “quietly hope.” I remember praying with an individual once about a legitimate concern in their life. However, their prayer was loud and emotional to the point that I don’t think that they managed to get much of a prayer prayed. Now, let me quickly add that I’m not against emotional prayers and I don’t want to go on record as opposing “loud” prayers either. However, the individual I prayed with wasn’t praying so much as working up some emotional state. Hopeful trust isn’t best displayed in a loud, emotional prayer. To truly hope is to calm down, to look to God, and to place things in his hands. Jesus warned against praying as though we think God will be impressed by our many words and as I visit this passage, I think Jeremiah’s making a similar statement. Without making a lot of noise, without working up our emotions, we turn our faces to heaven in quiet hope in God. Remember, Jeremiah isn’t speaking theoretically here; after all, we’re in the heart of his book of Lamentations.
Take Away: To truly hope is to calm down, to look to God, and to place things in his hands.
A personal promise from the Lord
Jeremiah 45: I’ll keep you alive through the whole business.
The story of Jeremiah pretty much ends with him in Egypt. Aside from the conclusion to his writings in the last pages of the book we’re about to move to an “appendix” of some of his prophecies concerning other nations. Just before we do that, we find the brief words of chapter 45. Obviously, this is out of place and would fit better back in chapter 36. It’s in that chapter that we find the story of Jeremiah’s dictating his gloom and doom message to his loyal secretary, Baruch. This good man writes it all down, not once, but twice. Baruch, then, is very aware of what’s coming, and frankly that knowledge scares him to death. The king might deny it all and act to silence the messenger. Baruch, though, believes every word he’s written. In an act of mercy, Jeremiah informs his faithful secretary that now he has a message specifically for him. God’s word for this good man is this: “Things are going to get worse, but don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you and see you through this whole business.” I can just imagine Baruch’s blood pressure dropping several points as Jeremiah states these words of assurance to him. I can’t find any prophecies in the Bible with my name on them, but I do find plenty of promises addressed to those who put their trust in the Lord. Like Baruch, then, I have a word from the Lord to hold on to even when things are in the “getting worse” stage. I don’t have to be consumed with worry because God has promised life to me.
Take Away: It’s a great comfort in troubling times to remember that the Lord has promised life to me.