“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.”
General George Armstrong Custer is a name familiar to everyone. He was an Indian fighter in the west over a hundred years ago. Despite all of his bravery, he is best known for his defeat to the Sioux Indians at the Little Big Horn River. His troop was ambushed, and all 250 men perished.
But there was one way that Custer could have easily won the battle against the Sioux. If Sitting Bull had sent his braves one by one against Custer, instead of sending all of them at once, the Sioux could have easily been beaten, and the history books would read quite differently today.
It’s a lot like troubles. If troubles would just come one by one, we could easily defeat them. But when troubles come, they come in squadrons against us, and they overwhelm us, just as Custer was overwhelmed at the Little Big Horn.
You all know what I’m talking about. At times we have troubles that just seem to gang up on us all at once …
• The dog runs away …
• Our arthritis acts up …
• Bills are coming in faster than the money to pay them …
• Our children won’t act right …
• The car breaks down …
• When our spouse walks away …
I could go on and on and on. We can handle our troubles one at a time, but they never seem to come just one at a time.
Psalm 118 attests well to the coming of trouble: “all nations surround me …. They surround me on every side …. They surround me like bees; they blazed like a fire of thorns … I was pushed so hard that I was falling!” (Psalm 118:10-13 RSV)
Trouble is a familiar foe. It seems to have a pass key to every home, and a reserved seat at our dining room table.
We can understand when trouble comes to the wicked and ungodly. After all don’t their actions deserve the trouble they get into? But when trouble comes to us or to other innocent people, it is a far different matter.
There seems to be four different attitudes we take towards trouble when it comes knocking at our door. There is unbelieving … intellectualizing … resigning … and believing.
First, there is the attitude of unbelief. When trouble raises its ugly head, we can become cynical, uncertain, or unbelieving. We can even allow trouble to shake our faith in God.
Writer John Gossip once said, “Some people, when belief comes hard, fling away their Christian faith altogether. But, in heaven’s name, fling my faith away for what?”
Gossip was no stranger to trouble. He was speaking from the depths of his own personal disaster. He had served as a chaplain during the First World War, which gave him a front row seat in seeing the horrors of battle. He had also experienced the sudden death of his beloved wife.
However, rather than allow his troubles to shake his faith, instead he wrote some of the most inspirational messages of his life.
I want to ask you all … what can take the place of faith in the face of trouble?
The answer is nothing. Discarding our faith is never the answer to our troubles. Instead, we should be more like the first disciples who witnessed many people turning away from following Jesus because they felt his teachings were too difficult for them to follow. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Will you also go away?” They replied, “Lord, where else shall we go? You alone have the words of life” (John 6:6-7ff).
Though things may happen that make it hard, at first glance, to believe in God’s providence, we have no other option but to believe. In our world, it is either swim with Jesus or drown in the despair which results from our pitiful attempts at solving our own troubles.
Another attitude we can take when trouble comes is to demand total intellectual understanding.
We can refuse to be satisfied until we know all the reasons for all the troubles of life. When something bad happens to us, we demand to know a cause; and, if there is no immediate cause detectable, we invent one.
Most of us have heard about the man name Job. Job was a righteous man who lost all of his possessions and children in a single day.
In the midst of his suffering, Job’s three friends came to comfort him, but their real interest was an intellectual one. They wanted to use Job as a guinea pig to understand in their minds why all these troubles had come upon him. They turned his tragedies into riddles to be solved by reasoning and went to great lengths analyzing and speculating and theorizing about their causes.
Job wasn’t satisfied with the explanations his friends proposed. But as many of us do, he got caught up with them in the game of seeking an explanation. Then he took the game to the ultimate point, and demanded of God a reasonable, intellectual explanation for why things had happened as they had. However, God did not give Job an answer at all.
Frederick Buechner points out the God did not comply with Job’s demands for the simple reason that Job did not have the capacity to understand any explanation God could give him. In other words, “explaining fully to Job” would be like trying to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to a fence post.
The capacity of human understanding is simply not equal to the task of seeing as God sees.
Sometimes there are things that happen to us in this life in which there seems to be no explanation … the death of a child … the loss of a job after 35 years of service … contracting a serious illness … divorce … or losing all of our possessions and family to some disaster.
We may not be able to understand why, but God knows why.
A third attitude we can take toward our troubles is that of unquestioning resignation. To quote Doris Day, “Que Sera, Sera …” Whatever will be, will be. We can’t change it. We are not to question it. We are just to accept our troubles as God wills.
Some people truly believe we have no right to question God about anything. But is that really true? Is it wrong to ask God why?
Today we hear so many instances of people who experience horrible deaths, diseases, and accidents. We read about them in the newspaper. We see the stories on the television. We know of one person or another who has experienced them. Or, we ourselves may have experienced them.
Isn’t it only natural to request an explanation from God?
• God, why are so many people shooting one another?
• God, why was New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina?
• God, why did our loved one have to die?
• God, we just want to know.
Just as a young child might ask his earthly father why his gold fish died; we have a Heavenly Father who is willing to listen to our questions. On the cross, even Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why …?”
I believe that we are allowed and encouraged to ask God questions. We should not blame Him for our troubles, but we can ask why. We just need to realize that we may not always get an answer, because of our lack of understanding.
The best attitude we can have when we encounter “heartaches by the number and troubles by the score” is that of faith and trust in God.
• Faith means -- believing in God even when you don’t understand why something bad has happened.
• Faith means -- continuing to trust him although there appears to be no justice in the world.
• Faith means -- relying on God even when God seems silent and God’s presence seems far away.
In our text, this kind of faith was expressed by the prophet Habakkuk when he wrote:
“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.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV)
Habakkuk was a prophet of Judah who lived in times that were full of trouble and hard on faith. All around him he saw injustice. The wicked were prospering and the righteous were suffering. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Habakkuk cried out to God for justice, but he did not get the answer he expected. Instead God tells Habakkuk that He was about to do a work that he would have trouble believing if he didn’t see it for himself. God told Habakkuk that he would raise up the Babylonians and use them as an instrument of his judgment against the ungodly Hebrews.
Habakkuk was astonished at God’s answer! You see, the Babylonians were worse than the ungodly people that he’d been complaining about all along. The prophet could not understand how God could use such brutal, wicked people to dispense His justice?
Habakkuk proceeds to question God’s decision, but just as God did not explain His actions to Job, He does not explain His actions to Habakkuk.
Instead God assures Habakkuk that He will punish the Babylonians in His own time. But, until that time comes, the righteous are to trust Him and obey His commandments, even though they cannot understand His reasoning or see any sign that He is alive and at work among His people.
At that moment something stirred in Habakkuk and he confessed his undaunted faith in God. He declared that though everything he’d trusted in and relied on should fail, he would keep perfect faith in the power and providence of the Lord. He would allow no trouble to separate him from his faith.
Habakkuk was convinced that though the ways of the sinful world are beyond understanding and though God’s timing seemed too slow, he would keep on trusting the Lord because the Lord was the only one who had the power to strengthen him and sustain his life.
If Habakkuk was alive today, he might say, “Though I lose my job, my health, and my loved ones, yet I will trust the Lord for my restoration. I will rejoice in the LORD … the God of my salvation.”
We need this kind of faith for the trials and troubles of life. We need this kind of confidence that keeps us believing in God and trusting in Him despite the troubles we face in this life.
We need to be so sure of God that no matter how dark the day or how gloomy the night, we will maintain our confidence in Him … His love for us …. and His ability to restore.
This kind of faith is not easy to come by. It is something that is achieved through practice … patience … and persistence.
Understanding all of these things helped keep Habakkuk believing. And, knowing these next three things will help us increase our faith in hard times.
We need to trust God’s thoughts … trust God’s timing … and trust God’s techniques.
Trust God’s Thoughts
The first thing that will help us increase our faith is to make the decision to trust the thoughts of God without reservation. In Isaiah 55:9, the Lord said:
“For as the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The word “thoughts” refers to more than just the intellectual process. It refers to the intentions, purposes, and plans of God.
Habakkuk had trouble understanding the means of God’s rescue, but he was determined to trust God anyway. We must do the same. Our problem is that we have a street-level view of life and only see one event at a time.
The Lord, however, looks down from above and sees all of life at one glance. He sees both the beginning and the end of things while we see only the present moment. We are victims of our limited, street-level view. We must learn to trust the thoughts of God although we can’t see the end of them.
Trust God’s Timing
Not only are God’s thoughts above ours, but his timing is different from our timing.
If we are going to keep believing during the times of trouble, we must also learn to trust the timing of God.
God wasn’t acting fast enough for Habakkuk, and it shook his faith. Then he learned what we must learn: God has his own timetable.
God has already set the time for justice, and he will surely do what he has determined to do. Justice will come as we await his answer in ever-expectant hope.
Know that God doesn’t measure time as we do. God doesn’t own a clock. God moves on “kairos” time.
Kairos time is defined as a “moment of an undetermined period of time in which something special happens.” In other words, kairos time is “the appointed time in the purpose of God.”
When the children of Israel traveled through Egypt to the Promised Land, it took them 40 years. That is a lifetime to us, but not to God.
Peter tells us, “One day is with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
We may operate on Eastern Standard Time, but God operates on Eternal Standard time … and we must learn to trust His timing rather than our own.
Trust God’s Techniques
Finally, we need to trust God’s techniques. Habakkuk determined that although everything else failed, he would keep trusting the Lord because, as he put it, “The Lord is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me walk upon high places.”
The hind is a mountain-climbing deer known for its strong, steady feet. Habakkuk believed that God would make his feet strong and steady. He would keep him on his feet in the midst of the difficulties and troubles around him.
That is most often the method of God. God doesn’t always shield us from our troubles, but rather He strengthens us in our troubles. Nowhere does God ever promise us freedom from troubles, but he promises to keep us on our feet in spite of them.
Let’s look back at the story of Job. Yes, Job got caught up with his friends in the game of seeking an explanation for his trouble. But, God knew what kind of man Job was.
Job suffered more trouble than any of us ever care to imagine. In one day Job lost all of his possessions through various disasters. His sons and daughters were killed by a tornado that destroyed the house they were partying in. Most of Job’s servants were killed, and Job was afflicted by disease. But in spite of all this, Job continued to worship God (Job 1:13:22).
In the end, God restored all that Job had lost and more. Job was given twice the number of livestock than he had in the beginning. He was blessed with seven sons and three daughters who were described as the most beautiful in the land, he received an inheritance, and he was allowed to live another 140 years (Job 42:10-17).
That’s the way God works. He always gives us “hinds feet” to traverse the heights of our troubles, and just in time.
So no matter what happens to you in this life, keep trusting God.
Whenever trouble comes …
• When the car breaks down …
• Or, that nosey neighbor comes to visit …
• Or, when your favorite pet dies …
• Or, your 401k account shrinks in half …
• When the IRS wants to audit you …
• Or, your spouse walks out on you …
• Or, when the whole world seems to be crashing down upon you …
Remember to trust God’s thoughts … trust God’s timing, and trust God’s techniques.
May God Bless You!