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Choosing to rejoice even in hard times

Posted Dec 5, 2017

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Daily Scripture

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree doesn’t bloom,
            and there’s no produce on the vine;
        though the olive crop withers,
            and the fields don’t provide food;
        though the sheep are cut off from the pen,
            and there are no cattle in the stalls;
18 I will rejoice in the Lord.
        I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance.
19 The Lord God is my strength.
        He will set my feet like the deer.
        He will let me walk upon the heights. 

Reflection Questions

The prophet Habakkuk lived just before Babylon’s armies invaded Judah, leveled Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon’s beautiful Temple. There was much corruption and evil in Judah. When Habakkuk asked God to do something about it, he said God’s reply was “I am about to rouse the Chaldeans [Babylonians]” (Habakkuk 1:6). The prophet wrestled with despair. But in today’s passage, he resolved that, no matter how bad things got, he would “rejoice in the God of my deliverance.”

  • At the end of his short book, Habakkuk pictured utter disaster in an agricultural land. No figs, no grapes, no olives, no crops, no sheep or cattle—it’s hard to imagine how things could get much worse. Did “I will rejoice in the Lord” mean the prophet would say, “Oh, boy—it’s great that we have no food”? What might “rejoice in the Lord” mean when life is difficult?
  • Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist, said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” How does his statement relate to the kind of determined faith commitment the Hebrew prophet wrote down some 2500 years ago? How can joy be something you choose, not something that just happens?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, even the “first world problems” we sometimes talk about can feel bad and discouraging to me. Teach me how to trust in you as deeply as your puzzled but faithful servant Habakkuk. Amen.

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Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at Vibe, West and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

Habakkuk is a fairly obscure book of the Bible that introduces a fairly central idea to our faith: The just shall live by his (or her) faith (Habakkuk 2:4). This is not an empty request from this prophet. He opens his book talking about the rise of the Chaldeans, better known today as the Babylonians, and how God will use them to punish Israel for their iniquities. It’s unknown exactly when this book was written, but it’s thought to be right after the Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 598 BCE.

You have to remember, the ancient Israelites had a long history of captivity. They lived as slaves for Egypt for over 200 years. The Assyrians had conquered Israel over 100 years before the Babylonians started their conquest, and they were actually still an Assyrian state when the Babylonians invaded.

Habakkuk openly discusses with God his frustration of falling under foreign rule again, just as things seemed to be settling down into some semblance of normalcy under the Assyrians. But Habakkuk eventually learns that he has to live by faith even when it doesn’t make sense, even when it doesn’t seem to be doing him any good. That’s the context of his psalm at the end of his short book. So when he says, “I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance,” in 3:18, it’s not an easy thing to say. It’s not something that makes sense as he’s on the verge of entering into captivity again. But he resolves to give thanks to God anyway because he has faith that even though things look awful now, God will eventually deliver his people.

We talk a lot about what gratitude can do for us, but we can’t forget what it means. Giving thanks and having faith go hand in hand—having faith allows us to give thanks for things we haven’t received yet, but know will come. Giving thanks in tough times is an act of faith and trust in God to deliver us, just as he did the Israelite nation throughout history. It’s not easy. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense. But it’s a vital step and important discipline in moving from a faith of perplexity and doubt to a solid belief that God will come through for us.

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