Contentment – Week 2

By November 8, 2020Sermon Notes

Last week: The wisdom of Contentment

Today: How do we proactively pursue hearts that are growing in contentment?

-Especially, when life is disappointing or confusing…when what we see around doesn’t seem to align in some ways with what we believe to be true about God.

Habakkuk

Lived about 100 years after the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had fallen.

*Israel was split in half by actions of the foolish son of Solomon.

Habakkuk lived just before the Southern Kingdom(Judah) fell to the Babylonians

He loved God, his theology (beliefs about God’s nature and character) were correct…they were formed from God’s word, his actions in history, and personal experience.

He was puzzled by God…when he looked around at the world…his beliefs did not match what he saw.

HARD STOP:  This is a common human fork in the road.  There are many variations on this but in general there are two paths.

One path:  I will Judge what I see by what I know of God…faith

Not the blind faith path…the faith path.

Other path:  Judge God by what I see…feelings

I suspect that even for followers of Christ…option two is very common.

But Habakkuk took option 1…he trusted God, not his own emotions and perceptions.

He did not, however, do so passively…but he proactively took his struggles to God.

He didn’t do so easily…as we will see…contentment like this is a hard fought battle.

Let’s take a look at how this unfolded:

The book is organized like this:

  1. His 1st question
  2. God’s answer
  3. His 2nd question
  4. God’s answer
  5. His declaration of faith

FIRST QUESTION:

How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!”

but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me;  there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. Hab. 1:3,4

Habakkuk is struggling to align some of his basic beliefs about God’s character with what he sees in the world around him.

He looks around at his own nation and he sees people clearly violating the covenant…defying God’s will for them.

He is dumbfounded by God’s seeming lack of action to do something about all that he sees.

Do you think this is a pretty common struggle?

What about in North Korea, or Iran, or China…where Christians are being dragged by their own governments off into prison or to death.

And even for those who aren’t looking, like the prophet was, on a national scale but on a personal scale…God why does my life look like this if you are who you say you are?

“How Long, O Lord”  is a lament…not “Okay, give me a time frame here”…

This is a rhetorical question…a cry of sorrow and trouble.

Habakkuk is not afraid to pose his question to God.

There are those in Scripture whose questions to God are more accusation than questions…it seems not to go well for those individuals.

It’s NOT because God is petty but because he is great and wise…too wise to try and answer those who foolishly presume to be his peer…or his judge.

Job stepped over the line when he struggled with God’s seeming injustice in his life  and he digressed from asking questions to making accusations of God.

Job didn’t get answers to accusations like Habakkuk did to his questions…

God answered Job accusation with his own questions… “Where were you when I made the world.”

Job…you are not my peer…or my judge…stand down.

Habakkuk was not accusing God…he recognized God’s greatness.

But out of his love and relationship with God…he was taking his struggles and questions to God.

“God, here is who you are…and here is what I see…help me make sense out of this.”

Taking our questions to God, or struggles to him…is a very appropriate, very wise thing to do…it builds relationship.

However, God’s answer to Habakkuk was more puzzling than his initial question.

Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.  5,6

The Babylonians were a terror to the nations they conquered.

Habakkuk knew the stories…he had no doubt met refugees from nations the Babylonians had destroyed.

He is dismayed… “What a minute, I’m asking for justice, for you to act…but this punishment doesn’t fit the crime…you are talking about using people who way more wicked than my own to judge us.”

So, he asks his second question…

O Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment;  O Rock, you have ordained them to punish. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

First, notice the relationship “My God, my Holy One.”

Then then his confidence “We will not die”

Even though God will use Babylon as his instrument of judgment…Habakkuk holds on to trust in the covenant promise God had made with his people…they will not perish.

But…here is the question…

“Why are you going to let the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

So, his first question centered about God’s apparent inactivity to deal with the injustice rampant in his own country.

“God, why do you tolerate what is clearly wrong?”

God’s answer was…

“I am going to deal with it…using the Babylonians.”

His second question is:

“Wait, what…that doesn’t help…you are the Holy One…you don’t tolerate sin and evil…so how can you use the Babylonians as an instrument of justice?”

It’s a real question…and he settles in for an answer.

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint 2:1

Now, Habakkuk stands by for God’s response.

The terms used are those of a sentry, standing watch.

The prophets served in the role of watchmen…they most often stood on the wall, looking IN at God’s people…speaking to God’s people about God’s character and purposes.

Habakkuk has reversed this…he stands looking to God…watching to see how the covenant God will act and he is considering how he himself will answer God.

God does answer this second question, and the answer is…

“I will bring judgment on the Babylonians for their own sin.  They are my instrument of justice but they will themselves will experience justice as well.”

Look at part of God’s answer…

“Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.  2:12-14

Don’t worry…the Babylonians will not be rewarded for their wickedness…all their efforts, all their conquering will just be fuel for the fire that will come on them.

They exhaust themselves for nothing.

When I read and watch videos of the movements of the Nations I am stunned by how true this verse is.

I have been studying the history of Armenia because the Kansas National Guard has a partnership with them in the national Partnership for Peace program.

I recently watched a video that shows the shifting national boundaries of nations in and around Armenia…change, change…rise and fall.

Yes, the Nations exhaust themselves for nothing…Babylon is a tool of God’s purpose…and they will experience justice for their own crimes.

Then Habakkuk is given a vision of the distant future…the Day when justice will reign supreme.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. 

The Babylonians would in fact conquer Judah in just a few years and take many people into Babylon as exiles…many would be killed.

But in about 70 years…the Babylonians would be conquered by the Persians

(Then the Persians would fall, and so on and so on)

So, the nation God used to bring judgment suffered judgment themselves.

Let’s land in Chapter three…remember Habakkuk stood by waiting for God’s response…and pondering carefully how he would respond back to God.

Here we find that response…it is a Psalm, a hymn of praise.

Look at verse 1

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. According to shigionoth

Shigionth (Shig ih nuth)…a musical term used rarely and only in cases of complete reliance on God’s faithfulness.

So Habakkuk’s response became a worship song…words put to melody to help shape God’s people’s perspective.

I can imagine they sang this song in Babylonian captivity.

His carefully considered response to God is not…

“Okay, this seems like we are going in a circle…you judge injustice in my people by using the Babylonians, then you will judge injustice in the Babylonians using another people (Persians)…where does this all stop?”

No, he has heard God… he understands it all stops in the future Day of the Lord when the earth will be covered with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the seas cover the earth.

His carefully considered response…that was written down, used in corporate worship was this:

First, he recalls what God had done in the past and asks him to show mercy again.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you…and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy

The next few verses (3-15) are a poetic remembering of God’s deliverance of his people in the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan.

Habakkuk is “remembering” back to what God has done in the past…he has the recorded history of God’s actions to help him get perspective on his own time.

We have all that he had and more…we have the history of Israel, the Gospel, and the birth of the church…in our Bibles.

When we look around and wonder why what we see doesn’t seem to line up with what we know of God…we must go back, more carefully, more consistently,  into God’s word…

Then go back out into the world, go back online, go back to the current news, and the current crisis, and the current anxiety we are feeling…

And make all of that subordinate, not superior to what we have seen in God’s word.

We must take the fork in the road that judges current events through the lens of God’s word…rather than judging God’s word through the lens of current events.

This is true both of national and international events…as well as very person events…things of great importance in your own life.

How will you see them?

Now lest you think this was easy for Habakkuk, listen…

I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.  3:16

His is experiencing physiological effects of what he is contemplating…he is terrified, his physical body gives way.

Don’t miss the impact and importance of verse 16 as we move to the finale.

He understands that Babylon is coming…he knows what that will mean…it will be terrible.

So terrible that the thought makes his legs feel like jelly.

“Yet”, he writes “I will wait quietly (meaning confidently, not complaining, or questioning) for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.”

God is in charge…he will do what he said…judgement will come on those bringing judgment on us.

The “day” here is “little d” day not capital “D” day.

There is the D day…when the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord

There is the d day…when God will judge the Babylonians.

This is not THE Day of the Lord at the end…this is a day of the Lord when God will, as promised, judge the Babylonians.

This did happen, the Persians whipped the Babylonians and they allowed God’s people to return to their homeland.

Habakkuk has asked his questions…the answers may not have been what he hoped for…but he reveals that his relationship with God is personal and healthy…with his response.

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.

Again, if you blow through verse 16 you will miss the reality of this powerful declaration of faith.

This is not the easy, unreflective reply of a person who doesn’t understand what he is saying.

He is not sloganeering, throwing around bumper sticker faith statements.

He is terrified…his physical body is feeling the effects of the stress and anxiety.

It is from there we have this…

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.

This is a total collapse of the economy.

This is the Babylonian invasion…in personal terms…he is going to become hungry, without any visible evidence of provision.

YET…he writes…I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Is this position unrealistic?

No, it is absolutely necessary…we must all be moving this direction in our hearts.

You don’t have to feel this to believe this and to move this direction

Again…back to verse 16…what did he “FEEL” in his body? What emotions did he have? What stress chemicals poured through his veins?

He felt his heart pounding, his lips quivering in emotion, his bones were crumbling (aching), his legs gave way.

What did he choose to believe…what did he do at the fork in the road?

Did he trust his feelings and judge God by current events and moods or…

did he trust God and judge his feeligns and current events by his faith?

Let’s go back, just for a second to chapter 2, verse 4.

When God is answering Hababbuk’s second question about how could use evil Babylon to judge his people.

Embedded in that response is this “The righteous shall live by his faith.”

This verse, quoted by Paul in Romans 1:17 was used by God to lead Martin Luther to faith in Christ and sparked the Reformation.

There, in this OT prophetic book is the gospel foretold.

The righteous of every generation…of every time…and every circumstance…COVID, Racial unrest, elections.

WILL LIVE BY THEIR FAITH.

Not by what they see or feel…but by what they know…by faith to be true…because God has revealed it and he cannot lie…and his purposes cannot be thwarted.

Let me read it again…adding on verse.

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 Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.

Look at that last verse…remember when he reflected on what was coming to his nation…his physical legs were like jelly, unable to sustain him.

But here his “faith legs” are like those of a deer…able to run effortlessly on dangerous terrain.

Quite the contrast…walking by feelings and human flesh…legs of jelly.

Walking by faith…feet like a deer bounding through dangerous terrain without faltering.

So, I said we would talk about how to move in our hearts into contentment…I’m finally there. 

The answer has been there throughout this book, but the final clue is in the last verse…a verse we could easily ignore as superfluous.

Ready to be deeply moved?

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Do you see the answer as to how to move into the wisdom of contentment in that verse?

Habakkuk lived this out, and wrote this down…then was to be turned into a sort of “national anthem”

Something to be sung, with instrumentation…over and over.

Why…because the way to become a person whose heart is becoming content with God…we must be people who resolutely fill our hearts with worship.

Worship as in surrender, submission, expressions of confidence and gratitude.

It’s not complex…to become content we must feed our faith truth

We cannot merely feed our feelings what they demand we feed them.

Feel what you feel…but believe what is real.

They are often not the same things.

If your actual legs become jelly at the prospects before you…feed your faith legs truth.

Being at the end of yourself is a terrifying prospect…one we resolutely avoid…

But it is not cliché, that the end of self is where we encounter God’s provision most profoundly.

One last time…would you read this with me?

Even if you don’t really believe it or feel it…will you say it as a confession of what you want to be true in your life?

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.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Jeremy Fisher says:

    I find this to be a very good sermon. It is exegetical, and its intended application is delivered in a real life/world context. Terry has spoken often on this theme over the years, and it never fails to have an impact on me. I just wish I could have heard these things when I was much, much younger.

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