Yet I Will Rejoice

candle-in-dark

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, 
nor fruit be on the vines, 
the produce of the olive fail, 
and the fields yield no food, 
the flock be cut off from the fold, 
and there be no herd in the stalls, 
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 
God, the Lord, is my strength, 
he makes my feet like the deer’s; 
he makes me tread on my high places.”
(Habakkuk 3:17-19)

For the second week in a row now I write in response to tragedy.

Last week, our little town of Lennox, SD was rocked by the news of a murder/suicide, in which a young mother shot her husband, child, then took her own life.  There remains a heavy burden in our town, like a thick fog that refuses to dissipate even under the noon-day sun.  We have grieved and mourned.  We have gathered as a community to express our sorrow and our hope, but the waves of this tsunami continue to crash in upon us, and will for some time.

Early Monday morning we awoke to the news of the shooting in Las Vegas.  As I write, 59 are dead, and over 400 are wounded.  Already the politicians and talking heads are drawing lines in the sand about who’s to blame, talking about what to do, but never really helping anyone. Stories keep coming in about the terror, the heroism, and the pain of the lives lost. We cry out, as we read in Scripture, “How long, O Lord?!?”

I turned again this week to the book of the prophet Habakkuk.  Habakkuk is a very different book than the other OT prophets.  He never speaks to the people the word of the Lord.  Instead, his book is made up of his questions to God.  Judah had become an absolute mess, morally, spiritually, and politically.  But God’s response was even more troubling. God was bringing the Babylonians to punish Judah for their idolatry.  Perplexed by God’s will, Habakkuk cried out, “How long, O Lord?”  That question, while filled with despair, is also a question of faith.  The prophet saw destruction all around, and he knew that God had promised to be with his people and deliver them.  How could that promise come true when everything around was falling apart?

Through the dialogue of Habakkuk’s book, the prophet learns that God is still in control, that God sits in judgment over all nations and people, and that through it all, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4).

This is why the passage given above is so powerful.  At the end of his book, Habakkuk proclaims his faith in the sovereign God.  His listing of disasters, from the failing figs, olives, and fields, and the loss of the herds, reveals just how bad things were.  No food on the shelves, no harvest coming in.  Those things that you sort of take for granted; they’re all gone.

Maybe we’d write it differently today.  We might say, “Though the batteries won’t charge, and the wifi is down, the cupboards are empty and the credit cards maxed out, though violence takes us and scatters us to the wind…”

How did Habakkuk respond to such loss?  How can we?

Habakkuk says, “Yet I will rejoice!”  You can almost see him there, gritting his teeth, eyes full of tears, hands shaking as he writes.  “Yet I will rejoice!”  He does not rejoice in this disaster, as some blackhearted fiend.  He does not rejoice in retribution.  He rejoices in the Lord.  He knows that God, the Lord, is his salvation and strength.  He knows that those who trust in the Lord “will be like Mount Zion… which cannot be moved, but abides forever” (Psalm 125:1).

Like the prophet, we are taught by God’s Word to rejoice.  Paul teaches the church in Philippi, “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4).  With trust in the Lord comes joy, not in the circumstances, but in the presence of the Lord himself.  He is with you, not just in times of peace, but in the midst of sorrow and loss as well.

We are to say with Habakkuk, “Yet I will rejoice!”  Rejoicing is sometimes done with tear stained cheeks.  Joy is most needed when we are broken, and joy can fill, and mend, the broken heart.

When all else has failed and left you, when the fragile illusion of peace and security have been shattered, hold fast to your faith in the God of salvation, the God who has delivered and ransomed you in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Our God is in the heavens, and He has established His king in Zion, and his name is Jesus.

Hold fast to your faith; not because it is fleeting, but so that your joy won’t be.  The troubles and sorrows of this world crash upon us like the billows of the sea, but Christ stands firm and will not be moved.  Faith in Him is our anchor in the storm.  Cling to the One who has saved your soul, for he will never let you go.

And knowing that He holds you in the palm of his hand, you will find joy!

SDG

My heart is not lifted up…

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and marvelous for me.”
(Psalm 131:1 ESV)

We don’t know the occasion that prompted the writing of the 131st Psalm, but I think we all have been there before.  Just three verses long, this is one of the most heartfelt, humble, and sincere Psalms in Scripture.  It is one of the Songs of Ascent (Psalm 120 – 134) which were used by faithful worshippers ascending Mt. Zion to worship at the Temple.  Ultimately, it is a song of humble trust in the Lord, but it’s how we get there that’s important.

This week has been a tough week for some.  Some have had injuries.  Some have been sick.  Some have had their marriage fall apart around them.  Some have lost loved ones and friends.  Some have had life-changing, hope-shattering news.  Some have been wrestling with an important decision for weeks and months and are still no closer to a conclusion.  Some are dreading tomorrow and the uncertainty it brings.  Some have been wrestling with sin and disobedience in their own lives they just don’t see how God could continue to use them let alone love them.

That’s when this Psalm speaks to us.  “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not too high.”  Commentators suggest that this refers to the humble heart that is not lifted up in pride, and that very well may be the case.  But I hear it speaking also to the humble heart that is too overcome with pain to be lifted up.  It’s almost as if David is saying, “God, the joy of my salvation has been so assaulted by the crisis of this situation that it is impossible for me to raise up my eyes to you, to lift my heart in praise.”  Maybe this was part of David’s prayer when his first child with Bathsheba died; perhaps he prayed this when his own sons rebelled against him.  We don’t know the occasion, but we know the feeling.

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me”
(Psalm 131:2).

David, here, teaches us that it is important, when our souls are overwhelmed, to quiet ourselves and trust in the Lord.  When we read this verse, it is easy to overlook that word “weaned,” and simply picture a young child being comforted in the arms of his mother.  A beautiful and comforting picture, indeed; but not what the Psalm is saying.  James Boyce writes:

When David says that his soul is “like a weaned child,” he is not saying that he has always been content with God or even merely that he is content with God now.  He is reflecting on the difficult weaning process in which a child is broken of its dependence on its mother’s milk and is taught to take other foods instead.  Weaning is usually accompanied by resistance and struggle on the child’s part, even by hot tears, angry accusing glances, and fierce temper tantrums, and it is difficult for the mother.  But weaning is necessary if the child is to mature.  David is saying that he has come through the weaning process and has learned to trust God to care for him and provide for him, not on David’s terms but on God’s terms.  (Boyce, James.  Psalms: An Expository Commentary (Vol. 3) (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998).  1150.)

“O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131:3).

Whatever the crisis that David faced, when he “calmed and quieted his soul,” he could return to hope in the Lord.  Knowing that “God loved him and would care for him even if it was not exactly the way he anticipated or most wanted, he came to love God for God himself” (Boyce).  Rather than loving the gifts that God has given, rather than merely believing in God, David calls us back to loving God himself, believing God – taking Him at His word.

Whatever you may be facing when you read this, if your heart is downcast, calm and quiet your soul, putting your hope in the Lord, for He is faithful and good.  Only God is worthy of your hope and trust.  Only God will never let you down.  He cares for you, and will provide for you, even in ways you cannot possibly hope for or imagine.  As the companion Psalm 130 says in its conclusion,

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.
  (Psalm 130:7-8)

SDG