Monday, August 15, 2011

This Ain't the Blues: A Psalm for Hard Times

"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 1984

Copyright 2011 by Bob Rogers

Our nation has suffered hard economic times since 2008, and now there are new concerns, as our nation’s credit rating was downgraded last week, followed by a drop in the stock market that was the worst since this crisis began in 2008. Unemployment continues to be high, at 9.1% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 5, 2011).

The prophet Habakkuk also lived in hard times, and in the final chapter of his prophecy, Habakkuk 3, he prayed a prayer about it, a prayer for hard times which was a psalm that was sung to the Lord. Notice it begins in verse one with a musical notation "shigionoth," just like is found in Psalm 7, and it ends with a statement, “For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.”

Shortly after we went into the Great Recession, the pop/rock Christian band, Needtobreathe, wrote the same theme as Habakkuk in their song, “These Hard Times.” They sing:

“It's clear enough to me
The ugliness I see
Is evidence of who I need
Give me an answer
Give me the way out
Give me the faith
To believe in these hard times

(“These Hard Times,” from album The Outsiders, by Needtobreathe.)

So string up the guitar, string the harp, and let’s learn to sing this prayer for hard times. This ain’t the blues, this is God’s word:

I. Repeat Your deeds (v. 2)

Habakkuk lived in hard times: war was on the horizon, the politicians were corrupt, the courts favored the rich with their bribes, the people lived in moral anarchy, and the economy was in shambles. The army of Babylon sat to the north, intending to invade Judah. Meanwhile, the evil king of Judah was allowing the rich to get whatever they wanted from the judges with bribery, while families were falling apart from failed marriages and failed crops.

Habakkuk long for Israel’s glory days. He said in verse 2, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known…”

He had read the stories in scripture; Habakkuk knew about how God led Abraham and Moses and Joshua and David; he wanted to see the Lord do it again! He wanted God to renew the glory days in his day. His prayer to God was, “Repeat your deeds.”

After the tragedy of 9/11, Christian author Max Lucado wrote a prayer, called “Do It Again.” Here is part of his prayer:

Dear Lord,
We're still hoping we'll wake up….What a horrible dream.

But we won't, will we, Father? What we saw was not a dream. Planes did gouge towers. Flames did consume our fortress. People did perish. It was no dream and, dear Father, we are sad. And so we come to you. … We've pondered the stories and now we plead, Do it again, Lord. Do it again.

Remember Joseph? You rescued him from the pit. You can do the same for us. Do it again, Lord.

Remember the Hebrews in Egypt? You protected their children from the angel of death. We have children, too, Lord. Do it again….You changed Daniel from a captive into a king's counselor. You took Peter the fisherman and made him Peter an apostle. Because of you, David went from leading sheep to leading armies. Do it again, Lord, for we need counselors today, Lord. We need apostles. We need leaders. Do it again, dear Lord.

Most of all, do again what you did at Calvary. What we saw here on that Tuesday, you saw there on that Friday. Innocence slaughtered. Goodness murdered. Mothers weeping. Evil dancing. Just as the ash fell on our children, the darkness fell on your Son. Just as our towers were shattered, the very Tower of Eternity was pierced.

And by dusk, heaven's sweetest song was silent, buried behind a rock.

But you did not waver, O Lord. You did not waver. After three days in a dark hole, you rolled the rock and rumbled the earth and turned the darkest Friday into the brightest Sunday. Do it again, Lord. Grant us a September Easter..."

This was Habakkuk’s prayer, as well, for God to do it again, to repeat the great deeds of the past.

II. Remember Your mercy (v. 2)

In the last part of verse 2, Habakkuk added another plea: “in wrath remember mercy.”

Habakkuk knew that God was allowing the armies of Babylon to come against Judah as punishment for their sin. He knew they would suffer God’s wrath, so he pled for God to have compassion and mercy on them.

A guy had his picture taken. He was very upset with the photographer and very upset with the picture. He rushed back in to the photographer and said, “Look at this picture of me! This picture does not do me justice!”

The photographer looked at him and said, “Mister, with a face like yours, you don’t need justice, you need mercy!”

That’s exactly the situation that Judah was in during Habakkuk’s day, and it’s still the same for us today. We don’t need justice, but because of our sin, we need a whole lot of mercy. (Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, p. 211)

III. Reveal Your glory (v. 3-16)

In the longest part of the chapter, the psalm paints a picture of God marching from Mt. Sinai in the south, where Moses had received the Law, and going northward as if to meet the enemy. The psalm seems to have a double meaning, alluding back to how God guided Israel in the exodus and wilderness wanderings as they came out of Egypt and went into the Promised Land, and the psalm also appears to show how God was with them still in Habakkuk’s time, as they faced a new enemy from the north, the army of Babylon.

In verse 3, “Teman” was a village in Edom, south of the Dead Sea, and “Mount Paran” is mentioned along with Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the law (Deuteronomy 33:2).

In verse 5, the plagues and pestilence reminds us of God’s judgment on Egypt through the Ten Plagues (Exodus 7-12).

In verse 7, he refers to the Arab tribes of Cushan and Midian in the territory of Edom, where the Israelites came at the end of their wilderness wanderings.

In verse 8, he makes poetic allusions to the plague on the Nile river, and the parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River as the Lord guided Israel to freedom.

In verse 11, he makes reference to the time when Joshua asked the sun to stand still as he conquered the Promised Land (Joshua 10:12-13).

In verse 13, the reference to God crushing “the leader of the land of wickedness” could refer to Pharaoh in Egypt or to the nations of Canaan or could even refer to Babylon in Habakkuk’s time.

With majestic language, Habakkuk’s song reminds me of the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

“He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;

Our God is marching on.”

Back in verse 2, Habakkuk had said he had heard about God but never experienced God. Now in verse 16, Habakkuk says, “I heard and my heart pounded… yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.”

Like Job, who said he had heard rumors of God but it was nothing like actually encountering God in the whirlwind, so Habakkuk is saying he had heard stories about God before, but now he has actually experienced a revelation of God’s glory. So bring on the Babylonian invasion if it has to come. He has learned, as he said in Habakkuk 2:4, that the “righteous shall live by faith.” So if Babylon comes to judge Judah, so be it. He will wait patiently, knowing one day God will bring judgment on Babylon.

We can do the same. Trouble may come. Hard times may be here. But if we can get a glimpse of God’s glory, we can handle it, because we know He is in control. Thus we come to the most inspiring part of the song…

IV. Refresh my joy (v. 17-18)

In verses 17-18, the prophet brings the song home, in one of the most inspiring passages of the Old Testament.

“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 will I rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

As King David said in Psalm 51:12 when he repented of his sin, “Do not take away the joy of my salvation.”

As the apostle Paul said from a jail cell in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”

David could say it in grief, and Paul in jail, and so could Habakkuk in hard times. Habakkuk was praying for a refreshing of his joy, despite his circumstances. He had learned the lesson of 2:4, “the righteous will live by faith.”

Habakkuk could say today,

“Though I work for years without a raise

And the stock market crashes

Though my business fails

And interest rates fall

Though I get laid off

And nobody is hiring,

I’m still singing a song of joy

Because the Lord has saved me.”

Times may be hard, but don’t let the devil steal your joy. Live by faith.

V. Renew my strength (v. 19)

Yet Habakkuk concludes the psalm and concludes his prophetic book with one more prayer, for the Lord to renew his strength.

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

The words translated in the NIV as “Sovereign Lord” are literally the words “Yahweh Adonai.” Yahweh is the proper name of the Lord, often indicated in the Old Testament with all capital letters: LORD, because whenever a Jew saw the word Yahweh, he didn’t want to take the name of the Lord in vain, so instead of saying the name, he said Adonai, which means Lord. But how do you translate it when the two words are used together? The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it exactly as it says, “Yahweh my Lord.” The NIV translates it with the idea that Adonai is stressing the Lordship of Yahweh, so it is translated “Sovereign Lord.” The point is that the Lord is that things may be bad, we may be in hard times, but God is still the sovereign Lord, in complete control. Yahweh is still on the throne as king of kings and Lord of Lords.

Because of this, he gives me strength and makes me sure-footed in my confidence, like a deer that can prance upon the mountain heights.

CONCLUSION: Linh Huynh learned how God can give refresh our joy and renew our strength. In 1980, Linh Huynh‘s parents worked in Saigon, in the South of Vietnam. Vietnam had been sending soldiers to force young men into their military service. Her younger brother was 15 so the family sneaked him out of the country by way of a small boat. After her brother escaped, her parents left their business in Saigon and escaped by boat to Indonesia. They lived in a refugee camp awaiting a sponsor to America.

In 1981, a pastor in Rincon, Georgia sponsored her parents and four children to America. They visited the church but Linh spoke no English and remembers only a tall man with grey hair. Anyway, the sponsor found an apartment for them in nearby Garden City, Georgia. Sixteen year old Linh attended Savannah High School and quickly learned English. Her parents established a business and eventually moved to Atlanta where they still live. Linh attended college. Taking advantage of her language skills and her parents’ business contacts in Asia, she traveled and built an import/export business in Florida. While visiting Hilton Head she met the man she would later marry, a man from Iowa. They moved to Pensacola, Florida where they now reside.

Last Saturday (August 6, 2011), Linh was riding down I-95 with her son, Carson, who is planning to attend the University of South Alabama and pursue an education in the field of medicine. She was thinking about how far they had come, thanks to the love of Christians in Rincon, Georgia. At one time she was a boat person, a refugee of Vietnam. Now she was living a blessed life, riding a yellow Corvette through Georgia. So she got off the interstate and drove 8 miles north to Rincon, and saw some people at First Baptist Church of Rincon. She met Lenny & Beth Pye, and Bill & Lucia Gammon, who were at the Sunday School office that Saturday, and told her story.

Bill Gammon asked the question that had been on my mind…”Do you attend church in Pensacola?” Sadly, we didn’t get a resounding “Yes!” Even though Carson attended a Christian school and remembers being baptized, they were not active in a church. They encouraged them to find a Bible-believing church and get involved. Bill recommended a church to them. They had heard of it and Carson said he would check it out. Bill asked if we could pray with them before they left, they said yes so we did.

As they drove off , Linh had tears in her eyes as she whispered, “I just wanted to say ‘Thank you.’”

Andrae Crouch wrote a song years ago called, “Through It All.”

“I've Had Many Tears And Sorrows,
I've Had Questions For Tomorrow,
there's Been Times I Didn't Know Right From Wrong.
but In Every Situation,
God Gave Me Blessed Consulation,
that My Trials Come To Only Make Me Strong.
through It All,
through It All,
I've Learned To Trust In Jesus,
I've Learned To Trust In God.

Through it all,

Through it all,

I’ve learned to depend upon His word.

i Thank God For The Mountains,
and I Thank Him For The Valleys,
i Thank Him For The Storms He Brought Me Through.
for If I'd Never Had A Problem,
i Wouldn't Know God Could Solve Them,
i'd Never Know What Faith In God Could Do

through It All,
through It All,
I've Learned To Trust In Jesus,
I've Learned To Trust In God.

Habakkuk would agree. How about you?

Copyright 2011 by Bob Rogers

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