Learning to Sing Again

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Habakkuk 3:1-2, 16-19

Life may have beaten you up or knocked you down, but I believe it is possible for you to learn to sing again.

In the heart of the brief prophecy that bears his name, we find Habakkuk meditating on the greatness of God: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab. 2:20, rsv). When Habakkuk says that the Lord is in his holy temple, he doesn’t mean that the almighty God of the universe is sitting inside a building in Jerusalem. (Every believer, then as now, understood that, in the apostle Paul’s words, the true God does not live in temples made by human hands.) No, Habakkuk isn’t trying to tell us something about God’s location but rather about his presence and activity in the world. What he means is this: God is on his throne, God rules, God is in control; and, yes, God is present with us in the world.

HABAKKUK’S QUESTIONS

Habakkuk was bothered by the unfairness and inconsistencies of life. He would have agreed with the words of the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is something meaningless that occurs on earth, the righteous who get what the wicked deserve and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve” (8:14). As his little book opens, Habakkuk has been struggling to make sense out of all that he sees going on around him. His questions spill out, one after another. Why are the people of God suffering so much? How could we, the chosen people of God, have produced such a corrupt and wicked society? Why doesn’t God seem to answer our prayers and rescue us? How come the evil are prospering while the innocent are being destroyed? Why don’t things ever seem to change or get better? These are many of the very same moral and spiritual problems we struggle with whenever we stop to ponder the senseless tragedies that fill the newspapers every day – or that strike even closer to home.

In the middle of all this questioning, the prophet had a vision. Habakkuk saw in prospect the future triumph of God’s justice and truth. He heard God’s promise that the answers to all his questions were forthcoming. He affirmed the greatest lesson of life: that those who trust in God are made righteous through faith, and they will live forever. And finally, Habakkuk remembered that the Lord is ruling over the world right now, and that we should all bow before him in silent submission and faith, believing that God is both with us and for us and that therefore all things must work together for our salvation.

Habakkuk has the answer to most of his questions, at least in an intellect sense. But now he searches for some kind of emotionally satisfying response. So Habakkuk decides to pray, and the third and final chapter of his book is the result. Actually, Habakkuk 3 is more than just a prayer. It’s a psalm, or song. Here is how the Bible introduces it: “A prayer of Habakkuk, the prophet, on shigionoth (3:1, niv). Now, I don’t what the Hebrew term shigionoth means. As far as I know, nobody does – at least not precisely. But it could be the name of a tune. Later on, at the end of the chapter, there’s another note about the stringed instruments which should accompany this song (v. 19). So even if we don’t recognize the tune, we can follow along with the words, as this servant of God teaches us how to sing again when life’s experiences may have shaken our faith in God.

HABAKKUK’S SONG

Habakkuk’s song begins on a quiet note. “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; in wrath remember mercy” (3:2). The best way to begin when you want to speak to God is with a note of humility, even awe. It’s good to realize that God is high and we are low. God is big and we are little. God is holy and we are not. So we stand in awe of him.

Next the prophet gets down to business by looking backwards. “I have heard . . . of your deeds, O Lord,” he says. Habakkuk then starts to recite them. If you’re having trouble singing the song of faith because of what’s going on in your life at present, the best thing to do is to start remembering. Look back into the past, call to mind all the things that God has done for you. Recite them over again, and don’t limit yourself just to the things God has done for you since you’ve been born. Remember all the things he did for you long before your life even began, stretching all the way back to Bible times – and beyond.

What the biblical writers most often recalled were God’s mighty deeds of salvation. It is simply astonishing how often believers in the Old Testament liked to re-tell the story of the Exodus, the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Habakkuk does it again here in a kind of poetic form in his third chapter. Over and over the psalms too recite this greatest of acts, when God brought Israel out of the house of bondage, out of the land of Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea, kept them alive in the wilderness, and finally delivered his people into the land of Canaan. God did all that. He did those things, but he also did even more. You see, you and I have an advantage over Habakkuk because we know the next part of the salvation story. It involves a stable in Bethlehem, and a cross on Golgotha, and an empty garden tomb, and tongues of fire in an Upper Room, and the gospel going out to the ends of the earth. God did all that too.

“I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (v. 2). The gist of what Habakkuk prays is simple: “God,” he is saying, “I’ve heard all about your mighty acts in the past – how you saved our people out of Egypt, and led them by Moses, and did all those great miracles. But what about today; what about us? Do the same things for us that you did for them!” It almost sounds presumptuous, as if Habakkuk is saying to God, “Salvation history is all well and good, but I want to see you do a miracle and save us right here and now.”

I think what Habakkuk really means is something like this, “Lord, what I really want is to experience your presence in my life for myself, just as the great saints did in the past. Please do your work in me, even though it may hurt sometimes. I don’t ask to be let off easily. I only ask that if you judge me, if you discipline me, if you use painful experiences to make me grow, that you will also show me your mercy.” That’s the key thing, isn’t it? Anyone can ask God for his blessings. Even an atheist will cry out to be delivered from a crisis. But God’s work of salvation in us involves more than just getting us out of trouble. We not only need to be saved from our sins; we actually need to be delivered from them, to have our behavior so transformed that our lives begin to mirror the likeness of Jesus Christ. That requires a long, sometimes painful process of spiritual discipline and personal change. We have all asked God to work according to our plans; to prove that he is real when we are finding it hard to believe, or maybe to perform a miracle to help us escape a painful ordeal. But spiritual maturity means coming to the point where I can ask God to work out his plan for my life, whatever that may entail for me.

HABAKKUK’S CONFESSION

In the closing verses of his book – the climax of his prophecy – Habakkuk writes one of the most beautiful and moving confessions of faith in all of scripture. Now recall his situation. He is writing just a few years before Jerusalem will be destroyed by a powerful enemy. He has been praying and singing and rehearsing God’s great deeds of salvation, and he has started to feel better. His faith is being renewed. But when Habakkuk turns from his devotions back to the everyday world he lives in, nothing external has changed. The threat of invasion still looms on the horizon. He, along with all his family and friends, is still facing the violent destruction of his home and his city, the loss of all his possessions, and for many folks, even the loss of their lives. Things have not somehow miraculously turned around. Life hasn’t suddenly become sunny and cheerful.

So what does Habakkuk do? Well, the first thing he does is shake with fear! “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled” (v. 16, niv). Trusting in God is great, but it isn’t magic. It does not automatically make all our problems go away – or remove our very natural reactions to them. You can still be faithful and at times fearful.

But then Habakkuk speaks this magnificent confession of faith:

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.

vv.17-18

Notice what Habakkuk is describing here. He’s painting a very graphic picture of hard times. This is life at its most desolate. There are no buds on the fig tree, only dry, lifeless branches. No grapes on the vine, no crop from the olive orchard, no produce from the fields, no sheep or cattle in the barns.

What if that is your situation today? No income, no resources; the cupboard is bare and the paycheck is gone. What then? What do you do when you pray and believe and trust God and try to live a decent life, but still you’re lying in a hospital bed, sick and frightened and in pain, and the doctor tells you he’s sorry but there’s nothing more they can do for you? What do you say when your husband informs you he’s just tired of being married to you and nothing is going to change his mind? Or your boss says he regrets to inform you that you no longer fit in with the company’s plans for the future? Or your investment turns sour and the security you were counting on for the future suddenly evaporates? Or you miscarry the baby you’ve been trying to have for ten years? Or you don’t get the job or the promotion or the girl or the award or the prize? What do you do say when the fig tree does not bud?

A lot of people say, quite literally, “To hell with it,” and turn their backs on God. But Habakkuk says this: even though the crops have failed and there’s no livestock in my barn, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior” (v.18). Habakkuk is still singing.

I was listening once to a Russian believer speak about what it was like to be a follower of Jesus Christ in the midst of the bad days of Soviet communism. “We learned to sing our joy in a minor key,” he explained. Habakkuk’s song was like that. It’s easy to sing praises to God when everything is great. “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.” Sometimes that is so. But a better measure of our faith is whether or not we can still sing when life stinks, when every tune is in a minor key. Habakkuk doesn’t sing because he’s happy or because things are so great. Habakkuk sings even though things are the way they are, because he knows his Savior.

You know, the real test of faith is how you meet loss. I was asked to visit a lady, a stranger to me, whose husband had recently died. As we talked for a while, it became obvious that she wasn’t a Christian. I found it difficult to speak about comfort or hope, because she didn’t have any. She told me that her one consolation was reading. Reading the Bible, I wondered? No, she liked to read Thomas Hardy, the bleak 19th- century English novelist. Something light or escapist I could have understood, but Thomas Hardy? As if there isn’t enough suffering in real life; you need to read grim, pessimistic novels in addition? But, you see, when people don’t know God, the best they can do in the face of suffering is muster a sort of dull resignation. Resignation is when you give up hope. You accept the inevitable, because there’s nothing else you can do about it. You simply resign, the way a chess player resigns when he sees that the game is lost.

Biblical faith is not the same things as resignation. Faith is different. Faith sings. Faith even leaps. It climbs like a deer. “The Sovereign Lord is my strength,” sang Habakkuk; “he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19). His life just then was down in the depths, but Habakkuk himself could run up the mountains because he knows God will be his strength. What was it that the apostle Paul said? “We are more than conquerors through [Christ] who loved us.” Not just conquerors; we’re hyper-conquerors. Believers don’t just win over all the troubles of life. We win with style!

You know something? If you have been taking a beating recently, you can learn to sing again too – you really can. Habakkuk can teach you. Why don’t you try at least humming along with him today?