There is a storm on the horizon. The black, billowing clouds have formed and are raging in anticipation of wreaking havoc on its victims. The thunderous noise sends chills down your spine. There is no hiding, no turning back the impending onslaught of coming disaster, and fear grips your soul. Oh, the storm is not the kind forecast by weathermen on the nightly news. The storm is not a tornado or hurricane stirred by atmospheric disturbances, but the storms of life that rock our worlds and holds us hostage in the grip of fear and anxiety. The storms of the soul and heart are more powerful than any atmospheric agitation, more destructive than any tornadic test or howling winds of a hurricane, and strike at every heart and every home.
The storms are not as predicable as those that batter our homes and cause floods and destruction upon property and even lost lives. The storms of life come in all forms and strike at us from every direction. They attack our physical health as the doctor tells us that he is sorry, but there is nothing more that can be done. They strike at our home and family as a mother or father, a husband or wife, decides that they no longer want to honor the vow of faithfulness they pledged at the altar before the God who they once believed led them to the love of their life. They strike at the illusion of control as we find ourselves powerless to turn the heart of a rebellious child back home. They strike at our sense of security as the company that we’ve given our time and loyalty to for years decides to downsize and we get caught in the “fat” that is trimmed away. They strike at our walk with God as we pray in faith for the solution for our problems, but we still suffer?and in our suffering conclude that God has not heard our prayers. Or worse yet, that He just doesn’t care.
The storms of life oftentimes lead us to conclusions that are so wrong. They cause us to lose our sense of confidence in the God of history who has made promises to sustain and care for His people regardless of what may come. They cause us to question God’s sovereignty and lead us to believe that we are all alone in a cruel and uncaring world. The storms of life are not meant to bring about these things in our hearts and minds, but so many people’s faith becomes a tangled mess when they are racked with pain.
I read a story this past week about a woman who said that she grew up poor, desperately poor. She said, “I grew up in a cold water flat, but I married a man who had money. And he took me up to a place where I had flowers, and I had gardens, and I had grass. It was wonderful. And we had children.”
While living her dream she wondered how things could get any better for her Cinderella-like life. The lady then experienced a dramatic change of circumstances in her life. She said, “Suddenly I became physically sick. I went to the hospital, and the doctors ran all sorts of tests. One night the doctor came into my room, and with a long look on his face, said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this. Your liver has stopped working.’ “I said, ‘Doctor, wait a minute. Wait just a minute. Are you telling me that I am dying?’ And he said, ‘I, I can’t tell you any more than that. Your liver has stopped working. We’ve done everything we can to start it.’ And he walked out.”
She said, “I knew I was dying. I was so weak, I had to feel my way along the corridor down to the chapel of the hospital. I wanted to tell God off. I wanted to tell God, ‘You are a shyster! You’ve been passing yourself off as a loving God for two thousand years, but every time anyone begins to get happy you pull the rug out from under them.’ I wanted this to be a face-to-face telling off of God.”
In an instant the dream-like existence of the lady had turned into her worst nightmare. She described her journey to the chapel by saying. “And just as I got into the center aisle of the chapel, I tripped, I swooned, I fainted. Lying on the floor I looked up, and there stenciled along the step into the sanctuary, where the altar is, I saw these words: ‘LORD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME A SINNER.’ I know God spoke to me that night. I know he did.”
She didn’t say how God communicated this to her, but what God said was, “You know what this is all about. It’s about the moment of surrender; it’s about bringing you to that moment when you will surrender everything to me. These doctors, they do the best they can, but they only treat illnesses. I’m the only one who can cure you.” And then she said, “There with my head down on my folded arms in the center of the chapel, repeating, ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner,’ I surrendered to God. I found my way back to my hospital bed, weak as I was.”
“The next morning, after the doctor ran the blood tests and the urinalysis and so forth, he said, ‘Your liver has started working again. We don’t know why. We don’t know why it stopped, and we don’t know why it started up again.’ And I said in my heart, but I know. Oh but I know. God has brought me to the brink of disaster, just to get me to turn my life over to him.” (John Powell, “Prayer as Surrender,” Preaching Today.)
The prophet Habakkuk knew the turmoil that twists the mind and pierces the heart. He lived among a people who had turned their backs on God and who plotted their own destinies in life?or so they thought. When he cried out to God for some kind of intervention he had no idea that God would answer in the way He did. Habakkuk saw the injustice going on among his people so he took his complaint to the Lord. Take a look at Habakkuk 1:2-4 with me.
2 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? 3 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. 4 Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4 NIV)
Habakkuk is complaining to God – “Why don’t you do something?” How often have we uttered those complaints? We see injustice, we feel the pressure of things beyond our control, we pray and read God’s Word, but things don’t seem to get any better so we complain to God. Did you hear the tone of Habakkuk’s voice? He is pretty bold isn’t he? He’s pretty accusing isn’t he? Have you ever spoken to God with such passion in your voice, such frustration oozing from your heart?
I’m glad that God included in His Word the raw emotions of His people as they related to Him in times past. If we were going to write about the saints of God then we would polish a little here and take the edge off of some of their speeches and prayers. We would make God’s prophets a little more kind and gentle, a more pious people. God gives us His servants with their surly speeches and sinking hearts. Just so you aren’t tempted to believe that Habakkuk was the only prophet who ever spoke to God with such fire and passion let me share with you something the prophet Jeremiah said. In Jeremiah 20 we find these words.
7 O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. 8 Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. 9 But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:7-9 NIV)
“Lord, you deceived me! I thought that if I surrendered my life to you that everything would work out all right. I thought that I would have smooth sailing ahead. I thought that the bullies wouldn’t bully me any more, that my boss would always appreciate me, that my family would never be ill, and that my marriage would turn around. Lord, you deceived me! It’s just not working out!”
God had failed Jeremiah’s expectations and He often fails our expectations doesn’t He? We want healing for those we love, not death. We want success for those we love, not failure. We want happiness for those we love, not heartache. We want peace for those we love, not frustration and anxiety and anger.
God doesn’t behave in the way we want Him to or even expect Him to oftentimes, but we need to realize that He has already alerted us to this fact. In Isaiah 55, God told His people.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)
Like a parent who has the best interest of his or her child at heart, God is often misunderstood by His kids. Why would a parent who really loved his son give him the most horrible tasting cough medicine on the market? Why would the mother who really loved her daughter not allow her to go out with the boy that every teenaged girl dreams of dating? Why would the dad who really loves his little girl keep her from going places and doing things that “all” of the other kids her age doing? It is sometimes hard for a child to understand the love of their parents isn’t it? No more difficult than for us to understand the love our Father has for us.
There have been times with my sons that I have had to make unpopular decisions about their life. They were mad. They felt like I was being harsh or unfair. They thought I was keeping them from having fun. I knew all of these things and so I said, “Hey buddy, I know you don’t understand what I am doing right now and I wish you could better understand. I want to ask you something: Do you know that I love you?” They wouldn’t hesitate – “Yes.” Then I would tell them, “When you don’t understand the decisions that I make concerning your life you have to remind yourself that your mother and I love you. Don’t ever forget that our decisions are based on our love for you.” I’m sure that knowledge hasn’t made our decisions any easier for them to accept, but it has preserved the relationship that Connie and I share with our kids.
Habakkuk didn’t understand God’s decision concerning Judah. When he cried out for God to do something he never intended for God to bring an enemy, a godless enemy, to punish Judah for her sin. He knew that the people of Judah weren’t living like they should, but they weren’t as bad as the Chaldeans. That is why Habakkuk responds in prayer like he does after the announcement. Take a look at Habakkuk 1:12-13.
12 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. 13 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? (Habakkuk 1:12-13 NIV)
You can still hear it in his voice can’t you? Habakkuk is still frustrated, he is still wondering what in the world God is doing. He says, “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” Habakkuk is sharing the frustrations of his heart with God; he’s being honest with God. In the words of our modern-day psychologist?he is venting. God doesn’t obliterate Habakkuk. God doesn’t send him to his room or defrock him of his prophetic role. Isn’t it amazing that the Sovereign King of all creation will listen to us when we “vent,” when we air our complaints. Most of us would never speak to our superior at work the way that Habakkuk or Jeremiah speaks to God. You need to know that God invites us to come before Him with an honest heart. He already knows what we are thinking, but He wants us to come to Him to share our joys, sorrows, frustrations, praise, and questions.
There is a great lesson for us in this. We need to talk to God. We need to pray and our prayers don’t have to be calculated pious speeches. We can speak to God from the heart and know that He hears us. I know people that don’t want to have anything to do with God when their life is out of sorts and they feel that God has let them down. It’s not that they don’t believe in God, but they are having a cold war with Him. Habakkuk cries out, he moans, he questions, and it is not a pretty sight.
I want you to notice something. God is at work in Habakkuk even though he is frustrated and uncertain of what God is doing. God is at work in Habakkuk and God is at work in you and me as long as we continue to go to Him, even if it is not a pretty picture. When we get to chapter 3, we see a change take place in Habakkuk. Read along with me in verse 1-2.
1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth. 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; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:1-2 NIV)
When we come to chapter 3 we don’t hear the frustration resonating from Habakkuk’s voice like we did earlier in the book. There is a humility in Habakkuk’s voice that was just not there earlier and I believe the humility came about because Habakkuk kept talking to God, he kept pouring out his heart before the Lord, he kept asking his questions, and kept reminding himself of God’s character even though his situation seemed to be uncharacteristic of God. God brought about a change in Habakkuk and He can bring about a change of heart in you and me as well.
The Lord wants us to come to Him as we are, but He delights in a humble heart. Throughout Scripture we are reminded of what God can do with a humbled heart. In 2 Chronicles we read,
14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)
The context of this beautiful Scripture is set at the dedication of the Temple by King Solomon. It was a glorious day, but God reminded His people that if they turned away from Him and sought to live their lives independent of His grace and guidance then there would only be one way back – through a humble heart of prayer and repentance. The same principle is true for us today.
During Isaiah’s day there was a turning away of the people’s hearts and God reminded the people that He is holy and exalted in all of His ways. In Isaiah 57 God also tells His people that He chooses to dwell with a certain segment of society. Take a look with me.
15 And this is the reason: God lives forever and is holy. He is high and lifted up. He says, “I live in a high and holy place, but I also live with people who are sad and humble. I give new life to those who are humble and to those whose hearts are broken. (Isaiah 57:15 NIV)
What kind of God do we serve? We serve the only true and living God who reigns forever, who lives forever, who is holy and majestic in all of His ways. He is high and lifted up, but He says, “I also live with the people who are sad and humble. I give new life to those who are humble and to those whose hearts are broken.” The Lord is drawn to those who are humble; He singles out the broken and humbled, and comes to their rescue.
In the New Testament, Jesus told a story that illustrates the special relationship of those who are aware of their sinfulness and are humbled that God would even know their name. Turn with me to Luke 18 and let’s take a look at the story Jesus told.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NIV)
We love to talk about what we deserve, our rights, and what is “fair” and “not fair,” but God is not impressed by all of our talk, our arrogance. God is impressed with a humbled heart that knows it is undeserving, that knows its great need. Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
When we get to the third chapter of Habakkuk we find a prophet who has had a change of heart. No longer is he “correcting” God, but he is acknowledging God’s glory. Habakkuk says,
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; in wrath remember mercy.
Habakkuk knows that he may not understand God’s ways, but God’s ways are unchanging and His ways are best for His people. Now Habakkuk says, “I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord?In wrath remember mercy.” God’s judgment was coming to Habakkuk and his people, but Habakkuk’s heart was changed by God and he chose to trust in God even though he couldn’t understand it all.
God uses all kinds of situations in our lives to teach us to trust in Him. The troubles that we encounter are not meant to destroy us, but they come so that we might lose all confidence in ourselves and those around us and completely surrender to Him alone. The hardships of life will come to every life, but each individual will respond in different ways. Some will draw back and curse God as an uncaring tyrant who doesn’t care. Others will say, “There is no God.” We may be confessing atheists, but that will not stay the wave of troubles that will come our way. Others will find their strength sapped, their will broken, and their tenacity tangled in heartache and pain and respond by crying out to God in faith, “In wrath remember mercy. Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The Coors name is known around the world. They had never been a particularly religious family, but they would have described themselves as people who believed in God. They made their fortune in the beer industry and their money was their real security. Adolf Coors IV loved his life as a boy. He grew up with a wonderful father and a mother who loved her children. They lived in a beautiful home that Adolf Coors III had designed and mostly built with his own hands. It was a large ranch style home in the beautiful Rockies. The Coors family lived a charmed life by all estimates of those who knew them.
Things changed on February 9, 1960. Adolf Coors III was kidnapped and held for ransom. His family was terrified and Mrs. Coors told the kids that they would probably never see their father again. Seven months later Mr. Coors body was found on a remote hillside. The beer magnate had been reduced to a mere pile of bones as his son describes it.
Adolf Coors IV, then fifteen years old, lost both his father and best friend. For years the young boy who had been taken to church and dropped off by his parents to hear sermons on forgiveness and love harbored a deep hatred for the man who killed his father, Joseph Corbett. Mr. Corbett was sentenced for the slaying, but that did not relieve the sting of hatred Adolf Coors IV felt for the man.
Then in 1975 Adolf Coors became a Christian. While he divested himself of his interest in the family beer business, he could not rid himself of the hatred that consumed him. He prayed to God for help because he realized how his hatred for Corbett was alienating him from God and others. Then one day, the Lord moved Adolf to visit Colorado’s Canon City penitentiary and tried to talk with Corbett. Corbett refused to see him. Coors left a Bible inscribed with this message: “I’m here to see you today and I’m sorry that we could not meet. As a Christian I am summoned by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to forgive. I do forgive you, and I ask you to forgive me for the hatred I’ve held in my heart for you.” Later Coors confessed, “I have a love for that man that only Jesus Christ could have put in my heart.” The sting of his father’s death and his own inability to forgive a fellow sinner led Adolf Coors to a real faith, a humble faith in Jesus Christ.
I don’t know the circumstances of your life. I don’t have any idea what tragedy or loss in your life has led to a wall of resentment and anger in your heart towards God, but I want to encourage you, I want to invite you today to cry out to the God who can raise you from the depths of despair and disappointment. Won’t you invite Jesus Christ to come into your life and begin to tear down the wall that separates you from God?