Introduction: Recalling a holding-pattern
I can recall one vacation several years ago in which we had went to visit some family. After saying our goodbyes, we proceeded to drive the ten-minute journey to the major interstate highway that would take us home. As soon as we got onto the on-ramp, we found ourselves in a traffic jam that stretched for miles. For two hours we were in a holding pattern – not moving an inch. Admittedly, we all were getting anxious, wondering what the “hold-up” was. We heard overhead helicopters, saw flashing lights – but nothing more. Gradually we began to move. We would later hear that an armed gunman had aimed shots at another motorist over a road-rage situation. The state troopers had to shut down traffic to address the situation and ensure everyone’s safety. Holding patterns are never enjoyable. Oftentimes, a holding-pattern is never understood due to not having the far- bigger picture.
As we approach this National Day of Prayer for 2020, we come upon what is perhaps one the most unique National Day of Prayer in its 69 year history. Never in the history of any National Day of Prayer has there been a worldwide pandemic that has affected people's lives to the scope of COVID-19. As we approach this situation in prayer to God, having a time in which Christians can come together to pray is the most appropriate response we can give. We are all in a holding pattern. I recently heard a well-known pastor remind his listeners to not waste this time of solitude.
As we turn our attention to the prophet Habakkuk, we find a prophet who is wrestling and trying to comprehend exactly what is going on in his world. He sees around him a people who have fallen into moral and spiritual decline. I heard a preacher once describe Habakkuk’s situation in this way:
“Habakkuk is like a wrestler grappling with the problem of evil who becomes a watcher, waiting on his God to act. This watcher, by the end of His prophecy, becomes a worshipper who praises God for granting him strength and faith to trust him.”
I often refer to Habakkuk as the “Job” of the prophets. Much like Job in the Old Testament, Habakkuk did as his name signifies - he “clung”. He clung tightly to God while experiencing internal turmoil from all the circumstances that he saw around him. Chapter 2 of his prophecy finds Habakkuk put into a holding pattern – which I suspect all of us find ourselves today. Listen to what is described in Habakkuk 2:1-4
I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved. 2 Then the Lord answered me and said, “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run. 3 “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay. 4 “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.
You can see this in the first three verses. My question to you and me this day is this: what do we do when God places us in a holding pattern? There is no question in my mind that we are in such a circumstance. What we need is a word from God as to how we can not only function from day to day in this current situation, but more importantly, what we will do in the wake of this predicament. I find in this second chapter three marvelous truths that give us handles with which we can grab onto as we exercise faithfulness to God during our holding pattern.
1. The Power of the Gospel. Habakkuk 2:4.
Let me point to you first the power of the gospel we find this in Habakkuk chapter 2 verse 4 which reads: “Behold as for the proud one his soul is not right within him but the righteous will live by his faith.” The latter part of verse four is found three times in the New Testament. The first reference is in Romans 1:17 where Paul writes: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith." The second place we find this verse is in Galatians 3:11 “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” And then the final time we find Habakkuk 2:4 quoted in the New Testament is in Hebrews 10:38 which reads: "But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him."
All three of these New Testament verses underscore our need for the Power of the Gospel.
Now to understand a little bit further the message of Habakkuk, we need to consider the background of this prophecy. Habakkuk ministered during the time in which the southern Kingdom of Judah and its capitol Jerusalem in moral and spiritual decline. The year was 620 b.c, and the people were 15 years away from being conquered by the Babylonian empire for the purpose of captivity and exile. The only bright spot that shone during this time was a godly king by the name of “Josiah” (you can read about King Josiah’s reign and the background of Habakkuk in 2 Kings chapters 22-23).
The reason I point your attention to King Josiah is because he literally embodied what we find here in Habakkuk 2:4, namely, he as a righteous man lived by faith in God. King Josiah clung to the power of the Gospel. God's grace affected him to trust the LORD as a young lad. As a grown man, leading a nation amidst difficult circumstances, the king would lead his people in a revival and renewal.
Josiah’s example provides a picture of what it looks like when we “walk by faith, and not by sight” (see 2 Corinthians 5:7). Moreover, Josiah is in the biological bloodline that would lead to the bringing about of the humanity of Jesus as the incarnated Son of God. Such a life that “lives by faith” is like a neon sign, pointing to Christ. When we find then that when we are in a difficult holding pattern like we are now, we must cling onto the power of the gospel. But let me point your attention to a second truth that helps us to get through holding patterns such as this and that is…..
2. The promise of God's glory. Habakkuk 2:14
We find these words in Habakkuk chapter 2:14 - which reads: “For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Now mind you, when Habakkuk was writing these words, God was actually delivering to him what would be a scathing judgment against the Babylonians whom he was going to send to judge the Southern Kingdom of Judah and its city, Jerusalem. It seemed as if the future was nothing but a hopeless and helpless mess. Yet, God gave this promise that the day would come when the entire earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. We come to the New Testament and we find such statements like this in many spots. For example, we read in 1 John 3:1 –
"See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. (2) Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is."
And then the Apostle John writes in 1 John 3:3 – “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure." It is our hope in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ that sustains us in the here and now as we look forward to his coming in the sweet by and by. When we are going through any valley of shadow and darkness, the only place to which we can look is up (see Psalm 121). Surrounding such a shadowy valley are the mountains over which shines the coming glory of God. It is when such light begins to illuminate the sky that we find our ability to trek through such spiritual valleys, supernaturally enabled by God (see 1 Corinthians 3:16). So whenever we find ourselves in a holding pattern we look to the power of the gospel and the promise of God's glory but let me point out to you one more truth that we find in Habakkuk 2, and that is….
3. The present awareness of God's activity. Habakkuk 2:20
In Habakkuk 2:20 we read - "but the Lord is in his holy temple let all the earth be silent before him." There is something about waiting on God and seeing what he is going to do that causes us to collect our thoughts and our faith which may very well had been shattered into a million pieces. We read in Isaiah 40:30-31 –
"Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, (31) Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary."
There is something about waiting on God and being still that causes us to get refocused on him. There is a wonderful book of written prayers by a group of late sixteenth and seventeenth century Christians called: “The Valley of Vision”. In one of those recorded prayers, we find an excerpt which expresses to God how we can cope through difficulty by gaining awareness of God through silence:
"I bless thee that the court of conscience proves me to be thine.
I do not need signs and wonders to believe, for thy Word is sure truth.
I have cast my anchor in the port of peace, knowing that present and future
are in nail-pierced hands."
The prayer continues....
"Thou art so good, wise, just holy,
that no mistake is possible to thee.
Thou art fountain and source of all law;
what thou commandest is mine to obey.
I yield to thy sovereignty all that I am and have; do thou with me as thou wilt.
Thou hast given me silence in my heart
in place of murmurings and complaints.
Keep my wishes from growing into willings, my willings from becoming fault-finding with thy providences,
and have mercy on me."
As Isaiah 26:3 reminds us (as we find it in the KJV) – “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”
Thus, as we look to the power of the gospel, the promise of his glory as well as increasing our awareness of his presence, we will find strength while we are in our holding pattern.