Wrestling With God
Over the past 40 days we have been given plenty of time to talk. And we have talked, alot. There have been discussions about viruses, and stay at home orders. We have talked about doctors, politicians, and essential workers. We have talked about respirators, PPE’s, face shields, gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. We have talked about stimulus packages and checks. And we have talked about economic impact, environmental impact, and global impact.
But one of the things that we have failed to talk about during this global quarantine is the emotional impact that we are suffering from since we are experiencing a lack of physical contact. You and I were hardwired from creation to have a certain amount of physical contact, we need to shake hands, hold hands, give and receive hugs. Even those of us who are not very touchy people, require a certain amount of physical contact.
That’s why the only way to sooth a child is by holding them, cuddling them, or hugging them. I remember when the boys were younger they would often just need to come and sit in our laps or ask for us to pick them up and hold them. They were pretty indiscriminate about whether Trista or I was the one holding them, that is until they went to pre-school and they met those horrible other kids who told them only girls hugged their dad. So they stopped hugging me. But you can’t escape your nature, they still had this need to be close, so we traded hugging for wrestling.
Sometimes, the boys had this need to get close and since boys didn’t hug their dad, we would wrestle. It’s not just our family, that’s universal. I get to watch some of our young boys wrestle their dads every week here in the building. Sometimes it physically, and sometimes verbally, but if we need to get close to someone and we don’t know how to we wrestle. And it’s not just other folks, there are times we wrestle with God. Throughout the history of mankind, everyone of us have wrestled with God at one time or another. My friend Patrick Mead often says, “some people have wrestling matches with God, I have season tickets.” I totally get it.
Whether you realize it or not, over the last few weeks many of us have been wrestling with God. And while God did not send the Corona virus as some kind of punishment for mankind, I have faith that at this very moment He is redeeming our brokenness. Maybe God has been using this time of isolation as a way for us to wrestle with Him because you can’t wrestle with someone from across the room.
If you have had your own wrestling matches with God over the past month, don’t despair. This time of struggling is not because you lack faith. The pages of Scripture have a lot of stories of faithful men and women who wrestled with God: Jacob, Esther, Elijah, Ruth, Jeremiah, and the prophet Habakkuk.
This morning I want to spend our time together looking at the Book of Habakkuk. The best way to find this minor prophet is to turn to Matthew and go left five books. The reason I believe this is a book we need right now is because not only did Habakkuk wrestle with God, his name means wrestling.
Habakkuk was not your normal prophet. All the other prophets served as the voice of God among the people. But Habakkuk was different. He doesn’t address the people, actually he only talks to God. The book is an intense dialog between the prophet and God, with Habakkuk arguing that God’s ways are unfathomable and even unjust. He poses two questions, which God answers, and the book ends with Habakkuk singing a song of praise. Maybe, these question will sound familiar with the way you have been feeling as you worry about the coronavirus.
I know that you are ready to get back together to worship, but Habakkuk reminds us that we have been given this time to get ready. Usually, we treat corporate worship as some kind of pep rally that we use to get us ready to go out into the world. We don’t believe that we can bring our pain and grief into our worship because those are unpleasant emotions. We have been told that corporate worship is the place where we are supposed to hide and deny our suffering and instead try to force a celebration.
But Habakkuk calls us back to authentic worship that allows us to express both weeping and praise. God gave us all of our emotions, and they complement one another. Without weeping, we can never experience joy. Without praise, weeping is nothing more than a denial of hope and grace. True worship, moves us from grief to joy. That’s what we see in the book of Habakkuk.
The book opens with Habakkuk asking questions: How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! (1:2) I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. (1:3) Habakkuk is basically accusing God of not doing His job, being indifferent, and inactive. Have you had those similar feelings over the past 40 days? It may be helpful here for me to remind you that it’s not unspiritual to voice your questions to God. He’s big enough to handle your cries and your concerns, your fears and frustrations.
The book of Laminations is Jeremiah expressing his frustration and doubt to God and God doesn’t send a lightning bolt from heaven to strike Jeremiah dead, instead God hears him and draws him closer. It’s okay to question God. If you don’t ask, you might miss out on some surprising answers and ultimately short-circuit some growth God wants to accomplish in your life.
It’s much better to ask God where He’s been than it is to wear a fake smile and act like everything’s going great in your life when you know it isn’t. It’s better to express it to the Almighty than it is to suppress it and live in agony. It’s important to understand that God can use any situation, even painful events like pandemics to get our attention.
Habakkuk is troubled, and God invites him to wrestle. Which is exactly what he has been doing, he has been praying about his problem. But he does not get an answer. So in his wrestling with God he asks, Lord, how long do I have to keep this up, crying out to you like this? You do nothing about it. I have been watching for a change, watching for something to happen, yet nothing happens.
Have you asked over the last 40 days, how long is this going to last? Have you wondered if God is listening to you? Maybe you have been invited to wrestle with God, to get close and you just haven’t realized it yet.
God answers Habakkuk in verse 5, Take a look at the nations and watch what happens! You will be shocked and amazed. For in your days, I am doing a work, a work you will never believe even if someone tells you plainly! Basically God says, I have been answering your prayer, but you are not listening to my answer because it is not the answer you want to hear. You are accusing me of being silent, but My answer is so different from what you expect that you won’t recognize it or believe it when I tell you.
How many of us have been praying that God would put and end to all of this, that there would be an immediate vaccine or cure so that we can get back to normal? How many of us have gotten frustrated after praying for 40 days and we begin to wonder if God is even listening. Maybe, like Habakkuk God is telling us that He has been answering us all along, but because it is not the answer we want, we can’t hear Him.
What if God is giving us this time so that we can wrestle with Him? What if this quarantine is actually a gift from God, and we have been guilty of wasting the gift. Don’t waste your quarantine. This is a defining moment in our lives and history. Use this time to know, to show and to share the love of God. Maybe in this time of wrestling God wants you to express your frustrations.
In this time of anxiousness, maybe God is calling us to remember the history we share with Him, so we can be encouraged in our present and future. Maybe we have this time because we have started to take God for granted. Or maybe God is allowing us enough time to wrestle with Him so that we will get rid of all the things that we have tried to use as substitute for Him in our lives.
Habakkuk admits that he doesn’t understand what God is doing. From his perspective God is not making things better, God is making things worse. God said He was going to use the Chaldeans to fulfill His will. The Chaldeans were not were not an important people. But you know a little about them because their capital city was Nineveh, the same Nineveh that Jonah refused to go preach to. The same Nineveh that was filled with bitter, hostile, ruthless and cold-blooded people.
Habakkuk is confused about all of this, he has been struggling because God was not moving, and now his troubles are doubled because He has no idea what God is doing and why He is doing it. Honestly, there are times when we need to acknowledge that we have no idea what God is doing, that His plans don’t seem to make sense. God is so unorthodox. One of the things that you learn about God after you live with him for a while is that He is always doing the unexpected. It is not because He gets a kick out of confusing us, but because He has so many options that our mortal minds cannot comprehend Him or His ways.
So Habakkuk does something very important, He took a moment to step away and reflect. He has a new issue with God; he doesn’t think it’s fair for God to use wicked people like the Chaldeans in His plans. But he doesn’t react emotionally to his problems. Instead he goes back to what he knows about God and His character.
You and I cannot let panic grip our hearts or some terrible fear to enter our minds and paralyze us. We must take a moment to stop and think about what we know about God. What has your history with God taught you about His personality and His love for you?
We need to use this time in the quarantine to deepen our commitment to God. Habakkuk does this in chapter 2. I will take my place at the watchtower. I will stand at my post and watch. I will watch and see what He says to me. I need to think about how I should respond to Him When He gets back to me with His answer. (1)
Habakkuk gets ready to hear God’s answer, even though he’s not going to like what He has to say. We can learn from this same process. If you have questions and complaints, don’t stop there. Express them and then open your ears and heart so that you can hear God’s voice.
I find peace in that fact that when God answers Habakkuk, He never really answers his how long or his why questions. Instead, the Lord has him focus on one thing, living by faith. In chapter 2:4: “…But the righteous one will live by his faithfulness..” God is reminding Habakkuk, hold on to me, because I know what I’m doing.
Maybe this is a good time to remember that we can worship God regardless of what is happening in the world. Our worship is not based on our present situation, but on Who is watching and loving us through our present situation. You can love God when you are in pain or even when you experience loss. In fact, the most authentic times of adoration are often when we feel the most awful. Because our faith grows in those moments when God invites us to wrestle.
Finally we come to the end of chapter 2 and God basically says, Habakkuk, why don’t you stop talking and trust me? And then in chapter 3 Habakkuk comes up with this genius idea, he decides to stop talking and and trust God. I need that reminder from time to time.
As we make our way to the table this morning, I want to encourage you to be honest with God, yourself, and one another. We need to forget this idea that the church is a place for perfect people. Everyone that takes communion today has spent time wrestling with God. We have all had times when we didn’t get the answer we longed to hear, so we refused to listen. And yet everyone of us are so deeply loved by God that He invites to draw close to Him, even if it means we need to wrestle for a little while.
As we gather at the table this morning, I want to pray a prayer adapted from this wonderful little book of Habakkuk. I hope that the words of someone who has spent time wrestling with God will help us in our current time of wrestling. It is my hope that this prayer of lament can lead us to praise the Lord as we gather at the table.
How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. There is no justice and the wicked far outnumber the righteous.
I have heard all about you, Lord. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by. And in your anger, remember your mercy.
Was it in anger, Lord, that you struck the rivers and parted the sea? Were you displeased with them? No, you were sending your chariots of salvation! You went out to rescue your chosen people, to save your anointed ones. You crushed the heads of the wicked and stripped their bones from head to toe.
I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us. Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
May the Lord bless you until we meet again.