Saturday, January 23, 2010

Eight of the Twelve - A very frank conversation.

It's impossible for me to remember every prayer I pray and every word I hear from God without writing it down. That's why I began to keep a prayer journal back in 2003. In it, I write my words in parenthesis to distinguish my voice from the Holy Spirit. This way, I'm able to see the flow of conversation and remember who said what. If anyone were to read how God and I interact without knowing the purpose or function of the journal, I may be accused of schizophrenia. I can especially see that during the parts where I use the words "Huh? But Lord..."

Journaling prayer isn't a modern innovation, though. Not that I'm putting my spiral notebooks on the same level, but some of the prophets record when God told them to write His words. Among them were Jeremiah, John when he received the Revelation, and Habakkuk.

As a child, I would refer to Habakkuk in Sunday school to see if the other kids knew it was in the Bible. Kind of like that old joke where the preacher opens a message with, "Please turn to the book of Hezekiah," and you laugh at the sound of onion skin paper fluttering around the room. However, in the last few months, I have seen or heard three Bible teachers refer to Habakkuk. It seems times have changed for the journaling prophet. He's at least a little more like Ferris Bueller and a little less like Anthony Michael Hall in the Breakfast Club.

Habakkuk wrote a discussion he had with God in prayer. It started as a complaint and the prophet asked God some pointed questions. After God's response, Habakkuk wrote a humble song of praise. I want to refer to C.J. Mahaney in his book Humility: True Greatness and its discussion of Habakkuk. "I believe we all need to listen intently to Habakkuk so we can emulate his example when our circumstances seem to contradict the character and promises of God. And let me assure you: At some point in your life, you will know circumstances that seem to contradict the character and promises of God, if you haven't already. At some moment in your future, life will not make sense." Mahaney then puts forth an excellent discussion on Habakkuk's transformation from pride to humility. Even though I recommend anyone to read his book, I want to focus on another aspect of this prophet. Habakkuk and God spoke candidly to each other.

I believe this also sets an example for how we can approach God when life doesn't make sense. Chapter 1 begins with Habakkuk's prayer, "Lord, how long must I cry to you without your hearing? 'Violence!' I cry to you, but you don't save. Why do you make me see wrongdoing, why do you permit oppression? Pillage and cruelty confront me, so that strife and discord prevail. Therefore the Law is not followed; justice never gets rendered, because the wicked fence in the righteous. This is why justice comes out perverted."

If this were written in my prayer journal, I may have said it like, "Lord, you told me to pray but it doesn't seem to do any good. People are still sinning wickedly around me and taking advantage of others. They're cruel and quarrelsome. They despise the Bible, the standard of truth, and choose to live their own way. But that affects me and everyone else, God. It's not fair!"

Mahaney points to Habakkuk's prideful tone in this prayer. God does address this, but I want to make note of how He does not reproach Habakkuk for asking the questions. In 1:5-6, God replies, "Look around among the nations! What you see will completely astound you! For what is going to be done in your days you will not believe, even when you are told. I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and impetuous nation, who march far and wide over the earth to seize homes that are not their own." God responds in turn with Habakkuk's prayer and goes on to tell him of the coming judgment. To paraphrase, "Yep, I'm pissed about their behavior, too. That's why I'm sending the terrorists in to level the place and take it over. Their army is stronger, faster, and meaner than yours. Diplomacy doesn't matter to them. But before you accuse me of allowing evil for evil's sake, you should know that I'm going to punish them as well."

Understandably, Habakkuk doesn't like this answer. My prayer journal would have read, "Huh? But Lord... that city they're going to destroy? I live there!" So the prophet asks God to explain Himself and in 1:13 writes, "Your eyes are too pure to see evil, you cannot countenance oppression. So why do you countenance traitors? Why are you silent when evil people swallow up those more righteous than they?" This kind of sounds like back-peddling. "Lord, I know I said we were bad, but these guys are worse. This doesn't make sense to me."

This reads like a very frank conversation between people who know each other. I want Christians to understand that we can come before God with this kind of familiarity, though not necessarily with the same attitude. I've met a good deal of people who tell me they want to hear God's voice. After we talk about how to listen, they often return telling me, "I didn't hear anything." My best answer to them is, "Keep praying. Keep listening." When my dad first began learning how to listen in prayer, he said, "I'm not going anywhere until you say something to me, Lord."

Habakkuk says something similar in 2:1. "I will stand at my watchpost; I will station myself on the rampart. I will look to see what He will say through me and what I will answer when I am reproved." He went somewhere by himself and waited quietly until God answered his questions. The rest of chapter 2 chronicles God's answer.

I'm not suggesting we treat God casually. These frank conversations aren't meant to diminish God's glory and majesty. We are, in fact, to respond in praise like Habakkuk in chapter 3. And like Habakkuk, our relationship with God should cause us to thank Him for Jesus. It's through Jesus' death and resurrection we are able enjoy this kind of intimacy. For Habakkuk, he knew God wouldn't completely destroy His people because of Jesus. In 1:12, the prophet said confidently, "My God, my holy one, we will not die." God had promised over and over to bring Messiah, Jesus, through the Jews. In 3:13, Habakkuk's song repeats this confidence and reminds the listener of God's plan for salvation. "You come out to save your people, to save your anointed one (Hebrew: Messiah); you crush the head of the house of the wicked (a reference to the prophecy in Genesis 3:15), uncovering its foundation all the way to the neck."

If I were to let you read my journals, you would see that my frank conversations with God haven't led me to show Him contempt. When He answers me, my love for Him grows because I understand more of His character and promises. I argue with Him less these days and, I'm happy to say, praise Him more.

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