24 May How Long, O Lord?
Many of us may be looking forward to the end of our circuit breaker, which thankfully will not be extended as the government has announced. However, despite the lifting of the circuit breaker, much of life still remain the same, with significant restrictions still in place, and church gatherings still not permitted. As we read such news, we can’t help but ask, “How long, O Lord?” It is not only about not being able to meet up with church brethren, family members and friends, but it is also about the impact on our livelihood. How much longer will this last? When exactly can this COVID-19 saga end?
We will be able to relate to Habakkuk’s prayer, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?” <Habakkuk 1:1> Although the issue we lament about is different from Habakkuk (he lamented about injustice and violence while we groan about a virus and its repercussions), yet the sentiments are similar. We lament whenever we experience or see suffering.
Look around and be amazed by God’s work.
But God gave a promising reply in <Habakkuk 1:5>, “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” Yes, who would believe that something good can come out of a bad situation? Who would believe that God is at work even when things seem out of hand? But God says, “look…and watch…and be utterly amazed…for I am going to do something…” When we are perplexed and shaken, God tells us to open our eyes and be deliberate in seeking out God’s work, for God is at work even if we cannot see anything happening, or we see Him do something yet we cannot understand it. That was the case for Habakkuk, God answered his prayer to deal with the injustice, but God strangely used a wicked nation, Babylon to do that. This is totally incomprehensible. How can God use a wicked nation to execute justice?
Likewise, through a most unthinkable tool – the coronavirus, God is also working right now. We may not fully fathom His reasons, but from His word and His character, we know this pandemic is not without His good reasons. So God’s first answer to Habakkuk’s “How long?” question, which applies to us as well, is to look around and uncover God’s amazing works in the midst of adversities. The more unlikely the situation is, the more intentional we have to be in seeking out something good from the apparent bad. Are people now trusting less in human wisdom and more in God? In the uncertainties and fears, are people drawn nearer to God, who is the source of life and peace? Are people loosening their grip on earthly, temporal things and seeking things above? Is there inner transformation in God’s people? God is at work now, even before the pandemic is over, if only we can look around to observe and confirm more.
The lesson of waiting in between times.
Next, God continued in His reply to Habakkuk that the second thing he needed to do was to wait. <Habakkuk 2:3> For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
God once again reassured Habakkuk that though it takes time to see His word being fulfilled, it will not be proven false. However, like Habakkuk, we may find ourselves living in between the times, between the promise of God and the realization of that word. This in-between is the hardest to get by. When one first hears the promise, he will be elated, comforted and hopeful; and certainly, when that promise gets fulfilled, he will be overjoyed. But what about the in-between – the wait, which can sometimes take very long? Now man usually wants an immediate answer. But God tells us that we need to wait sometimes. The beauty of it all is that in God’s hands, the wait is not a disruption, but a part of His plan. Even in the midst of the wait, God fulfils His good work. Sure, it takes time for God’s promise to be realised, but God would not let the wait be gone to waste too.
In fact, waiting grooms not just our faith but also our humility. It shapes us into a humbler posture, reminding us that we are subjects to our King and Creator, rather than being our own masters. Humility is the willing submission to wherever God places us and whatever lot He gives us. Humility is the heartfelt acknowledgement that God owes us nothing even when He does not do things our way and in accordance with our timing.
The righteous will live by his faithfulness <Habakkuk 2:4>.
Importantly, God went on to tell Habakkuk part 3 of His answer, that is, the righteous will live by his faithfulness. This is God’s instruction for us during the wait. He does not intend for us to wait aimlessly, for that will only make the wait doubly dreadful. But the way to get through the terrible time of waiting is to live a life being faithful to God’s covenant. That is, to keep loving God and loving men regardless of what the circumstances are. Think about it, how would God not show mercy to someone who loves Him and hopes in Him, how would God not have compassion on someone who cares for souls and loves others as God has commanded? God will certainly have mercy! When we have a heart of loving God and men, we will not only have the confidence that God is with us, but we will also see His practical help in our lives.
By His reply, God wanted to move Habakkuk from doubts to faithful living. As God goes about doing His work, we have our roles to play during the wait as well. Instead of looking far ahead to the outcome we are waiting for yet is out of reach now, we can look to the “today” that we already have, so that the wait will not feel so long. Today, God is still upholding the entire universe; today, all creation is still declaring the glory of God; today, God still loves His people. And so likewise, today, we also have our cross to carry, people to care for, duties to fulfil, prayers to make, godly training to be engaged in, and so on. The righteous will live by their faithfulness. By being faithful to God, we will get through, no matter how long the wait, or how dire the situation.
Praise God in the wait.
Despite his doubts, eventually Habakkuk could praise, “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. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” <Habakkuk 3:17-19>
Habakkuk had wrestled with tough questions, but his eventual response was still to trust God wholeheartedly, not because there were circumstantial evidences to trust, but simply because God Himself is trustworthy. Now this is the highest form of trust – to believe even when we cannot see, yet knowing that an invisible God is not an absent God.
Dear brothers and sisters, as we wait and hope for a better tomorrow, let us not forget that there are also God’s grace and purpose for the present. May we also learn from Habakkuk to rejoice in the ever-present and faithful God even during the long wait.