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Developing a Thankful Heart
Doubting God
Habakkuk 1:1-12
For these three weeks leading up to and around Thanksgiving, I want us to think about how to develop a thankful heart. And to do that we are going to look in a rather unusual place in Scripture and that is the little Old Testament book of Habakkuk.  Chances are it’s been a while since you thought, “You know, I need to learn how to be thankful so I’m going to study the book of Habakkuk.”
But it has a wonderful message to share with us about developing a thankful, praise-filled life and I trust by the time you hear these three messages God has laid on my heart to share with you, you’ll see what I mean and agree. 
It occurs to me that one of the primary thanks stealers we encounter in life is doubt.  And there are lots of things in life that can cause us to doubt God’s goodness and even to wonder whether or not He even knows who we are or cares about us.
For instance, on Saturday, March 25, 1911 at 4:40 p.m., just ten minutes before closing, a fire broke out on the top floors of the ten story Asch building in New York. One hundred forty five of the 500 employed there died that day, trapped in the building by locked doors and collapsed escape ladders, or jumping to their deaths from the eighth and ninth stories. The investigation of the tragedy resulted in rules like fire exits and sprinkler systems that have since saved many lives.
But that did not save the lives of people's sons, daughters, fathers and mothers who perished in the flames. When we hear a story like this, our thoughts must turn to the question: “Why?”
Or perhaps a more recent tragedy will resonate with you. It was almost exactly 100 years after that fire, on March 11, 2011 at 2:46 p.m., when a massive earthquake struck Japan. Several lives were lost, but the greatest loss of life was yet to come as the earthquake triggered massive tsunami waves, some as high as 90 feet, that swept across low-laying cities and killed 16,000 people. Surely we're not the first ones to look at the devastation of this event and ask the question, “Why?”
In fact, these tragedies point to the two greatest questions that every pastor (if he is honest) struggles with and wrestles with in his ministry. I promise that you do too. The two questions are simple:
1) Why does God allow things like that to happen?
2) Why doesn't God do something?
If you've ever watched the news of a man-made or natural disaster, or if you've had a tragedy occur in your own life or your own family, you cannot help but ask. “Why does God allow six month old babies to die in car accidents?” or “Why doesn't God spare the lives of parents and kids in that fire?” or “Why did God allow that Christian to go through the pain and death caused by cancer?” or “Why didn't God stop that terrible tsunami that claimed the lives of thousands of people?”
And it is that frustration that not only steals from us the praise and thanks we should have for God, it replaces it with a desire to shake our fist in His face.  In fact, I would daresay that all over this world this morning there are people who will go to bed with their head laying on a tear-stained pillow doing just that - shaking their fist in the face of God and asking two questions, “Why did you?” and “Why didn't you?”
And it may very well be that I am speaking to some this morning with that attitude.  And even as I talk about giving God thanks, your mind begins to list all the reasons why you shouldn’t as Satan prompts you to remember all the times God has been unfair or didn’t do what you expected Him to do. 
So if you've ever felt like shaking your fist in God's face or even gone ahead and done it, you weren't the first person and you won't be the last. And that’s why I want to direct your attention to the book of Habakkuk because there we find an entire book of the Bible built around a man who did just that.
Now the book of Habakkuk is definitely not the favorite book of most Christians. In fact, it may be possible you’ve never read it or even part of it. And if you’re sitting next to somebody that knows where it’s located, feel free to look over their shoulder or peek at where their Bible is turned and once you find it, put a book mar or placeholder in because we’re going to be studying from it for the next couple of weeks.
If you need help finding it, let me help you locate its location. It is about half way between the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Malachi which is the end of the Old Testament.
Habakkuk is one of the writers of the Old Testament that is identified as “a minor prophet”, not because their message was less important than others, but simple because the length of the book is shorter. 
Habakkuk carries the distinction of having his name mentioned nowhere else in the Bible except in his own book. And even his name gives us some insight into the theme of his book. The name “Habakkuk” literally means “to embrace” or “to wrestle.” The Hebrew word is a picture of a wrestler in a match with an opponent. That is exactly what Habakkuk is doing in this book. He is wrestling, not only with his faith in God, but in many ways, he is wrestling with the God of his faith.
What makes this particular prophetical book unique from all the other ones is that whereas almost all the other prophetical books are either a long extended sermon, or some kind of a letter, or just a repeated series of warnings against a rebellious Israel, this book is really a dialogue between Habakkuk and God. It is his personal diary of three prayers he prayed to God and two answers he received from God.
And I promise you, if you ever have or you are even now struggling with your faith or even more, struggling with God, having a hard time believing that God cares, that God is even listening, that God is even involved or that God is even good, this book and this series is for you.
If you have ever been mad or you are mad at God, because of something He did or something He didn't do, this book and this series is for you.
If you walked in here today with a hidden fist in the face of God, if you are about ready to say to God, “I'm as mad as you know what and I'm not going to take it anymore,” if the fire of your faith is slowly, but surely being extinguished by the water of doubt, this book and this series is for you.
Habakkuk is wrestling with basically one question. It is a question that has caused him sleepless nights, loss of appetite, and unbelievable depression and discouragement. As he is looking at a world that is collapsing around him; a world unbelievably like the one we are living in right now, where it seems like everything not nailed down is coming apart, where it seems like the bad guys win a lot more often than the good guys, and where the naughty and the nasty seem to always get victory over the neat and the nice, he is wrestling with this question, “If God is good and God is in control why is the world the way it is?”  In fact, Habakkuk, rather than being thankful to God and praising God, is literally drying up in a desert of doubt.
If you have ever been there or you are there or one day you find yourself there, one thing that Habakkuk encourages us to remember is it is not a sin to doubt. We are going to learn from Habakkuk that if you deal with doubt the proper way your faith will come out stronger.  In fact, dealing with the doubt is a giant step forward in developing a thankful heart
I don’t know to whom I should attribute this quote I came across, but I found its word very insightful: 
“If faith never encounters doubt, if truth never struggles with error, if good never battles with evil, how can faith know its own power? In my own pilgrimage, if I have to choose between a faith that has stared doubt in the eye and made it blink or a naive faith that has never known the firing line of doubt I will chose the former every time.”
I hate to tell you the end of the story, but you could probably already figure it out. In the end, Habakkuk's faith stares its doubt right in the eyes and his faith wins. But I think you deserve to know, the battle is difficult. The struggle is hard. The victory is painful. As we begin this incredible journey with a great man, who encountered a great question, and won a great struggle, 2500 years ago, here is what I hope you will see today: When we don't understand what God is doing, we need to remember who God is.
There is a lot to learn on how to deal with doubt, how to handle that face-fist shaking moment from the first few words of Habakkuk. He does two things, both of which you have to do if you are going to win this match. And the first one sounds wrong.  In fact, you may wonder if you can do it or even if you should do it, but there comes a time when you have to
1. Honestly Confront God
Habakkuk 1:1-2
Let me give you a quick historical background of when Habakkuk was written. The two greatest kings that Israel ever had by far were King David and then his son, King Solomon. It was under their rein that Israel became the world's number one super power.
There was a period of time when things were so right, and they were so right with God, that they were literally an invincible nation. Decay and decline set in when Solomon's heart began to leave the Lord. He disobeyed God and began to intermarry with pagan women. He set up pagan shrines and Israel soon fell into idolatry.
After Solomon died, there was a civil war for control of the kingdom and the kingdom actually broke up into two countries: Israel to the North and Judah to the South. Eventually, because of Israel's rebellion they were taken captive by the Assyrians and only Judah was left.
For a time, God spared Judah and even under a good king named, Josiah, brought revival and reform to a nation that had long ago left God, but the revival didn't last. Judah once again turned to paganism and idolatry. They disregarded God's Word and disobeyed God's law. Habakkuk had been praying for God to do something. Prayer, instead of becoming a solution, had become a problem.
Habakkuk 1:1-2, NIV)
Apparently we don’t begin reading at the first of Habakkuk's prayer journal.  It appears he has been praying for a long time before we read this entry. He had been praying a long time about his country. He had been calling out to God, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. His frustration had hit code red level. To put it mildly, he gets downright blunt with God.
In fact, this is what makes Habakkuk a different kind of prophet from every other prophet in the Old Testament. Instead of confronting his people, he confronts God. His problem now is not so much the nation's iniquity, but God's indifference. Almost insultingly he basically says to God, “I know you are not dead, but are you deaf?”
If you have ever had the experience of praying about something and praying about something hard and long and praying about something that you believed it was a no brainer for God to hear and God to answer and got no response, then you know exactly what Habakkuk was going through.
You prayed for the baby to live, but the baby didn't. You prayed for the marriage to make it, but it failed. You prayed for bad things to change to good, but they got worse. You are tired of dialing up God on your prayer phone only to hear these words, “Sorry, this number has been disconnected.”
It is not just God's indifference that is ripping Habakkuk's heart out, but it is God's seemingly inaction.
Habakkuk 1:2-4
Habakkuk is looking at a culture and a country that is literally disintegrating before his very eyes. Habakkuk says, “People are messed up. Cultures are messed up. Families are messed up. Systems are messed up. Children don't have dads. Policemen aren't enforcing the law. Attorneys are not out for justice. They are out for bucks. Judges don't care about justice. They care about power.
Elected officials are lining their pockets with gain and really don't care about the people under them. The innocent get shafted while the guilty go free. If you do the right thing you could get sued. If you do the wrong thing you could get away with it.
It is interesting that he repeats the word “violence” twice. Would anyone deny that we are living in an increasingly violent society, and an increasingly violent nation and world?
From abortion, to euthanasia, to battered wives and children, to shootings in schools, to homicide bombers, to riots in the streets, to genocide, to road rage, and yet we are supposed to believe, in spite of all that, there is a God in heaven who is all good and all powerful. It doesn't compute. It didn't compute to Habakkuk and it doesn't compute to us.
Habakkuk has pinpointed the single biggest problem everyone in this room has with God. Do you know what it is? When we know God can, but He doesn't. God can stop the violence. God can stop the injustice. God can stop the lawlessness. God can stop the oppression, but He doesn't.
When faced with this dilemma generally you will be told to do of two things. On the one hand, there are some people who say, “Whatever you do don't question God. You will offend God if you question God. You don't have any right to question God. Even if you do question God you keep it to yourself.”
On the other hand, there are some people that go to the other extreme and they'll just simply say, “Don't believe in God.”
Why would you believe in a God who can, but doesn't? Why would you believe in a God who should, but won't?” Habakkuk says, “I'm going to do both. I am going to question God even while I believe in God.”
I want you to draw up close and listen carefully to what I am about to tell you. When you hit the wall with God, and there are going to be times you will, when you wrestle with your faith and you wrestle with the God of your faith and you are literally on the ropes you will do one of three things and only one of them is right.
Some people will check out. I know people, right now in our church, who used to come and come faithfully, but they have hit a real rough spot in their life. They've hit a tough spot in their finances. They've hit a tough spot in their marriage. The engine of their life is sputtering and it is not hitting on all eight cylinders and do you know what they have done? They've completely dropped out of church. At the time when they should be in church more than any time in their life they quit. They check out.
Other people will back out. They will just walk away from God altogether. They will say, “I knew this God thing didn't work. I knew this wasn't for me. I knew this wasn't real. I knew this whole business about God was just religious superstition, because if God is who He says He is this world would not be the way it is.” I want to tell you both of those responses are futile and fatal. If you take either one of those approaches you automatically forfeit the match.
We need to do what Habakkuk did. Talk it out. On the one hand, he doesn't hit the panic button and say, “Evidently there is no hope.”
On the other hand, he doesn't hit the snooze button and say, “Well there really isn't a problem.” He doesn't pretend with God and he doesn't pout with God. He wrestles with God. He gets in the ring and he goes toe-to-toe with God.
Are you frustrated with God? Tell Him. Can I let you in on a secret? He knows you are anyway. Are you questioning God? Go ahead and question Him. He knows you are asking anyway. God can handle your questions. God can handle your frustrations. God can handle your doubts.
That is Habakkuk's first prayer. Now we come to God's first answer. Remember this - God always answers prayer. He doesn't always answer prayer in the way we want to hear it and sometimes not even in a way that we can hear it. Sometimes, it may be in a way that we may not even recognize it, but He does answer prayer. God's answer is amazing.
Habakkuk, 1:5-11
Now in effect, what God says to Habakkuk is, “You think things are bad now? You haven't seen anything yet. I've been in the process of answering your prayer for a long time. You just didn't know it. The reason I haven't told you until now is because 1) if I did you wouldn't have believed it; 2) you wouldn't have understood it.”
He says six words to Habakkuk that reminds us of the old adage, “Be careful what you pray for. You just might get it.” Here are those six words, “I am raising up the Babylonians.”Habakkuk 1:6
God says, “Habakkuk you have been praying for deliverance of your nation. I am going to deliver them. I am going to deliver them right into the hands of their worst nightmare.”
I don't have time to unpack all of these verses, but as you read down through this description of this nation let me put it this way. The Babylonians would make North Korea, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban look like Girl Scouts. To this day, there has never been a more ruthless people in history than the Babylonians.
They didn't conquer nations; they crushed them. They raped their women, butchered their babies, and burned their houses and fields. Their method of operation was very simple and came down to two words: devastate and destroy.
What made it all the worse was the last them said about them in verse 11,
Habakkuk 1:11
Their god was their power. Their god was their strength. Their god was their military might. What God was saying was, “You've been praying that I would send revival to your nation. I am not going to send revival, I am going to raise up a pagan, wicked, ruthless nation to wreak havoc and to destroy your nation.”
At this point, Habakkuk probably felt like saying something like this, “On second thought, why don't you just go back to doing nothing? Why don't you go back to sleep? Why don't you just forget the whole thing? Why don't you just forget I ever brought this up?”
You are going to see throughout this book that God's basic reply is a lesson we all need to learn and a principle we all need to remember when we are wrestling with God. Don't ever judge God by what you think you would do if you were God, because you are not God.
Now Habakkuk is in a dilemma. He had reached a desperation point in his match with God. You are going to raise up a nation more wicked than my nation? You are going to raise up a nation more sinful than my nation? You are going to raise up a nation more horrible than my nation to destroy my nation? You are sitting there thinking to yourself, “I can relate to that.
I asked God for one thing and He gave me the opposite. I asked God for a good thing and He sent me a bad thing. I asked God for this and He gave me that.”
At that point, what do you do in your match? Once you honestly confront God then you do this-
2. Faithfully Commend God
Habakkuk is now at a crossroad. What is he going to do? He was so frustrated that God seemingly had not listen to his prayer that God was not answering his request and now he is even more frustrated because he believes God has given the wrong answer. Instead of giving Habakkuk what he wanted for his country God was going to give what He knew his country needed. Habakkuk didn't like the answer.
So, what do you do at that point? Do you check out? Do you back out? Even after you talk it out you are still not satisfied?
Then, you've got to do what Habakkuk did - you've got to go back to the basics. In essence, you've got to go back to the beginning. You've got to go back to the One who was in the beginning. You've got to go back to God.
You've got to remind yourself of who you are wrestling with. You've got to remind yourself of who you are struggling with. You've got to remind yourself of who you are upset with. Remember what we said? When you don't understand what God is doing remember who God is. Who is this God?
Habakkuk 1:12
The first thing you have to remember about God is that He is eternally wise. He is not just any run-of-the-mill God. He is the everlasting God. He was here before all this came into being and He will be here when all this is passed away. He is not limited by time or space.
None of us have ever seen the beginning and most of us will never see the end. God will see them both. From eternity past, to eternity present, to eternity future, God has never made a mistake and never will. That is step one into putting the problem into perspective.
Then he goes on to say this,
Habakkuk 1:12
In one word you just read the number one attribute of God found in the Bible. He is the Holy God.
This is how Holy God is:
Habakkuk 1:13
Don't misinterpret what that means. That doesn't mean that God doesn't see sin. God sees everything. Nothing is hidden from His eyes. What it means is though God sees sin He does not look with approval on sin. We can hear a dirty joke and laugh at it; God can't. We can see a dirty picture and stare at it; God won't. He is a perfectly Holy being.
So as Habakkuk is arguing with God and asking Him in effect, “Are you really doing the right thing here?” He is really reminding himself He must be. He is perfectly Holy. For Him to ever do wrong would mean he would not be Holy and therefore no longer be God and not even God will compromise or deny His own holiness.
Then he goes on to say this,
Habakkuk 1:12
In other words, God is sovereignly powerful. He controls history. He controls destiny. He controls this world and everything and everyone that is in it. Although the Babylonians thought they rose up on their own they didn't. God raised them up. God raised them up for His specific purpose and His specific plan. Now, it all comes together for Habakkuk, at least momentarily.
Habakkuk is in the same position some of you are in right now. I just don't understand what God is up to and based on what I am seeing I can't believe this is the way God is choosing to work in my life. Habakkuk finally got it.
If God is eternally wise then He has a plan - a plan that will work - a plan that will work best and a plan that is right.  If God is perfectly Holy then whatever the outcome of my situation is it cannot be evil. It has to be good. It cannot possibly be the wrong thing. It has to be the right thing.
If God is soverignly powerful then whatever is happening is not by change, not just bad luck, but God is in control. He knows what He is doing and He knows why He is doing it. As hard as it is to believe, if I was God, I would be doing exactly the same thing.
What have we learned so far from this formerly unknown man named Habakkuk?
Three Lessons to Remember:
(1) When I don't think God is listening - He is.
(2) When I don't think God has a plan - He does.
(3) When I think things are out of control -they're not.
When your faith is on the ropes, you are wrestling with God, things just don't make sense, you can't believe that God is involved the way things are turning out in your life and you ask the question, “Why this disaster? Why this tragedy? Why this difficulty?”
Sometimes it is so God can miraculously deliver you. Sometimes it is for God's correcting punishment. Sometimes it is simply to push us on our knees and bring repentance to our heart. Sometimes it is to teach us patience. Sometimes it is to get us to put our eyes on eternity and off of the world. Sometimes it may be for all of the above and more, but there is always a reason.
If you are still not convinced that God can take the greatest evil and turn it into the greatest good and if you are still not convinced that God can take the greatest injustice to bring about the greatest justice, then I remind you of something that if only Habakkuk could have seen probably could have reduced his book down to, maybe, a single verse and that is the cross of Jesus Christ.
When those disciples stood at the cross they were shaking their fists in the face of God saying, “What are you doing? How could you let this happen? I thought this was your Beloved Son in whom You were well pleased? I though You sent Him to set this world right to solve all of our problems and to save us from our enemies.”
Their faith was filled with doubt and it wasn't until Sunday morning at an empty tomb that the light came on - they remembered who God really is and realized He was listening, He was working, and He was accomplishing His purpose all along.
Let’s pray.
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