When You Lose Your Way (Habakkuk 3)


On Sunday, March 3, fifteen years ago, a United Airlines flight bound for the airport in Colorado Springs crashed nose first into a neighborhood park, killing all 25 people on board.

Larry Crabb, the brother of one of the 25 people on that plane, was sitting in church when an elder tapped him on the shoulder. “You have an emergency phone call,” he whispered. Larry followed him to the church office and pressed the flashing button on the telephone.

“Larry? This is Dad. Bill’s been in an accident. Phoebe just called from the airport. We don’t know how bad it is, but she’s really shaken up. Could you get down here?”

When he got to the airport he was told, “Flight 585 has crashed just north of the airport. There are no survivors.”

You’d expect Larry to be overcome with grief, and he was. But this experience also shook his faith in God. It’s an experience he’s had to deal with many times since then, when he was diagnosed with cancer a few years back, when his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The question is this:

How can an unmarried man or woman struggling with loneliness find God? How can a bereaved parent enjoy God’s goodness? How can a bankrupt businessman with a large family rest in what he knows about God? How can a discouraged, confused, and unmotivated teenager find enough confidence in God to continue living?

I guess the question is this: when things fall apart in your life, how can you continue to worship God?

It is reasonably easy to worship God when things are going well. There are days that I am overcome with how blessed I am. On those days, when work is going well and I’m relaxed and there’s money in the bank to cover the bills, and everyone is healthy, it’s relatively easy to worship God.

But many of us know how hard it is to worship God when life falls apart, when you have questions for God and you haven’t received a good answer.

A boy once asked his father, “How many people in the world, “Dad?” He said, “I don’t know, son.” He said, “How many stars in the sky?” He said, “I don’t know, son.” “How many fish in the sea?” “Don’t know, son.” “Dad, you don’t mind me asking you all these questions, do you?” “No, son. How are you going to learn if you don’t ask questions?”

That is probably how a lot of us feel: we ask question after question of God, and it seems that we just get a shrug of the shoulders from heaven. How do you worship God when you have questions of God, and the questions just aren’t getting answered?

Fellow Travelers

Well, I think part of the answer might be in enlisting some help from someone who’s been through this experience and survived it. I’m talking about fellow travelers, people who have had their lives fall apart, and who still have managed to hold on to their faith. They don’t give easy answers because they know how hard it really is. When they speak about holding on to their faith, it has credibility because they really did experience what it’s like to barely hold on.

And yet they’ve held on, and somehow they’ve managed to worship God even through the pain.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been in one of the smaller books in the Old Testament. It’s called Habakkuk. It’s the fifth last book in the Old Testament, just three short chapters.

What I like about this book is that it is a book of questions for God. Habakkuk had questions for God. God gave an answer, and Habakkuk didn’t expect the answer or especially appreciate it. So you have in this book a back-and-forth honest conversation between God and an honest believer who is struggling with the way things are.

By the time we get to today’s section, Habakkuk has come to accept news that he doesn’t especially appreciate. His nation, Judah, is full of evil. Instead of getting better, it’s going to be destroyed very soon by an even worse nation: the Babylonians. God tells Habakkuk that he will punish the Babylonians eventually as well.

It’s good to know that God will set things right in the end, and it’s very comforting, but when you’re looking right at bad news, it’s hard to see past that. You know the type of news – the type of news that threatens your faith. When you get this type of news, you may know that God will set it right eventually, but that doesn’t take away the hard questions that don’t always have easy answers. It can still be almost more than you can handle.

Habakkuk never survived long enough to see God put things right. I don’t know how all of this played out in Habakkuk’s life. We don’t know if he survived the events that are prophesied in the book. But we know that he managed to hold on to his faith, and that he left us with a liturgy to guide us when we go through the same circumstance. Let’s look at the pattern he left us for worship when we go through the same sort of experience. If you have your Bible, look with me at Habakkuk 3.

A Prayer for When You’re Barely Holding On

Let’s look right at the end of chapter 3. The end of verse 19 says, “For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.” This tells us something important about the intent of this chapter. It’s not just somebody’s thoughts. This is a song, a psalm, that is supposed to be used by God’s people in worship. This has been given to us to guide us through worship when the theme of this book – questioning God – is our experience.

It’s interesting, this song. Most songs in the Bible fit into a category: a psalm of praise, a lament, a kingly psalm. This one really doesn’t fit neatly into any one category. But it has a purpose. I think it was originally written to guide Judah in worship when they wouldn’t feel like worshiping. When Babylon invaded, when the Temple was destroyed, and the people were in exile, they would have this song to guide them in their worship, just when worship couldn’t get any harder.

So this is a liturgy for us when we don’t feel like worshiping, when we are barely holding on. Liturgy is a pattern for worship. It guides us in how we should worship by providing a structure and a content for our worship. It’s just what we need when it feels like we’ve lost our way. This liturgy provides a way for us when we are barely holding on.

A few years ago, Charlene dragged me to the Arthur Murray Dance Studio for a free lesson. This is the lesson where they try to give you some hope that you too have what it takes to learn how to dance. They have these footprints on the floor that show you where you should put your feet next. It’s practically impossible to not dance with things marked out for you like that – but I managed. I endured the complimentary lesson but never went back, and I think they’re probably glad.

The liturgy is a little like that. When you’ve lost your way, when you’ve forgotten how to dance – or, in this case, how to worship – the liturgy shows us where to place our feet next. It marks what we’re supposed to do next. It’s the guide for us when we can’t find our own way.

I need it because there are times that I lose my way. I almost did yesterday, attending the funeral of a twenty-year-old man, the son of one of my friends. I knew this man when he was five. I sat in church and I forgot how to worship. I was put back on track by those who had laid a groundwork to worship, even when the unthinkable happens. I was numb, but the steps were there on the floor. All I had to do was follow.

I have a feeling that Habakkuk wrote this chapter for the people who would endure the events that he had prophesied. They would endure the destruction of everything that was important to them. Even worse, they would feel that God had abandoned them. This song would tell them how to worship, even when they had lost their way. And it’s the reason that we have it today. It’s a song that we can use today.

So I need this prayer. I need it because I’m still a bit numb myself. I know that some of you need it today as well. I don’t know what you’re going through, but some of us may feel like you’ve forgotten how to worship. You need the steps on the floor, to be shown where to place your feet.

Instead of preaching this today, I’m going to invite you to join me in actually pray through this song with me. We don’t have the music, and you wouldn’t want me to sing it anyway. But we can pray it. The song comes in three parts, and I’m going to invite you to pray these prayers, these three movements with me.

First Movement: Cry Out

The three movements of this song move from elementary to advanced levels. The first movement is the easiest. No advanced training is needed here. It’s simple: Cry out to God. Level with him. Tell him honestly that you hope for more.

Habakkuk 3 begins with a simple cry of the prophet out to God:

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

The Message paraphrases it like this:

GOD, I’ve heard what our ancestors say about you,
and I’m stopped in my tracks, down on my knees.
Do among us what you did among them.
Work among us as you worked among them.
And as you bring judgment, as you surely must,
remember mercy.

It’s as if Habakkuk is looking back over old pictures, remembering the way that it used to be. He sees snapshots of how it used to be, and he likes what he sees a lot better than what he sees now. And he cries out, “God, I’ve seen the pictures. I’ve heard the stories.” And he says, “Don’t let the stories remain in the past. Do something again today. Act now as you have in the past. Display your wrath, but God, don’t remember to show us your mercy as well.”

So you have someone heading into rough times. He looks forward and doesn’t like what he sees. He looks back and says, “God, I like that a lot better. Do it again. Renew your acts today. Don’t let them be memories. Do it one more time.”

It’s like what happens with rock climbers. Eugene Peterson writes:

My two sons are both rock climbers, and I have listened to them plan their ascents. They spend as much or more time planning their climbs as in the actual climbing. They meticulously plot their route and then, as they climb, put in what they call”protection"—pitons hammered into small crevices in the rock face, with attached ropes that will arrest a quick descent to death. Rock climbers who fail to put in protection have short climbing careers.
Our pitons or”protection" come as we remember and hold on to those times when we have experienced God’s faithfulness in our lives. Every answered prayer, every victory, every storm that has been calmed by his presence is a piton which keeps us from falling, losing hope, or worse yet, losing our faith. Every piton in our life is an example of God’s faithfulness to us…. As we ascend in the kingdom of God, we also realize that each experience, each victory is only a piton—a stepping stone toward our ultimate goal of finishing the race and receiving the crown of glory.

So this is what I’m going to invite you to do. This first prayer, I’d like you to do privately. Cry out to God. Say, “Lord, I remember it used to be better. Renew your mighty acts again today. Don’t forget to show me mercy.” I’m going to give you a few minutes to pray silently, and then I’ll lead us in prayer.

Second Movement: See What Can’t Be Seen

Annette and her husband were missionaries in Western Europe when she began to have pain in her back. When the pain became so unbearable that she could no longer function, even with muscle relaxants, X-rays revealed a tumor the size of a grapefruit that had attached itself to her spinal cord. Though surgery would need to be done immediately, the operation was considered somewhat routine and not a particularly high-risk procedure.

Something went wrong. Annette awakened from the surgery paralyzed from the neck down and in constant, excruciating pain. Not long afterward, she, her husband, and their five children returned to the United States where she could be cared for in more appropriate surroundings.

When she first came out of the surgery, she and everyone else focused on praying for God to heal her. When that didn’t happen and she was confined to 24-hour care at home, she became very depressed. Most people stopped connecting with her. Their lives moved on while Annette’s came to a screeching halt. Bible college and missionary training had not equipped her to deal with a life tied to a wheelchair and filled with constant pain.

“I felt that I was left with three choices,” said Annette. “To kill myself and end the unbearable suffering for all of us; to abandon my faith in God and merely exist on painkillers; or to put my energies to discovering God in the midst of all of this suffering.”

Annette’s face beamed. “I chose the third,” she said. “And as I began slowly reading the Bible again through the lens of pain and suffering, what I saw was a God who was familiar with both. I thought my pain and suffering had taken me to a place where God could never be found; instead, it was a place where he became more real to me than I had ever known him to be.”

It is an amazing thing to stand in a place that looks deserted by God’s presence, and to find that instead of being absent, he is very much there. That’s what happens in the second part of this prayer. Habakkuk cries out to God, and discovers God’s presence. Verses 3 to 15 are what’s called an theophany, which is a fancy word for an appearance of God:

God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.
(Habakkuk 3:3-6)

These verses are full of imagery, and it’s easy to get lost in all of the details. The important thing to remember is this: Habakkuk realizes that God is present. He didn’t just move in the past. He is present today.

God is present when we think he’s deserted us. He is present in the hospital room. He is present in the funeral home. He is present in court. He is present when we are alone. He is present in the very places where he seems most distant.

I’d like to invite you to pray that what happened to Annette and what happened to Habakkuk would also happen to you: that in pain in suffering, you would find God’s presence; that he would become more real to you than you ever would have imagined.

Third Movement: Trust Anyways

This hasn’t been an easy prayer for Habakkuk:

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
(Habakkuk 3:16)

He’s cried out to God. He’s asked for God to act again. He’s seen God’s presence, even when God seemed most absent. But he’s still full of dread. His situation hasn’t changed. Things aren’t any better. But something within him has changed.

In these next few verses, Habakkuk moves to the most advanced level of faith: to trust God unconditionally, even if, even when everything falls apart.

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 says, even when the simplest sign of God’s favor is absent, even then he will trust. Even then he will not give up. His allegiance to God is unconditional, no matter what the personal consequences may be.

Margaret had multiple sclerosis. She was confined to a wheelchair, and could only slur her words. She drooled constantly and was in pain nearly all her waking hours. Margaret had grounds for complaint; but she did not complain. She loved Jesus, and she never missed church.

One night, the pastor was conducting a forum asking questions and facilitating dialogue with a group of about 20 people. He asked people to tell him their favorite Bible verse or a passage from Scripture that was personally meaningful. After many people spoke, Margaret let him know she wanted to say something. Most of the people had recited their verses from memory or read them aloud from Scripture. Since Margaret could not speak, he looked up the verse for the group and read it for her: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71).

Margaret smiled broadly and nodded her head. Her wheelchair was a testimony to grace.

Even here, even now, even if nothing ever gets better…

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.

Father, I thank you for the prayer that Habakkuk has given us, so we know where to place our feet when we lose our way. Thank you that it is real and a little bit raw. Thank you that it ultimately leads us back to see your presence and to trust you, even if nothing else changes.

Thank you as well for that we know something that Habakkuk didn’t. Thank you that we know that “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

May we continue to hope and rest in his love. Amen.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada