Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: It’s okay to ask God why as long as you ask not with a clenched fist, but with a searching heart. There’s a difference between those earnest, honest questions that we ask God and coming to the place where we’re making accusations or being demanding of God that He give us answers and the answers we want and in the time we want. A big difference.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, October 6. Have you ever asked God why? If so, you’re in the company of a group of biblical characters who questioned God: Moses, David, and the prophet we’re going to hear about today. Here’s Nancy in a series called, Habakkuk: Moving from Fear to Faith.

Nancy: Some of you have heard me share this before, but I’ll never forget it. It made such an impact on my life many years ago as I sat at the memorial service for my then 22-year-old brother who had been killed in a car accident, a brother who was preparing to go into ministry, a brother who had come to love the Lord and had a real passionate heart for Christ and for people. Then just quickly his life was snuffed out. In God’s unfathomable choice and will and providence, David was gone.

I remember sitting at that memorial service and hearing one of the preachers say, "It’s not wrong to ask why as long as you ask not with a clenched fist but with a searching heart." Not with a cleched fist but with a searching heart. You can say the same words and only God knows sometimes whether the heart is searching or clenched.

We talked yesterday about Joni Eareckson and how she had that diving accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down and how in the early days after her accident she had so many questions. Se felt so angry with God. Why did this happen? Why did this happen to me?

Joni goes on to say,

Most of the questions I asked in the early days of my paralysis were questions voiced out of a clenched fist, an emotional release, an outburst of anger. I don’t know how sincere my questions really were. I was just angry. But after many months, those clenched-fist questions became questions of a searching heart. I sincerely and honestly wanted to find answers.1

It’s okay to ask God why as long as you ask not with a clenched fist, but with a searching heart. There’s a difference between those earnest, honest questions that we ask God and coming to the place where we’re making accusations or being demanding of God that He give us answers and the answers we want and in the time we want. A big difference.

Now, as I’ve studied the book of Habakkuk, I’ve asked myself many times was Habakkuk asking these question with a clenched fist or was he asking them with a searching heart? In the first paragraph of chapter 1, he asks us two questions that are so frequently asked in the human race: “O God, how long will this go on? How long and You won’t do anything about my prayers? And God, why?” (verse 2, paraphrased).

How long? and why?—the two questions of the human condition. The two things we want to know of God. He asks these questions, and he proceeds to ask some tough questions through the course of the first chapter.

I’ve tried to get into the heart of Habakkuk and tried to discern was he asking just earnest and honest questions or was he accusing God. "You will not hear. You will not save. You’re not doing anything." As I’ve read some commentators, some are very sure that he was asking with a clenched fist, and other commentators are equally sure that he was asking with a searching heart.

I’ve decided that I know the answer. The answer is: We don’t know. We don’t know what was in Habakkuk’s heart. I can’t know what’s in your heart, and you can’t know what’s in my heart when we’re asking those questions.

God is the One who searches our hearts and God is the One who knows.

  • Are we asking with a clenched fist?
  • Are we angry at God?
  • Are we accusing Him?
  • Are we demanding that He do things our way?
  • Or are we asking out of a humble, earnest, honest search for God?

We do know that Habakkuk, regardless of what was his heart in those early questions, through the course of the book, he comes to a point of faith. You’re going to hear that word over and over again in this series. Faith. There’s a turning point in this book where his doubt turns to faith. His fear turns to faith. His whining and his worry turn to worship. Worship based in faith.

Not because all his questions have been answered, but because he’s come to the point of resting his questions with God and saying, "I don’t have to know the answers, but I do have to know God. I want to know God." The wrestler (Habakkuk means “one who wrestles”) becomes the embracer, one who embraces, one who clings tightly to God saying, "I will trust You even if You don’t give me the answers."

As we started looking in the last session at Habakkuk’s circumstances and situation, we saw that he’s deeply concerned about the corruption, the injustice, the violence that is going on among God’s people.

This isn’t just out there in the world. This is among God’s people. He’s not as concerned about the pagan nations. In fact, in the early part of this book, Habakkuk doesn’t have any concern for what’s going on in the nations at all. What he’s concerned about is what is going on among God’s people.

He’s perplexed by God’s seeming indifference and lack of response to his prayers. He says, "I’ve been praying for revival, praying for You to do something, praying for You to bring conviction, praying for you to change people’s hearts, but nothing is happening."

You get the impression here that he had been praying for a long time. It wasn’t just like he had prayed this morning and it didn’t get answered by afternoon and he got upset at God. No, this has been going on and on and on.

So he says in verse 3 of chapter 1, “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” In the last session, we looked at the how long question. Today we’re seeing in verse three the why question. It’s a perennial question. Why? It’s asked three times in this chapter. Why? “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?”

As I thought about that phrase, “You idly look at wrong,” a memory came back from years ago. I was traveling, and I had a layover in the BWI ( Baltimore-Washington International Airport). I went and sat down at one of those little airport restaurants.

In those days I had a briefcase, one of those hard ones. I sat it down on the floor next to me while I got something to eat. At one point during my meal a man who was sitting at a nearby table dressed in a suit, as I recall, stood up from his table, walked over to where I was sitting, picked up my briefcase and walked off.

It was clearly not his briefcase. It was clearly mine. It was right next to me. Well, immediately I sized up the situation, and I saw there was a police officer in uniform sitting at a table very close by. I looked at the police officer, and I said, “That man just took my briefcase.” The police officer did nothing.

Now, I’m grateful to say that most police officers do something when they’re in uniform and they’re on the scene. I don’t want to say this is characteristic of police officers, but in that moment, as best I can remember the situation, I just remember being so startled that this police officer who was in a position of authority heard me say, “That man just took my briefcase,” and he sat there and he did nothing. You can hear now even twenty-some years later I’m still exercised about this.

When I think of Habakkuk saying to God, "You idly look at wrong. You see what’s going on. You know about the situation. If You didn’t know about it, I just told You about it, and You’re not doing anything."

Well, you probably wonder what I did about that briefcase, by the way. I did something that in retrospect I can’t believe I did. It was very foolish. I walked after the man myself. He was walking down a long hallway where there weren’t a lot of people.

I walked up to him and I said, “Excuse me. I believe that’s mine.” He just handed it to me and turned and walked off. When I think of what could have happened, I don’t know if that was a smart thing to do, but if the police officer wasn’t going to do anything, I was going to do something about it.

Well, there are a lot more serious situations in life where we hear about danger or a crime being committed and people standing by and watching and nobody doing anything. I think of the woman who wrote recently to Revive Our Hearts and shared about how as a child her father had violated her every night for years while, from this little girl’s perspective, her mother looked on and did nothing.

This huge sense of injustice. Why do you idly look at wrong? God, you see it. Why aren’t you doing anything about it?

John Stott says,

The real sting of suffering is not misfortune itself, nor even the pain of it or the injustice of it, but the apparent God-forsakenness of it. Pain is endurable, but the seeming indifference of God is not.

By the way, isn’t that a picture of what perhaps Jesus experienced on the cross when He said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). The sense is, "I could endure this if I at least knew You were here doing something about it."

So Habakkuk says to God, "You make me look at evil and You see the evil, but You don’t do anything." He’s concerned about God’s apparent passivity, His indifference, His inactivity. "Don’t just stand there. Do something, please! Why do You idly look at wrong?"

Then he says, “Destruction and violence are before me” (verse 3). You’ll see that word violence six times in the book of Habakkuk. It’s a theme. It’s something he’s concerned about.

This is among the people of God. Destruction and violence, strife and contention arise. Verse 4:

So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

Now, it’s important as you read these verses to realize that Habakkuk is concerned about the wickedness and the injustice that is going on among God’s people and by God’s apparent inactivity and neglect of the situation, even in the face of Habakkuk’s repeated and earnest prayers. It just doesn’t seem right.

Destruction, violence, strife, contention. The ungodly outnumber the godly in the church, among the believers, so-called. Law and order fall by the wayside. The people who are supposed to be in spiritual authority are closing their eyes to this. They’re pushing it under the carpet. They’re doing nothing about it.

Don’t kid yourself by thinking that the things that concerned Habakkuk in his day are not going on within the four walls of our own Christian homes and churches today. Violence and injustice prevailing. You say how? Divorce. If that’s not violent, if that’s not strife and contention, I don’t know what is. Divorce.

It doesn’t surprise me or shock me that nonbelievers should be divorcing. How in the world could they keep a marriage together? You’ve got two selfish people who don’t know God, but God’s people (so-called) claiming to have the love of Christ and to be forgiven and forgiving can’t keep their marriages together?

Strife and contention. Family feuds. Church splits. Strife. Unresolved conflicts. Unresolved relationships within the body of Christ.

Within the past couple of weeks I’ve heard so many stories. I’m basically just sitting in my study most of the time. I’m not out and about a lot of the time. But just in my brief encounters and conversations with people, I’m hearing stories about so-called Christians doing very un-Christian things. Some of these people are actively involved in ministry. Bitterness, long-term unresolved conflicts between believers.

I heard last week about two Christian college professors who are involved in an affair. Now the college doesn’t know about it yet, and I’m saying why don’t they know about it? I mean you just hear these things. You think these guys are teaching our kids in a Christian college, and they’re right now carrying on an adulterous relationship.

Pornography. Adultery. Course jesting. Profanity. Lewd dancing. Suggestive language. These are all things I’ve heard about going on among God’s people just within the last couple of weeks. And people justifying it, defending it, laughing about it at times, being entertained by it. People in positions of leadership. You cry out with Habakkuk, "O God, how long?! Why do You let this go on? Why do You idly sit there and see this and, You don’t do anything about it?"

I had a friend who told me recently about a boss he has who is a professing Christian. He’s an active member in their church who is this business owner, and he is carrying on blatantly, admittedly illegal practices in his hiring, in his work ethics. And then he goes to church. He’s involved in small groups and leadership, but he goes to work and he’s a totally different man, skirting the law, doing things that are not only marginal but totally illegal.

This young man who’s working for him is watching this and talking to the man and the man acknowledges this isn’t right, but he keeps on doing it. Why doesn’t God do something? You see the people in charge who aren’t doing anything about this and sometimes actually participating in it. You say, "God, how can You idly look at this?"

You think I sound concerned and intense right now? That’s the spirit you get from Habakkuk as he reflects on these things, as he sees these things going on. You sense this intense concern about the spiritual and the moral condition of His people. This bothers Habakkuk.

As we think about this passage, I want to ask you, "Does it bother you?"

  • Does it grieve you to look on sin, unrepentant sin, unrelenting sin, ongoing sin, habitual sin, patterns of sinful behavior among God’s people?
  • Does it grieve you?
  • Does it break your heart?
  • Does it shock you?
  • Are you exercised by it?
  • Grieved by the sin and the violence among God’s people?

I think, unfortunately, most of us have settled pretty much into this complacent attitude: That’s just the way it is. Boys will be boys was the answer that one authority gave to a friend of mine when she expressed concern about what the boys in this particular Christian school were doing. "Boys will be boys. That’s just the way it is. We’re just human. You’re such a perfectionist. You’re a legalist."

I mean if you express concern about some of these things today, that’s the kind of answer you’re going to get. One friend of mine said, "When I bring these things up, people look at me like I’m crazy." She said to me, "Am I nuts to be bothered by this stuff? Am I the only one that’s disturbed by this?" Well, that’s a really sad question to have to ask, isn’t it? Are you grieved? Are you exercised by the things that grieve God’s heart?

Hundreds of years ago John Calvin wrote a commentary on the book of Habakkuk. He said,

This passage teaches us that all who really serve and love God ought to burn with holy indignation whenever they see wickedness reigning without restraint among men and especially in the church of God. There is nothing which ought to cause us more grief than to see men raging with profane contempt for God and no regard had for His law and for divine truth.

So Habakkuk made this a matter of intercession, a matter of prayer. He took his concern to God because he realized there is nowhere else to take it. There is no one else who can do anything about this concern.

Ladies, it’s one thing to get upset, to talk to each other about how terrible things are, to commiserate together, to write letters, to complain, to yell at the TV when you see things going on that upset you. The question is: Have you prayed about it? What you see going on in your family, what you see going on in your church, what you see going on in our culture, have you prayed about it? That’s what Habakkuk does.

Because the evil goes on and on in spite of his prayers, Habakkuk mistakenly concludes that God is not doing anything, that God is idle. Remember, God is idle only apparently, only from Habakkuk’s point of view. God is never idle. God is never not doing anything. God is always doing something, and we’re going to see that as we progress in this passage.

As we think about this thing of evil going on and on, let me read to you a couple of writings from older, long-time ago believers that have been helpful to me in thinking through this passage.

First, I’ve been reading recently from one of my favorite old-time writers, Fenelon. In his book Christian Perfection he says,

The one thing which has puzzled me is to understand how you allow so much of evil to be mingled with the good.

He’s speaking to God. He says,

You cannot make evil. All that you make is good. How comes it then that the face of the earth is covered with crimes and misery? It seems as though evil prevails everywhere over good. You [made] the world only for Your glory, and we are tempted to believe that it is turning to Your dishonor. The number of the wicked infinitely surpasses the number of the good, even within the church.

This was written centuries ago. He says,

All flesh has perverted its way. . . . Everyone suffers. Everything is in a state of violence. . . . Why do you wait so long, Lord, to separate the good from the evil? Make haste. Glorify Your name. Make those who blaspheme it know how great it is. You owe it to Yourself to recall all things to order.

Then he says, “But O my God, how deep are Your judgments.” Here’s where worry turns to worship. Here’s where fear turns to faith. He says,

Your ways are farther above our ways, than the heavens are above the earth. We are impatient because our entire life is only a moment. On the contrary, Your long patience is founded on Your eternity, to which a thousand years are as the yesterday already past.2

Then this reminder from Oswald Chambers, one of my favorite writers, as he writes in My Utmost for His Highest. He says,

There are times when your Father will appear as if he were . . . callous and indifferent, but remember He is not. . . . If there is a shadow on the face of the Father just now, hang onto it that evil ultimately give His clear revealing and justify Himself in all that He permitted. . . . Stand off in faith, believing that what Jesus said is true, even though in the meantime you do not understand what God is doing. He has bigger issues at stake than the particular things you ask.3

God has a bigger purpose. God has a bigger plan.

Now as we pick up in the next session, we’re going to see that God is not silent. He hears Habakkuk’s prayer. He answers Habakkuk’s prayer. He is not passive. He is not indifferent.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back to pray with us. She just gave a preview of what we’ll hear tomorrow during our current series called Habakkuk: Moving from Fear to Faith. We’ve been looking at the serious questions Habakkuk asked and as the series progresses, we’ll find out why Habakkuk was able to shift his focus and start to worship God.

If you’ve been fearful, anxious, or doubtful, I hope you’ll study Habakkuk more deeply during this radio series. To help you tackle this topic, I hope you’ll get a copy of the booklet Worry, Woes, and Worship. It’s a daily Bible study that will take you through Habakkuk. You can read more about the prophet’s questions and complaints and then discover how God responded.

Apply the words of Habakkuk to your life and walk with God. This booklet will walk you through all these steps. It’s yours when you send a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. You can give your much-needed donation at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call and ask for Worry, Woes, and Worship. The number is 1-800-569-5959. 

When God answers prayer, the results might be far different than you expected. That’s what Habakkuk discovered, and it’s what we’ll discuss tomorrow. Please be back. Now let’s pray with Nancy.

Nancy: Father, I just want to thank You that You can be trusted. If I know anything as the result of 40-some years of walking with You, it’s that You are a faithful, wise, loving, and good God regardless of how clouded Your providences may seem to be at times or how inscrutable Your ways. All things are known to You. All things are clear to You.

 

It’s only our finiteness, our flesh, our frailty that makes them mysterious to us. But thank You, Lord, that one day faith will be sight. All will be clear and all the world will adore Your ways and affirm that You have done all things well. So until that day, Lord, may we not waiver in faith and may we cling to You, veiled though You are. We worship, wait, and yield ourselves wholly to You. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

1http://www.powertochange.com/changed/jeareckson.html
2 Fenelon. Christian Perfection. (San Francisco: Harper & Brothers, 1947). p. 125-6.
3 Oswald Chambers. My Utmost for His Highest. 9/12.

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