How to see God when the world is just … wrong: Final thoughts

[To go along with the theme of the sermon, the second hymn for this service was “O God Why Are You Silent?” Words are by Marty Haugen and it is sung to the tune of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”]

O God, why are you silent? I cannot hear you voice;
The proud and strong and violent all claim you and rejoice.
You promised You would hold me with tenderness and care.
Draw near O Love enfold me, and ease the pain I bear.

Now lost within my grieving, I fall and lose my way;
My fragile, faint believing, so swiftly sweeps away.
O Go of pain and sorrow, my compass and my guide,
I cannot face tomorrow, without you by my side.

My hope lies bruised and battered, my wounded heart is torn;
My spirit spent and shattered by life’s relentless storm.
Will You not bend to hear me, my cries from deep within?
Have You no word to cheer me when night is closing in?

Through endless nights of weeping, through weary days of grief,
My heart is in Your keeping, my comfort, my relief.
Come share my tears and sadness, come suffer in my pain,
Oh bring me home to gladness, restore my hope again.

May pain draw forth compassion, let wisdom rise from loss;
Oh take my heart and fashion the image of Your cross.
Then may I know Your healing through healing that I share,
Your grace and love revealing, Your tenderness and care.

Scriptures: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 3:16-19

Today is the last day of the sermon series that I’ve been running on how or where to see God when the world is just … wrong. We used the psalms of lament as a model, and even looked at some of the psalms, for how to handle those times when the world just seems to be wrong, when God seems to be absent.

I want to bring it to your attention again because there’s also an insert in your bulletin that we’re going to get to, so I hope you have pencils or pens available – there should be some in the pew – because we’re going to fill it out.

We discovered that, through the psalms of lament, that the psalmists had a practice. The first thing they did was they declared what was wrong. They weren’t afraid to tell God how they felt about things.

Secondly, they would remember God’s greatness and His glory, frequently by reminding themselves of what God had done for them personally or for the nation of Israel, the people of God.Then thirdly, after restating that there is a problem, they would say that they trusted in God and give Him praise, despite that trouble.

We actually see that today in the readings from Habakkuk, as he starts out with the lament, asking God, “Where are you?” Then he finishes in chapter 3 with prayer, and we’re going to talk more about that a little later.

We discovered that one of the ways we see God deals with remembering God’s plan, trying to see things from God’s perspective, and remembering God’s promises, how they’ve been fulfilled in Christ, and how we therefore have an eternal hope that cannot be taken away from us.

We learned about enduring through personal trial, and how to keep hold of your center – and not in a Zen fashion, but that peace that comes from that assurance and hope, even when you are fretting about what’s going on in the world, and ever fiber of your body wants to throw yourself into action without thought of the consequences.

We learned about natural disasters, and how most of them aren’t really natural disasters, but rather they are made disasters because of the presence of people – not that we caused it, but it’s the loss of life, loss of possessions, loss of things that we experience, that make it a tragedy.

We have some experience with that in terms of helping. The church in Dickinson, Texas, that we sent some money to, and they have been rebuilding their building. They have a presence online, on Facebook, and you can see pictures as they’ve made progress. They have continued to minister to other people, even during this time of rebuilding for them.

We learned that really, when these times of trial come, these times of disaster come, it’s up to us to do something. Again, we don’t want to just frenetically throw ourselves in any which direction, just because of the way we feel. We want to see where God is leading us to serve best. But we can’t sit on our laurels. We have to do something, and we spoke of that.

Today we’re going to use the book of Habakkuk to try to wrap this up, and go through our own personal psalm of lament. The Book of Habakkuk is located in the Old Testament, between Nahum and Zephaniah. It is not easily found and not preached from often.

Habakkuk was a minor prophet and little is known about him. He was a prophet in Judah around 606 BC, and was a contemporary with Jeremiah, who was much better known, known as the Weeping Prophet, wrote the book of Jeremiah and also wrote the book of Lamentations.

This book of Habakkuk is unique, because there is no prophecy in it. Let me say that again. You have a prophet, and you have a book that is in the books of prophets, and there is no prophecy. There is just a dialogue between Habakkuk and God. Truth be told, Habakkuk complains, God responds, Habakkuk complains again a second time, and God answers, and finally it ends with Habakkuk praying and changing his attitude towards the things that God was doing.

It’s actually, in some ways, a lot more like Job – only compressed into three pages. And Habakkuk is concerned for the entire nation of Israel, rather than the disasters that personally struck him.

Habakkuk spoke during the time of disaster of the Babylonian invasion, and all its accompanying troubles. Jeremiah was the “weeping prophet;” but it seems that Habakkuk – in spite of all of these struggles – his spirit remained strong. Even in the midst of absolute ruin and abject famine, which came when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, the prophet was prepared to trust God.

He realized that inner peace did not depend on outward prosperity. Let me say that again, because that’s something that’s been woven through our psalms of lament, and our look at Job, and our look at some of these other psalms. Inner peace does not depend on outward prosperity or blessings.

When you look at the book of Habakkuk, he did not state that he would merely endure in the hour of distress. He said he would rejoice in the LORD and be joyful. He was able to do that God is the inexhaustible source and infinite supply of joy.

I have said it many times, and I will probably say it many more times throughout my entire career in ministry: there is a difference between happiness and joy. You can be happy without joy, and you can be joyful even in unhappy circumstances. While some people may argue where or not money may buy happiness, there is no way you can buy joy.

Far too many people keep trying to do so, but joy is not found in our circumstances. It is found in the Lord. James 1:2-4 (and I’m using the New Living Translation, which normally I don’t, but it’s a good translation here.

Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.

You see, as long as Jesus is on the throne, we have reason to rejoice. As long as we belong to Christ, we have reason to rejoice. We have a hope

I want us to try to apply all the lessons learned over the weeks, and I want to imitate Habakkuk and the various psalmists. You have in your bulletin that page with statements that have blanks, that I pointed you to in the beginning. We are going to go through those now, and fill in the blanks.

I want you to be personal. I want you to be truthful. No one else is going to see it, unless you choose to show it. Then we are going to recite it like a prayer or a psalm, with those spots silent while you fill in the blanks by silently mouthing whatever it is.

You might think, “Why write it out if we aren’t going to say it out loud anyway?” Well, in the best of situations, we would be comfortable saying things out loud – but I don’t think so here, today. However, by writing it, out you think about it, organize it, clarify it, and get it “out there.” It is kind of like confession. We need to confess our sins, and not just by running through them in our heads. We need to confess them aloud, and preferably to someone you can trust, so that we can truly repent. Saying it makes it more real. And because we have a literate society, writing it makes it more real.

So we’re going to go through the insert here, line by line, and I’ll explain things. [See below for text of insert.] “O Lord, how long will I cry out to you regarding [blank], yet you turn your face away, and my prayer is unanswered?” Perhaps there’s something that you’ve been praying for, for a while – a situation, a person, a health issues, or something, and the prayer is unanswered. Put that in the blank.

“How long must I suffer [blank] before you save me?” Again, something personal. I know with me right now, it’s my knee, I make no bones about it. Maybe it’s a long-term health for you. Maybe you’re suffering because of a family situation, and there’s a broken family relationship that you want to heal. Maybe it’s an addiction that you need to be saved from.

“How long until You make Your will clear regarding [blank]?” We make decisions all the time. There are so many choices we can make, and we want to make the God-honoring ones. We want to do the things that God has called us to do. Some of them are very important, and we need to know His will.

“My heart is broken, my spirit weak. My anger/sorrow/fear” and you can circle whichever one most speaks to you “overwhelms me at times. Lord, make Your presence manifest! Strengthen me and lift me up regarding [blank].” You’re asking God for encouraging, to strengthen you in some trial that you are facing. This may be different for every person. Take a moment and write it down.

“I know that You are Almighty, Lord. You are sovereign over all things in the universe. You have shown Your goodness and love by blessing me/my family with [blank].” This blessing needs to be, again, something personal.

Don’t that God just for blessing you in having kids, grandkids, spouse, or whatever. We thank God for that all the time. It’s not that that’s bad – we want to. But this is something specific where you have seen God’s blessing at work in your life.

“You have shown Your power and might by helping me overcome [blank].” Again, something personal. Maybe it’s smoking. Maybe it’s starting an exercise program. Maybe it’s something else. What have you overcome in your life, that could only be from God’s grace?

“You have shown Your salvation Lord by bringing me out of [blank].” It’s a situation, something that was deadly, something that was dangerous to you. It could be body, it could be spirit. I’m sure that every veteran that we have here is thankful for the Lord’s salvation, for bringing them out of whatever situation of war they were in.

“You have shown Your constant presence and care by being with me through [blank].” Some dark time in your life. The easiest ones to point to are the death of a loved one – a child, a parent, a spouse, a sibling. But I’m sure there are other times that you have just felt depressed and darkness seemed to surround you. And God’s presence has been there. Remember that time. Write it down.

“Lord God, I praise You. You are my [blank].” And then again, “You are my [blank].” We want two different names, two different things that God is to you. There was a Wednesday night Bible study here that found out there are over 101 names for God, so you have a lot to choose from.

A few that I could throw out off the top of my head are Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Prince of Peace, Provider, King of Glory. There are just so many different things. What’s personal to you? When you think of God, and you give Him praise, what comes to your mind? Abba Father?

“No matter what happens with [blank], You are good, and I trust in You.” This is probably going to be one of the hardest, because this is something that’s currently going on, that you need to let go, and you need to give to God.

That’s hard. I tell people, I give things up to God all the time and then I snatch them back like a four-year-old (who gives you something and then he realizes that he doesn’t have it anymore, and then he wants it back).

What are you worrying about? What is distressing you, that you can give to God? “No matter what happens with [blank], You are good, and I trust in You.May people see my praise, and give You glory and honor. I ask this through Jesus Christ my Lord.”

This is my attempt at a psalm of lament, starting with the declaration of the problem, remembering the things that God has done, and then finishing with praise. Now I’d like us to go through this now and read this aloud together.

Again, we’ll keep silence during the times where there’s a blank, I’ll give you a few seconds and you can mouth things yourself. I do want to see mouths moving, and I don’t want to see “peas and carrots” (every choir does that – they tell you if you forget the words just mouth “peas and carrots” and no one in the audience will know you’re not singing). Actually mouth words. Let us pray together, [congregation recites words of insert together, leaving silences at blanks].

One more thing. We are about to have Communion. We are about to remember how great God’s love and sacrifice for each one of us is. We are about to speak of the power of God for salvation and reconciliation applied in our own lives. As we partake of the bread and the cup, I want you to go through this psalm of lament that you have written, using it as the basis for your declaration of who God is, and why you can praise Him even in those storms of life you have written about.

Then I want you to take the insert home, and you may do with it what you want. You may shred it, or you can burn it. You might even keep it around and pray it, until the situations are resolved. The situation may not be resolved, certainly not just after worship today, and the healing not yet complete, but remember, God will accomplish His purposes in your life. Be at peace, and wait upon the Lord. He will renew your strength, and bless you more mightily than you can imagine. Amen.

Sermon insert

O Lord,

How long will I cry out to you regarding _______________________________________________,

yet you turn your face away, and my prayer is unanswered?

How long must I suffer ________________________________________________

before you save me?

How long until You make Your will clear regarding ________________________________________________?

My heart is broken, my spirit weak. My anger/sorrow/fear overwhelms me at times. Lord, make Your presence manifest! Strengthen me and lift me up regarding _________________________________________________.

I know that You are Almighty, Lord. You are sovereign over all things in the universe. You have shown Your goodness and love by blessing me/my family with ___________________________________.

You have shown Your power and might by helping me overcome __________________________________________________.

You have shown Your salvation Lord by bringing me out of __________________________________________________.

You have shown Your constant presence and care by being with me through ____________________________________________.

Lord God, I praise You. You are my ________________________.

You are my ___________________________________________.

No matter what happens with _____________________________,

You are good, and I trust in You. May people see my praise, and give You glory and honor. I ask this through Jesus Christ my Lord.

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