It’s so much easier to praise the Lord when everything goes our way. But what about when we face failures of all kinds: small, big, persistent, or catastrophic? Then it becomes a lot harder to “rejoice in the Lord” because it seems so counter intuitive and so out of touch with reality. At the end of Habakkuk in chapter 3:17-19, Habakkuk the prophet precisely ends in this place of praising the Lord no matter what: “I will rejoice in the Lord!” (3:17).
In his day, Habakkuk witnessed the failures of God’s people and is not quiet about complaining to the Lord about it: “The law is paralyzed,” he laments, “justice never goes forth!” (Habakkuk 1:2). Perhaps we feel the same in the 21st century as Habakkuk did in the 6th century B.C. The notion of a failed society where God’s Word is routinely bypassed (lack of civility, injustices, violence all around; never mind our own personal failures!). In a day where every emotion, mood and action seem to find approval and justification via social media, the notion that God might say: “Thou shall not” to certain posts and pictures seems outright offensive, if not irrelevant. “Why, O God, aren’t you doing anything?”
Yet, even when the country experiences total economic collapse, Habakkuk says, ‘let me rejoice in the Lord! The Lord is my strength (see 1 Samuel 30:6; 2 Timothy 4:17); He makes me as surefooted as a deer; he causes me to walk on high ground!” From the utter despair Habakkuk feels at first (read Habakkuk 1), what happens that would create such a turn around in his outlook at the end of the book?
Habakkuk is very famous for this verse: “the righteous shall live by his faith” in chapter 2:4 (quoted in Romans 1:17). This faith is at the heart of our relationship with Jesus: we believe in Him and this trust/belief gives us His forgiveness and righteousness =we are now again in the right relationship with him. But the believing is also manifested in the waiting: “for still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end; it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it, It will surely come, it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3). Paul carries this idea in Romans 8:25 “But if we hope for what we do not yet see, we wait for it with patience.” Faith is believing and the believing is in the waiting.
The waiting is trusting that the massive failures we see, experience and live through ourselves are NOT THE END OF THE STORY! Instead they become part of the story of our lives, as Paul says that sufferings produce perseverance (=learning how to wait) and then hope comes the end, just like Habakkuk! He was able to say, paraphrasing now: “I don’t care what happens to my life, even massive failure, I will still rejoice in the Lord because he will strengthen me until the end!”
In many cultures, failure is simply not an option. There is one very sad story in my own homeland of Switzerland of a cook, a chef, who had been awarded the most prestigious award as the ‘best restaurant in the world,’ along with three stars from the Michelin Guide (few restaurants around the world have three stars; there are none in the Boston area). Yet at the height of his career the fear of failing was too much for him and so he couldn’t cope anymore. You and I have a great message of hope in the Gospel, for ourselves and our own shortcomings, for a nation that is in so many ways failing morally, and for our own neighbors around us. Failures will pass; God will bring about His justice and righteousness. Faith in Jesus is to believe in Him, and the believing is also in the waiting for the vision to be fulfilled; it will absolutely come!
Do you embrace failure in your life? If so how do you cope with it? Do you allow others to fail around you?
The Gospel, to put our faith in Jesus, frees us to embrace our own failings because we trust in Him. He will strengthen even in the midst of catastrophic ‘crop failure’ as in the day of Habakkuk, the prophet of faith!