Friday, January 21, 2011

Deliverance Past and Present

During the course I'm taking this term (Church History I), each student signs up for a day to deliver a brief morning devotional before class gets underway. Recently I had my turn and chose to focus a bit on Habakkuk 3, so there are a variety of thoughts I've been having about it, which I'll have to spread over several posts. The opening verses of Habakkuk 3 make clear that the chapter is a prayer to God crossed with a song celebrating God's strength and power. And the basic point it makes is a very simple one: long ago God saved his people from their troubles by kicking some serious butt, but now the prophet and the people are once again in trouble and their only hope is for God to once again kick some serious butt and rescue them. Or in other words: "Yahweh, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Yahweh. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2).

Most of the rest of the chapter (3:3-15) is a powerful, gripping, awe-inspiring roar of God's power to deliver - our God is mighty to save! Habakkuk 3:3-15 is a picture of a God you really, really, really don't want to mess with. His footsteps shake the earth with plague; he looks all the peoples of the world... and they flinch. He shoots his arrows everywhere, carving through the land with rivers. When the mountains see him on the warpath, they squirm and quake. When the heavenly bodies see his arrows and his spear, they hold still for fear. He makes the oceans churn, trampling them underfoot. That is the God of Habbakuk - and that is our God, too. No wonder Habakkuk says that when he heard about what God once did, his lips quivered and his legs trembled (3:16)!

And yet what does he then say? He says that he waits patiently for God to do it again. Habakkuk's prayer/psalm is an impassioned cry to God: "When we were in trouble before, you bailed us out! Please, please God - we need an encore now!" And yet... he waits patiently! He waits patiently for God to make good on that prayer. Habakkuk has faith that God will punish and drive off the invaders. And so no matter how dire things get until then - even if everything they rely on is gone and they're left with nothing - Habakkuk says that even then he "will rejoice in Yahweh, [he] will be joyful in God [his] Savior" (3:18). Even when all the nations of the earth are arrayed against him, Habakkuk trusts that Yahweh, the God of Israel, will be his strength and give him the power to "tread on the heights" (3:19).

Habakkuk can trust that he's praying to the very same God who once did all of those things - and who hasn't lost his touch. Habakkuk can trust that God will carry through. Habakkuk can cry out for the God of then to be the God of now, for the God of deliverance past to be the God of deliverance present.

And I have to ask myself, do I honestly have that faith? Do I have the faith to believe that when I pray, the God whose throne of grace I boldly approach (alright, so usually I approach it timidly) is a God who not only is the greatest of Deliverers, but who is still in the deliverance business? Do I have the faith to believe that maybe, just maybe, my prayers are being heard... and I might get a response more explosive and earth-shattering and breathtaking than I ever thought possible?

Honestly, I don't know that I do. I'd like to, though. I want to have Habakkuk's faith. I want to have the faith to look back on what God has done for his people when they needed him, and to cry out, "I need that now too!", and then to wait patiently in the assurance that I'm in good hands. I was not brought up to trust; I was trained to be anxious and paranoid and fearful. When it comes to developing Habakkuk's sort of faith, I have a long way to go and, honestly, very little clue where or how to practically begin. But imagine what the church could be like as a whole if we could read the Old Testament and the New Testament and the stories of God's powerful acts in the two thousand years since then... and confidently, joyfully, expectantly, rightly pray, "Today as well!"

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

[Originally posted at Study and Faith]

Happy New Year, everyone! In celebration of the new year, I'd like to reprint here the words of a little-known New Year's hymn. (There really are such things, you know.) The title is simply 'Hymn I', and it's taken from John Wesley, A Collection of Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord: and for New-Year's-Day (London, UK: Thomas Cordeux, 1810), 19-20. I hope you won't mind if I modernize the spelling and remove a few minor eccentricities in punctuation.

Wisdom ascribe, and might and praise,
To God who lengthens out our days,
Who spares us yet another year
And lets us see his goodness here;
Happy and wise the time redeem,
And live, my friends, and die to him.

How often when his arm was bared,
Has he our sinful Israel spared!
Let me alone, his mercy cried,
And turned the vengeful bolt aside,
Indulged another kind reprieve,
And strangely suffered us to live.

Laid to the root with conscious awe,
But now the threatening axe we saw,
We saw when Jesus stepped between,
To part the punishment and sin
He pleaded for the blood-bought race,
And God vouchsafed a longer space!

Still in the doubtful balance weighed,
We trembled while the remnant prayed;
The Father heard his Spirit groan
And answered mild, It is my Son!
He let the prayer of faith prevail,
And mercy turned the hovering scale.

Merciful God, how shall we raise
Our hearts to pay thee all thy praise!
Our hearts shall beat for thee alone,
Our lives shall make thy goodness known
Our souls and bodies shall be thine,
A living sacrifice divine.

I and my house will serve the Lord,
Led by the Spirit and the Word;
We plight our faith assembled here,
To serve our God the ensuing year;
And vow when time shall be no more,
Through all eternity to adore.