Our circumstances often, all too often, shape our spiritual outlook. When things are going as expected, and God’s storehouse of blessings seems to rain down upon us like a fresh spring shower, all is rosy, and life is good. However, when the torrential rains of pain, uncertainty, joblessness, unanswered prayer, extended illness, grief, and betrayal beset us our spiritual lantern grows dim, and questions flood our soul.
To ignore such happenings, and the feelings that result, is to discount the natural emotions that make us who we are. No one truly rejoices in suffering, not the suffering itself, the resultant joy comes through a working through the pain in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 16:16-40 we find the story of Paul and Barnabas and their imprisonment. They were flogged and thrown in prison, yet at Midnight it is recorded they were singing hymns and praising God. Praising God? Why would they praise God after having been beaten and thrown in jail? From an earthy perspective this makes no sense. However, Paul and Barnabas sought delight in their Creator/Sustainer God who had been faithful in the past and would be in and through this situation as well. As a result of their praise, the jailer, witnessing this unusual celebration, came to faith, he, and his entire household.
God used a painful event in the life of these two men of faith to show a jailer the depth of faith that mere words could not express. Out of tremendous discomfort and affliction Paul and Silas chose to sing of the faithfulness of God. That genuine expression broke down barriers and melted the hardened heart of a jailer resulting in his salvation and that of his household.
One of my favorite Old Testament books is Habakkuk. It spoke powerfully to me during a difficult period of loss. In 2003 both of my parents passed away. My dad died of complications related to pneumonia on March 12. My mom died on November 22, after a three-month long hospital stay resulting from a heart valve surgery that unexpectedly went awry. As a 43-year-old minister the blow was hard though I concealed it well. The months following were laden with questions and cries to God for answers. It was after reading Habakkuk that I finally rested and even rejoiced.
The basic quandary put forth in Habakkuk is over why does evil prevail and its patrons seem to pay no price for their corruptness? Habakkuk saw the nation of Judah, his nation, mired in wickedness and in need of discipline and a return to God. When questioning God over what would happen to the nation God reveals that Babylon, a much more wicked nation, would overtake Judah. Habakkuk objects and God assures him that even Babylon will eventually be judged as well.
Chapter three concludes the book with a prayer. Some scholars consider this a song, much like the psalms. The closing verses are poignant.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)
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.
In my own personal grappling with the loss of my parents this passage gave me pause with the question: “Do you trust me?” With tear filled eyes and a broken heart I responded…” Yes, I will trust You.” I learned and am learning my trust in God is not dependent upon circumstances but upon His faithfulness.
Trust Him today even if your circumstances dictate a different response!