A Model Prayer (Habakkuk Sermon 7 of 9)
June 02, 2002 | Andrew Davis
Revival in the Land
Exactly 200 years ago this month, a revival swept across this area, North Carolina. You may not know that, but it was part of a great movement of awakening and revival that was burning like a wildfire. It started in Kentucky, the Cane Ridge Revival, and all that whole region, Indiana, Kentucky, that whole area was on fire for the Gospel, people were coming to faith in Christ, there were camp meetings, people were coming and spending four or five days in a row hearing the preaching of the Word of God, but nothing was going on in North Carolina. It seemed as though the spirit would just simply bypass this state, much as very little had gone on during the time of the Great Awakening in this area. George Whitfield had preached but there was not the same response here as there had been in other places.
And so there was a concern among some that the revival, the Great Awakening of 1800 to 1802, would bypass North Carolina as well. And so with great expectancy in Orange County a group of people got together at communion service and they were hoping and yearning that God would pour out his spirit on the people there. The preaching was powerful and strong, and to the point, the Word of God was opened, but nothing really happened, there was nothing unusual, and so the service came to an end, and nobody really wanted to move. People wanted something to happen, but nothing was going on.
And finally, a young man who had seen what God was doing in Kentucky, and had brought some reports early in the meeting, stood up and looked at the people, much at a meeting like this and said, "Stand still and see the salvation of our God." And at that moment, people just started to weep. There was a breaking of hearts, people started falling down on the ground crying out to God, yearning for him to move in their midst. They were crying out saying things like, "What shall I do to be saved?" And so, the revival came in Orange County. In March or April, somewhere around that time of 1802, it came to Mecklenburg County. People came from miles around, about 12 miles south of Charlotte, and brought 160 wagons full of people, they had to chop down some trees and just make enough area and room, people pitching tents. And they were there all Friday, into Friday night, they were, they're all Saturday on, through Saturday night, they were praying and fasting and seeking the Lord and on into Sunday and Monday too. Day after day, hour after hour, seeking the face of the Lord.
Has anything like that ever happened to you? Have you ever seen the hand of God that way, moving? Don't you want it? Aren't you hungry for it? Don't you need it? Is your walk with Christ what it needs to be? Did you come in here today with a yearning and a hunger for the glory of God and for him alone or have idols crept into your heart? Aren't you hungry for God to move in your life? Have you turned away from your first love? Abandoned him? It says in Jeremiah, chapter 2, "I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you followed me in the desert." Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his affection, but they turned away to idols.
What about you? Our God is a living God, "Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone 'wake up!'" Woe to him who turns to idols for our God is the living God, he's in the holy temple and all the earth is silent before him.
I. Habakkuk 3: The Prayer of a Prophet
It's in that spirit that Habakkuk looked at his own day, he'd heard history, not of 1802 revivals, but of earlier and even more powerful acts of God and what he had done to establish his people in the promised land. And now they were threatened by their own sin and by an external force, Babylonians invading. They were threatened and he said, "Oh God, I've heard of what you've done in the past. Do it today, do it now, do it by your power, renew your mighty acts in our day, revive them so that we can see them."
You know the context of Habakkuk, he lived toward the end of the time when Judah and Jerusalem had control over their own land. God had brought them into the Promised Land, and they had sinned and warning after warning came from prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, that if they did not change their ways, if they did not repent and turn from their idols that God would bring judgement and the time had come. Habakkuk began by looking around in his own people, in his own society, he looked around and saw that they were wicked and that they were sinful, that they were oppressing the poor and needy, that they were perverting justice and the law was paralyzed and did nothing, and so he cried out to God and said, "God, why are you doing this? Why are you permitting the evil to succeed and to dominate over the righteous?"
God said, "I'm not going to continue to allow it. I'm going to bring the Babylonians and they're going to sweep in and they're going to destroy Jerusalem. They're going to burn the temple, they're going to burn the palace of the king and people will go to the sword, famine and plague and to exile immediately." Habakkuk responded saying, "Oh God, how can you use idolaters, wicked people, the Babylonians to judge your own people, how can you do this?" "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, you cannot tolerate wrong." How can you accept and work through wicked and sinful people like this? I'm going to stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts, and I will wait to see what answer you will give to this complaint." And so we've seen in Habakkuk 2 God's answer.
The Babylonians who are invading into the Promised Land will in turn be judged for their idolatry, and so will all nations, all idolatrous nations who live for their own glory, for God has determined that the people's labor is only fuel for the fire, the nations exhaust themselves for nothing because instead, God is going to establish the kingdom for his glory, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, and individual sinners who see the need of a savior, broken-hearted, humble people, will be saved by faith. As they simply turn to God, they will be saved by faith.
Chapter 3 is Habakkuk's response, it is the prayer of a prophet, as God moves him from fear to faith. In verse 1 and 2, Habakkuk prays for God to move in wrath and mercy. In verses 3-15 he describes God's terrifying judgements on the nations and in verses 16-19, he declares his absolute trust in God. Verses 16-19, you see very plainly the movement from fear to faith. Verse 16, "I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound, decay crept into my bones and my legs trembled, yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. 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 pens and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The sovereign Lord is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights."
He moves from trembling legs to a solid faith in the eternal God. How do you do that? Well, here we see the prayer of a prophet, and he begins by approaching God properly, in humility.
II. Approaching God Properly: Humility
Look again at chapter 2, verse 20. It says there, "The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the Earth be silent before him." This is a silence of awe, a silence that you're in the presence of the eternal God, a silence brought on by humility and brokenness, a silence that comes from recognition of sinfulness, a silence also a total submission to the will of God.
"The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the Earth be silent before him," says the prophet. We see therefore I think a change in Habakkuk. Habakkuk began in chapter 1 by questioning God, didn't he? He's saying in chapter 1, verse 3, "Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?" Then he says in verse 13, "Why do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?" Verse 17, "Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?" That's five times he questions God. Five times. Now, he's not being disrespectful, he has a deep burden to bring before God, but he is questioning the eternal God, he's troubled and he brings these questions and complaints to God.
What does God give him in response? Well, it reminds me very much of Job, who brought chapter after chapter of complaint to God, and in the end God doesn't answer any of Job's complaints. He just says, "Here I am, the eternal, living God who created heaven and earth. I stand before you, Job, and I am sufficient for you. I'm enough." And so Job said, "My ears have heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you, and therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
The problem is not the evil out there, is it? That's not the problem, the problem's the evil in here. This is the way it always is. We're always looking at other people's sin, other people's evil. Habakkuk was doing it too. Look at the evil of those wicked people out there in Jerusalem, look at what that evil man and that evil woman is doing. And then God says, "I'm bringing the Babylonians." He said, "Look at the evil of the Babylonians, they're even worse. They're idolaters, they're wicked people, look at them. How can you use the wicked to swallow up," What does he say? "Those more righteous than themselves?" So there's a hierarchy, like a ladder of righteousness, that he's talking about.
God, we're much higher on the ladder of righteousness than the Babylonians, how can you use them? I'm much higher on the ladder of righteousness than the other sinful Jews. He's thinking that way, but such a world view puts us in problems, doesn't it? When we come before the holy God, we forget who we really are, we forget how sinful we are. Jesus said, "No one is good but God alone." Paul said, "There is no one righteous. No, not one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless. There is no one who does good. No, not one. Their throats are open graves, their tongues practice deceit, the poison of vipers is on their lips, their feet are swift to shed blood. Ruin and misery marks their ways, and the way of peace, they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes." Who is Paul talking about there? Those people out there, those evil Jews doing that bad thing in Jerusalem, those idolatrous Babylonians? Is that who he's talking about? He's talking about us.
He's talking about us. And true prayer begins with an understanding of that. You don't come swaggering into the presence of God and say, "Here I am with my righteousness, answer my prayer." It's so easy for us to kind of have God as our buddy, and we come up to God and we say, "God, whip up on all those evil people out there." It's not that way, God is holy, he's high and lifted up. And there's a danger in that idea of self-righteousness, the ladder of righteousness, I'm here and there's people above me and people below me.
One time I was ministering in the inner city, in Boston, we used to go out there and minister to homeless people, try to share the Gospel with them, feed them, meet their needs if we could, always sought to bring them to Christ. I was talking to one man who had a drug problem, and he had abandoned his family, a wife and three children, three daughters, as I remember. His drug problem had stripped him of everything valuable in his life. They lived in Pittsburgh, he thought they were still there, he was in Boston.
It was winter, it was cold, and I started to talk to him about his need for Christ. I started to say to him that he was a sinner, in need of repentance. I said that I also am a sinner and I've found repentance in Christ, but as I began to share with him his need for a savior, he said, "Well, I'm not that bad." I looked at him aghast. I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, just the other day, I was talking to a guy down the street who actually committed murder. I've never done that." Do you see what that man's doing? He's like, "I'm here on the stairway of righteousness and there are people below me, so I'm okay."
Are the other people the standard of righteousness or is God himself the standard? And as we come into the presence of a holy God before whom the angels can't even look, they've got to cover their faces, that's how holy God is. What righteousness is sufficient to stand in his presence? Habakkuk's changed, hasn't he? He's stopped looking at the sin out there, and so he starts to see himself needing mercy. What does he say? "I have heard of your fame. I stand in awe of your deeds, Oh Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known, in wrath remember mercy." "We deserve it, God, but be merciful to us." There's a change that's happened in him.
You know the story that Jesus told, of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee, praying, goes in there and prays about himself. "I thank you, God, that I'm righteous. I thank you that I fast twice a week and give a tenth of everything that I own. I'm not like other men who commit adultery and murder and all those things, and I'm sure not like that tax collector over there." Do you think God accepts that kind of a prayer? But rather the tax collector who stands off at a distance will not even look up to heaven, beats his breast and says, "Be merciful to me, a sinner." And so true prayer begins with humility, a brokenness before God, a sense of humiliation before God. The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the Earth be silent before him.
III. Adoring God Properly: Worship
Second of all, comes worship. Look at what he says again in verse 2, look at it. "Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Oh Lord." This is a sense of holy fear. I'm in awe. I'm amazed, oh God, at what you have done and who you are. It says in Hebrews 12:28, "Therefore since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us worship God acceptably with fear and reverence, for our God is a consuming fire." That's the God we worship, and so we're receiving a kingdom that can never be shaken, and so let us worship God with reverence and fear.
Psalm 2:11 says, "Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling." A sense of the majesty of God, a sense of his holiness. "I saw the Lord high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple." What does it mean that God is high and exalted? Well, God isn't anywhere, he's everywhere, he's not physical, but there's always a sense of God being up, he's being lifted up, he's high. Why, because we must be humbled. We must come before him and worship him in awe and reverence. And he says "I've heard of your fame. I've heard reports about you, God. I've heard about you."
Do you know that God makes much of his own name and his own reputation? Do you know that God is concerned about his reputation around the world, he wants people to think well of him. Have you ever met anyone like that? Somebody who's concerned about their own reputation. Concerned about what people think about them? We don't necessarily consider them to be good people, we think perhaps they're selfish or they're thinking all the time, what is somebody thinking about me? Why then does God make much of himself, why does he make much of his own reputation? You know why? Because he loves you, because he loves you.
And salvation comes when God makes much of his own reputation. When reports about God's mighty deeds go around the world, you know what happens? People get saved. You remember the story of Rahab the prostitute? She invites the two spies into her home. Why? Well, Jericho shut up tightly, like a drum. Everybody's terrified. But when these two spies come and knock on the door, she knows immediately this is her chance for salvation, this is her chance. She takes them in, she cares for them, she protects them by faith. And what was it that motivated her faith? Reports of Jehovah, the eternal God of Israel, and how he had destroyed Egypt with one plague after another, and then the final plague. God had brought Israel through the Red Sea on dry land. He had caused a wind to blow all night and the water walled up on each side left and right, and so the Jews passed through on dry ground. But when Pharaoh and his mighty army, the most powerful on the earth at the time, tried to pass through, they were destroyed.
Rahab heard that story and she said, "I've heard of your God. And I'm going to take you in and protect you, and please remember me when you come and take over this Promised Land." God's reputation had preceded those spies, and she believed and trusted in God, as a result. She trusted in him.
Well, where do we get reports of God's reputation? Well, it's in the Word. "I've heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day." Well, where do we get it? We read it in the Bible. It says, "The righteous will live by faith." Where is faith? Faith comes from hearing the Word. As we read stories about this, we understand. I'm kind of in a debate in the newspaper right now with a writer. Have you ever heard of Tom Eric? He writes in the Herald Sun, and he's saying, "Why is it that religion is always looking backward? Looking backward at dusty old acts of history. We should be looking forward like science." Tom Eric writes, he says, "I was at MIT and I looked at all the good things and the exciting things they're doing, technological advances, always looking forward to the future."
I just had to shake my head. I went to MIT, I was there, I've seen the technology. Has technology improved your life? Well, in a manner of speaking, it has. Has it changed who you are? No. Religion does look forward. We have a hope, don't we? We're looking ahead to a coming savior. He's coming back some day. But on the basis of our past knowledge of God, all that he did in history, is our faith strengthened. We read the reports about what God did. God spoke into nothing and the universe was created in six days. He said, "Let there be light, and there was light." He created the planets, the sun, the moon and the stars. He created all of them and he calls them by name, that's what God can do.
He formed a man, he just gathered the dust of the Earth together and breathed life into the breath of his nostrils. God created life, and then when they judged, he condemned them and expelled them from the Garden of Eden and put them under a curse. It was God that judged the whole world in the days of Noah, by bringing a flood, but he rescued one family and brought them out, and it was God who called Abraham to be a person for his own glory, and his descendants, all of them, and he gave this man, 100 years old, a little baby, Isaac. And he worked out of that Jewish nation, they were imprisoned like slaves in Egypt and God brought them out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. It was God that took, as we're talking about on Sunday evenings, Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire. And it was God who sent one angel to kill 185,000 Assyrian troops in one night during the time of godly King Hezekiah.
Do you think that's what Habakkuk had in mind when he said, "I've heard of your fame. I've seen, I've heard about your deeds. Can you do it again now? Do it in our day. Send that angel back, God, if you wouldn't mind, you know, the one that you sent when the army surrounded? Send him back. This time they'll be Babylonians, but you can do it, send them back, renew them in our time, renew your deeds." And so, up out of dusty old ancient history comes a living faith in a God who never changes.
What God did 4000 years ago he can do, again today, if it's his will. He can do anything, because "I, the Lord, do not change." Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. And so, we've seen the first two aspects of proper prayer: Humiliation before God and word-based worship based on what he can do.
IV. Addressing God Properly: Intercession
And then he prays, intercession. Look again at verse 2, he says, "Renew them in our day, in our time make them known, in wrath remember mercy." Habakkuk 2:20, he said, "Let all the earth be silent before him." The whole world is silent before him. But yet here's Habakkuk, bold to make an intercession, isn't he? He's bold to pray. Humiliation, adoration, intercession: Three basic aspects of prayer. God has commanded us to come boldly into his presence, through the blood of Jesus Christ.
It says in Ephesians 2:18, "For through him [Christ] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." We are invited to come right into his very presence. Romans 5:1-2 says, "Therefore since we have justified, we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." You know what that means? Introduction, we're welcome to come into the presence of the emperor of the universe. "Come right in," he says, "And welcome."
I want to hear what you have to say. Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." So we have all of this command and this invitation to come right into the very presence of God. God wants us to make intercession. Notice, however, what Habakkuk doesn't pray for. He doesn't pray for Babylonian destruction. He doesn't pray that they would be destroyed. He doesn't pray that his people will not be judged. He doesn't even pray for his own deliverance. What does he pray for? He says, "I want your glory to be known. I want to see what you can do. Renew your actions in this day." why? So that the Earth can be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.One passion is God's purposes. Lloyd-Jones put it this way, "The prophet's one burden now was a concern for God's cause, God's work and God's purpose in his own nation and in the entire world, his one desire was that things should be right. He had come to the position, which in effect he said, 'Whatever my countrymen have to suffer is of no concern as long as your work is renewed and kept pure, a prayer for the glory of God.'"
And it's a prayer for a revival, isn't it? Renew them in our time, make them live again. I think about that. There's a story in the time of Elisha, in which a dead man was thrown onto the bones of the prophet, and he came to life again. Been dead, as though nothing was there and came to life again. It seems that way with you, Lord, your miraculous power, your great deeds, there's been a long stretch of time we haven't seen anything of it. Do it now. Move. He's praying for revival. I've heard of your fame. I stand in awe. Do your deeds again. There's a sense of urgency. I want it now, renew them in our time, do it in our day. I don't want to read old stories of revivals and things you did a long time ago. I want to see it now. I want it done in my life. I want it done in my church, I want it done in my day.
There's a sense of urgency, a prayer for the revival of God. And then he says, a prayer for mercy from God's wrath. He says, "In wrath, remember mercy." He does not pray that God's wrath will not come. The people deserve it, but he says, "In the middle of wrath, remember mercy." Habakkuk acknowledges that sin deserves wrath. He's not praying that the wrath will be removed, but rather that God will be merciful in the midst of it.
V. Application: Wrath and Mercy in The Cross
I think about that, that statement, "In wrath, remember mercy." Do you know where they meet perfectly? The wrath of God and the mercy of God both meet at the cross of Jesus Christ, don't they? Why did Jesus die? Why did he suffer and die on the cross? Do you know why? He died to demonstrate God's justice, because he cannot allow sinners like us and like Habakkuk into his holy presence without an atoning sacrifice. So Jesus died as a display of God's justice, under the wrath of God. Is that all? No. He also died as a display of God's love and mercy, because the wrath did not fall on the sinners who deserved it, but rather the wrath falls on his substitute, his own son, the only begotten, Jesus Christ.
And so consider therefore, Romans 11, the kindness and severity of God, both of them meeting in the cross of Jesus Christ. I'm speaking directly to the hearts of the people who've come in through the door. I don't know how it is with you. I don't know how much longer any of you are going to be alive. I'm not speaking dramatically or melodramatically. You always assume, or we assume we're going to be here for years to come. God isn't looking at actuarial charts, did you know that? I know statistically, we live to a certain age, but the fact of the matter is, we should say, in the Book of James, if the Lord wills, we will live.
Do you know for sure that you have trusted in Christ as your Savior? Have you come to the point where you realize that were it not for Jesus, you would suffer and die under the wrath of God? Have you found mercy in Christ? This is, I think, the perfect sinner's prayer. "Oh God, in wrath, remember mercy. I come to you in Christ's name, forgive me." Have you prayed that prayer, have you trusted in Christ? Today is a day of salvation. If you have never trusted in Christ, will you come and talk to me after the service is over? Come forward and speak to me. Come and pray here, yield yourself to God.
Finally, I want to ask that you who have been saved, that you who have trusted in Christ, that you would pray for revival. There's somebody in our church who week after week, month after month, has taken one of those little prayer cards and has just written a simple word on it, "revival," with two exclamation marks, sometimes three, sometimes one. We haven't seen that card in a while. I don't know who you are, man or woman, boy or girl. Would you write it again, and keep writing it until it comes?
And would more of you write it too? And don't just write it, but pray for it. Don't you yearn to see the power of God descend on high? This sermon, this time, this is just like kindling and the sacrifice and the water in the time of Elijah on Mount Carmel, we need the fire to fall from heaven. The train is all there and the engine's there, but nothing's moving. Why? Because the engine hasn't been lit by fire from heaven. Will you pray with me that God would revive us, that we would have him as our first and greatest love, that we would yearn only for one thing, the glory of God to be known around the world. It doesn't characterize our church yet, not yet. Will you pray with me that he would pour out his spirit on us?