If we’re honest, we don’t tend to live by faith (i.e., trust) in God, but by circumstances. If our circumstances are hunky dory, to our liking, we’re happy, if not we moan and complain. I like to think we naturally stop doing this in the process of growing in maturity, of growing up, of overcoming this penchant to act like children, but growing up isn’t easy. It is, however, necessary. For Christians this process is called sanctification, or being made holy by God. As I was going through my own sanctification process in life at some point I realized how hard it was. By nature I found I’m a moaner and whiner, and I tended to see myself as a victim easily seduced by self-pity. I came up with a phrase not too long ago some four decades into this process: the pain of sanctification.

Being molded and shaped by Almighty God into the image of his Son is not fun, nor for the faint of heart, but the fruit is sweet. If we really want God to have his way with us, it will get ugly. Our feelings will be hurt, and as Tim Keller always said, He will crush us. It is often an emotional struggle. The reason is that, as Jesus said (John 16:8), when the Holy Spirit comes, “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Greek for convict, elegchó- ἐλέγχω is a tough one: reprove, rebuke, discipline, expose, show to be guilty. That word expose is especially scary. Who wants to be exposed? Not me! In fact when I was younger in the Lord I was afraid of asking God to have his way with me, to expose my sin. Now I plead with him to do it because of one very important word, in fact I’ve learned the most important word in the Christian faith: trust. Yes, it’s right up there with love, but trust has to come first because loving God, ourselves, and our neighbors is the fruit of trust.

As I finished the book of Habakkuk and read these final verses that word trust came to mind, and how difficult it can be to exercise it if we live by circumstances:

17 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,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

In the ancient world when almost everyone lived on farms and grew their own food nothing could be worse than this. It’s not just some empty store shelves like we experienced in the last few years that for us is a slight inconvenience, but imagine walking into every store in your city and they are all empty! Might we just panic? When everything that sustains life is gone what do we do? Freak out! Yet here is Habakkuk saying it doesn’t matter because he will choose a different response which will not be determined by the circumstances: trust.

I’ve found as I’ve grown older in the faith and in life that my greatest sin is not one of my most obvious sins, but my lack of trust in God. And because of that I’ve found that one of my favorite verses in the Bible is the most convicting, Isaiah 26:3:

You will keep him in perfect peace
   him whose mind is steadfast,
   because he trusts in you.

 If I don’t have perfect peace, I don’t trust in God. It’s as binary as you can get. I can say that sometimes in life I think I might have such peace, but I’ve found over the years I’m not really good at the whole perfection thing. So I’ve come to my default position in my daily prayers: I repent of this lack of trust every day. It’s reflected in things like fear, worry, anxiety, doubt, impatience, anger, and being easily annoyed. Oh, how easily annoyed I can be! After four plus decades as a Christians and God’s sanctifying work in my life, I think I’m a little better in putting my tendency to annoyance in abeyance, but its never easy. I have to constantly be aware that I just threw perfection out the window.

Where do all these attitudes and emotions not honoring to God come from? Living by circumstances and not by faith. The Greek word translated as faith or belief in the New Testament is pistis- πίστις: “Properly, persuasion (be persuaded, come to trust).” I really like the way Strong’s Concordance puts that because God never, ever requires “blind” faith, or faith without reason. This is very important to understand for a couple reasons. 

  1. The first is atheists pushing the lie that Christians (i.e., “religious people”) need faith because there is no evidence for what they believe. Or at best the evidence is so weak they have to take a “leap” of faith. In the words of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, faith is believin’ what you know ain’t so. Thus people who are “not religious” supposedly don’t need “faith.” This is of course garbage because there is in fact an ocean’s worth of evidence pointing to Christianity’s veracity and that it’s worthy of our trust.
  2. The other reason is more important. The kind of faith that seeks the blessing of perfect peace in Him is, to coin a phrase, persuasive faith. In other words, God persuades us throughout our lives in relationship with Him (meaning we daily seek Him in his word, prayer, and in fellowship with His people, see 7:7) that we can trust Him, that He is trust-worthy, worthy of trust. He will never leave us out to dry even when “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. 

I will end this with a brief story. My sister-in-law was over for a visit recently, and we were talking God and things, and having recently read Habakkuk these verses were on my mind. So I pulled out my Bible at our dining room table and read the passage. Or should I say I tried to read the passage. When I got to, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord,” I could not get the words out, the tears wouldn’t let me. I’m not exactly sure why passages like this do that to me sometimes. Is it because I can approximate such trust at times, or that I’m so bad at it? I think it’s the latter because no matter how bad I continue to be at it, God in Christ loves me anyway, and continues to love and sanctify me so that I can approximate it a little more every day, and experience its blessings. Who doesn’t want peace of mind and heart rather than anxiety, fear, worry, and doubt? It’s a rhetorical question. 

When we realize just how unworthy we are, yet God loves us anyway because of Christ, tears are the appropriate response, but the emotions are not something we can manufacture because we think it’s the right thing to do. Relationships don’t work that way. They are dynamic, alive, unpredictable, coming when we least expect them, and hard to control. God in us, in Christ, in the person of the Holy Spirit is real, and the truth of who He is and what He’s done for us is stunning to contemplate. The more you do, the more real it becomes, and you won’t be able to help the emotions either.


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