Habakkuk the prophet spoke of a time when he could find nothing but desolation all around him. The fig tree had not blossomed, nor seemed likely to blossom. There was no fruit in the vine. The labour of the olive had failed. The fields had yielded no food. The flock was cut off from the fold, and there was no herd in the stalls (Hab. 3.17).
This was a spiritual scene Habakkuk was prophesying about—signs of a frightening spiritual crop failure, and therefore severe famine at the door. Yet what was Habakkuk’s reaction?
Yet will I rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The LORD God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and He will make me to walk upon my high places (Hab. 3.19).
Joy? Rejoicing? How can it be possible to be in the midst of such grievous circumstance and yet tap into a source of joy?
Let me tell you of one high place higher than all others—the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who is seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places “far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1.21).
And we are called to walk in Him there.
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving (Col. 1.7).
Fellow Christian with the hinds’ feet of the Holy Spirit, though we live in an evil world of trouble and great darkness, it is our heritage to be living and walking in the high places of an entirely different world. In Christ we have the opportunity—and the provision by the Holy Spirit—to walk no longer dependent on this world for our peace and wellbeing and happiness and security. Those who walk in this world, when evil circumstance—trouble or affliction—comes upon them, their peace and wellbeing evaporates like the morning cloud in the heat of the sun.
I know this happens to you and me too at times. But it need not. There is another realm in which we can walk. Those who have received Christ Jesus the Lord, we can walk in Him. Regardless of present evil circumstance or affliction, JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, and so, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, we can be living and walking in One who is seated upon the Throne of God in a kingdom and dominion that transcends and rules over all.
Let us consider this earnestly, and meditate upon it, and sow to it. It is quite the thing that there are people on this troubled planet who are actually rooted and living in a different world. They are not subject to the vagaries and transience of earthly things. There may be some deeply galling circumstance in our life, or deep affliction, something from which, like a prison, there seems no escape. But right there we can be living in another realm.
Consider the apostle Paul when he was a prisoner (Phil. 1.13)… and not quite sure how things would go for him (2.23). How long would he be in this prison? Perhaps he might even be executed? And yet he is filled to overflowing with joy. Read his letter to the Philippians remembering he is in prison while he writes this. Yet he is filled with joy, so much so that his joy just spills over to those he is writing to. You have to read the whole letter in one sweep to get the feel of it, but here are two or three verses.
…Christ is preached, and therein do I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice (Phil. 1.18).
Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.
For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me (Phil. 2.17,18).
Paul expects it could well be that his days here on earth are over, but he is filled with joy, and seeks to infect his friends and brethren with the same joy. Like Habakkuk, he is rejoicing in the midst of the worst possible circumstances.
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3.1).
These are Habakkuk’s words, aren’t they. And it appears Paul is about to sign off. “Finally, my brethren…” But the joy continues to well up, and now something else comes on his heart, and it is not till he has given us one of the most precious chapters in the whole of the Bible (Philippians Ch. 3) that he picks up his benediction again:
Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, rejoice (Ch. 4.4).
How can he be so full of joy considering his circumstances? It’s simply because he is rooted in a heavenly Ground that transcends his present evil circumstance. He knows that the Gospel of Christ in him is a power that rules over all; whatever comes it is not possible for him to be disappointed.
…According to my earnest expectation and my hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Ch. 1.20).
We find this same confidence in Paul’s second letter to Timothy written when he is again in prison. This time he is chained like a common criminal—and this time he knows for certain his end is at hand. (He was executed under the Roman emperor Nero, likely in 67 AD just after writing this letter.)
And note what we glean from this letter; it’s enough to sink anyone in despair. All in the province of Asia where Paul has laboured so earnestly have now deserted him (2 Tim. 1.15). That in itself is enough to take the heart out of anyone—to see their life’s work disintegrate before their very eyes. The flock, it seems, has been cut off from the fold; Paul’s labour of the olive has failed… or so it seemed. And it appears it’s a rare thing that anyone comes to visit lonely Paul in prison; he makes special mention of a certain Onesiphorus who came from Ephesus and searched hard to find him and came often and refreshed him, “and was not ashamed of my chain” (2 Tim. 1.16).
What is more, Paul tells Timothy that the first time he stood before Nero no one showed up to stand by him and defend him (2 Tim. 4.16). My. One would think the Lord Himself had abandoned Paul… until we continue reading.
Nevertheless the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me… and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory forever and ever, Amen (2 Tim. 4.18).
And so we see in Paul an unshakable faith and confidence that springs from a source other than this present evil world. Paul is rooted in another world, a heavenly world—actually in Christ Himself, who never ever forsakes him. He is being built up in Him, for he is established, grounded, in the faith, abounding therein with thanksgiving. His letter is filled with words of encouragement for Timothy, whom he knows to be somewhat timid of nature, and vulnerable to fear and anxiety. Paul reminds him it is for the Gospel that he is suffering these things, and regardless of the present scene, he is confident in the triumph of the Gospel—to be revealed in a certain Day. And so he rejoices in the Lord, in the God of his salvation.
For which cause I suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that Day (2 Tim. 1.12).
Beloved Christian, there is a Day coming. There is coming a Day. But this does not mean that the Gospel is not triumphant even now in our present troubles—for the one who with hinds’ feet walks in Christ in the high places of a different world… while we confidently await the Day when that triumph will be openly manifested.
Hi Allan. A great word. It reminds me of a time when I was teaching five hundred 13 and 14 year olds in a downtown Toronto school. I was pushed out the door each morning in tears by my wife. It was very tough slogging. But one day as I came into the main office, the secretary said, “Every time you walk through that door you light up this place!” I nearly fell over. Even in the midst of very trying times, Christ shone in and through me. I’ve learned over the years that no matter what our circumstances or even state of mind, Christ is not diminished one iota in our lives. In fact, when things seemingly couldn’t get any worse, I more often now just relax in Jesus’ presence and joy wells up within me. The world does not know this ridiculous bliss but people can see it in the lives of those who know where their hope is rooted – In Mr. Hope himself, Jesus. It’s awesome isn’t it!
Just as an aside – it seems that many of us are waiting for something more when Christ returns. We have all of him now! We won’t have any more in that day. So, I urge my fellow believers to sink into the fullness that is ours right now and rejoice continually. “He has prepared us a feast in the presence of our enemies.” So, let’s eat and celebrate!
Hi Paul, I like that… our hope being rooted in “Mr. Hope Himself.” Yesterday I was much encouraged with a verse from Romans: “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15.13). Once again, here is Paul sourcing into that unseen reality where our life is hid with Christ in God.
…About the aside. You are right that “we have all of Him now.” Paul confirms this in Colossians, where he says, “And ye are complete (or, filled full) in Him…” (Col. 2.10). Even so, there is room for growth in Him– but “not by addition, but by nutrition.” That’s a quote I came across by Warren Wiersbe a while ago. He said, “When a person is born again into the family of God, he is born complete in Christ. His spiritual growth is not by addition, but by nutrition.” That’s very insightful. When a baby is born into this world that baby is a complete human being. Nothing needs to be added to him or her. The same with us in Christ when we are born again. We are complete in Him. Yet there is a great need (something all too often sadly lacking, it seems) to be nurtured “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, that we henceforth be no more children…” (Eph. 4.13). By a perfect man Paul is not saying that we’re imperfect and only have one arm and need the second one, or, only one ear and need the second one, or only one lung, etc. No, we are complete in Him, but must be nurtured till we all come to full maturity.
…And we will yet see this wonderful Hope fully realized in the earth– this perfect, full-grown Man!
I believe it brings our LORD a lot more praise to rejoice while we are going through the trial,than to give him praise after he has given us grace to go though it. Let’s both praise him before and after. I also liked that growing by nutrition not by addition other than add to your faith…….
Again I enjoyed the word from you Allen and Paul Appleby
Hi Alden. Good to hear from you. David Wilkerson once preached a message called, “Right song, wrong side.” What he had in mind was the children of Israel singing the victory song after they had passed through the Red Sea. It was the right song… but they could have been singing it before they went throught the sea. That would have been singing the right song on the right side. Instead they were filled with fear and doubt… as I am myself at times. And like Jesus’ disciples in the storm. He chided them for their unbelief. “Oh ye of little faith…” Oh, for the eye of faith that sees the Lord always before our face!
Hi Alden. Yes Allan, I too like “growth through nutrition not addition”. I’ll remember that one. Sometimes I like to think of growth as a deepening our revelation of the fullness that is ours in Christ – kind of like an ongoing unpacking of the gift of our perfect union with Christ. I find it so freeing to manifest, through faith, my present completeness in Christ rather than trying to achieve a holiness that will be mine someday. ( through “hard spiritual formation” or when death brings me face to face with God). Faith is being persuaded by the truth of who we are in Christ and not by how well we perform or how “successful” our lives or circumstances are. Faith is always knowing our identity as saints of the Living God even when the world, our circumstances or the enemy try to deceive us into an inferior perspective of ourselves and God. Let us be blessed and be a blessing with the riches that we already possess to the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are all and in all. Amen.
Hi Paul. I like that imagery of unpacking the gift. Salvation by grace through faith is “the gift of God” (Eph. 2.8). So here I have this beautiful gift before me wrapped up with a ribbon around it. It’s mine, and I am thankful for it. I admire it. I turn it over and over. I talk about it. I tell my friends about it. But what about opening it? Untying the ribbon and unwrapping it? Discovering the wonders inside that gift, and making them real in my experience? Oh, you can’t do that, you have to wait till you go to heaven to do that… 🙂
You are right, Allan, about our not being able to make that experience real. Indeed only the Holy Spirit can do that – but I’m not waiting until I “go” to heaven to experience the glory that has already been poured out through the cross. I’m going to walk in it now and throughout eternity!
Hi Paul, I fully agree with you about walking it out now, and throughout eternity. And with God’s provision (the Holy Spirit) we are well able to make His great salvation real in our experience. But sadly, the common teaching is that we have to wait till Heaven before we can unwrap and enjoy this present. Sorry if I didn’t come across clearly in the last sentence of my previous comment. I was just stating the argument many use to sell themselves short– “you have to wait till you go to heaven to do that.” Not according to the apostle Paul. He urges us to present our bodies a living sacrifice… that we might prove (make real in our experience) what is that “good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” I am sure there is much for us in “the hereafter.” But let’s not sell ourselves short on what God has for us in the “here.”
Absolutely, Allan! Bless you.
Thanks, Paul. The Lord bless you too, brother.
I love Habakkuk. He is a great consolation in these difficult times.
Hi Anna, I always appreciate your comments. Habakkuk opens his prophecy with the words, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.” God had laid on him a heavy burden that he was to carry, and deliver to His people. No doubt it was this that wrought in Habakkuk’s heart the faith and hope with which he inspires us. For, along with the burden, God gave him words that have been an inspiration to all generations since, and key to the foundation of the New Covenant. “The just shall live by faith.”