199. In the midst of the years

[New Year 2021]

I know you want to say it.  Of course, it is a frustration, irritation, infuriation, aggravation and a vexation.  We have had enough!  Can we announce an end to the virus?  We are sick and tired of virus politics and virus economics. Can we turn the page to the New Year?  

Well no, apparently not.  While we herald a new year according to our calendar calculations, we cannot turn that blank page that calls for traditional resolutions and creative decisions.  Instead of our usual annual celebrations, we struggle with a second wave, a new mutation, uncertainty about vaccinations, shattered economies and a dark tunnel of virus politics and regulations.  Everybody has an opinion on everything and the spirit of offence runs rampant.  We need endurance to see this through. [Pebbles 198]

There have been serious global crises in world history.  In the ancient world everything was “global” as news from other parts of the known world came through traders and travellers on a hearsay basis.  Just think of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar when starvation made people eat their own children.  The best and worst of people are revealed in times of calamity.  Analyzing and summarizing 2020 are not finished for a long time to come.

Between Christmas and New Year is a precious peaceful lull.  I have had to cope with a long list of bad news and difficult situations during the last months of 2020.  God is gracious over my household, but many things happened in the greater circle of family, friends and ministries close to my heart.  Many have had to cope with Covid and the consequences of a global pandemic, but the brokenness and violence, sickness, sin and death of our planet have not ceased.  

All that I heard “drove” me under the “Shadow of the Almighty” with a special consciousness and determination.  I decided to take communion every morning, until God says it can stop.  I do not want to continue just because I started and let it slip into mindless ritual.  At the moment it is a source of strength and a precious time of insight.  It is in one of the quiet dark mornings that God led me to the book of Habakkuk.  I read slowly with all the footnotes and comments of my “reading” Bible [New Spirit Filled Life Bible. Jack Hayford is the editor. The NKJV is used]. 

It was a joy to read the third chapter where the title of this piece comes from.  It is a prayer on the melody of a lament – how appropriate to my deep sadness. 

O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid;
O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.

In the first chapter the prophet asks questions of the Lord.  It is the classic WHY- question that we so much yearn to ask, but often are dissuaded to ask.  The commentary had this to say: Habakkuk is a reminder that the question WHY, can. should and must be asked.

Habakkuk complains about the iniquity, trouble, violence and plundering in the land, the powerlessness of the law, injustice and wickedness that prevail.  

God answers that He is going to do something.  God’s answer might not be what Habakkuk wants to hear.  God declares that He will send the Chaldeans (from Babylon) to ravage the land in judgment.  They are cruel and strong and they come with more violence and extreme force to subject nations – indeed something to fear.

Then the prophet calls out in reproach to God that God is silent and He lets his people down.  God’s answer comes in the second chapter.  The prophet positions himself to “hear” God.  

I will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me,
And what I will answer when I am corrected
. (2:1)

God instructs Habakkuk to write the vision and run with it, so that everybody takes note of God’s word in the matter.  The answer is direct and to the point, aimed at the individual.  

Habakkuk writes the words that would become the cry of the Reformation centuries later: But the just shall live by his faith.

Focus on our individual faith is the life-principle for difficult times.  We are not expected to take responsibility for the whole world with its screwed-up politics and economy and even less for the church.  Joshua “casts” this question before the nation, almost in defiance and anger.  

And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Back in Habakkuk we find the same theme.

Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house,
That he may set his nest on high,
That he may be delivered from the power of disaster!
10 You give shameful counsel to your house,
Cutting off many peoples,
And sin against your soul.
11 For the stone will cry out from the wall,
And the beam from the timbers will answer it.

12 “Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed,
Who establishes a city by iniquity!
 (Habakkuk 2:9-12)

God states clearly that He is not unaware of the situation in Judah.  His silence does not imply inaction.  He will also judge the Chaldeans and save Judah.

The response of the prophet on the Word of God is our special cry for 2021.  

O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid;
O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.

We pray that God will work in our time.  The beginning of 2021, although marked as usual as a New Year, feels much more like a time span that could be described as: “in the midst of the years”.  It seems that the struggle of 2020 rolls over into 2021.

We pray that God will intervene before all the promised solutions are real.  We believe “our God reigns” (Isaiah 52:7) and rule over the nations of the earth.  We pray for NOW!  Habakkuk prays for God’s action before the future plan.

Then Habakkuk breaks out into singing.  His questions are answered.  The result of God’s Word is a whole new perspective.  He shifts his focus on what God is doing and not on the circumstances.  

I pray for January 2021: Lord, please intervene.  Do something in our time.  We need You now!

This prayer has an amazing upshot.  The prayer shifts his outlook completely.  The lament becomes a song of praise.  God’s majesty, eternal character and mighty deeds are seen in creation and the prophet is struck in awe.  He bows in adoration of the glory of God.

It is in this attitude that he writes the words that we so often quote – and rightly so.  It is a hymn of faith as the NKJV describes it.

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.

19 The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
 (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Just stand up right there where you are, raise your arms and say: YET.  It is such a short word for a strong stance.  Make it longer if you want and say: notwithstanding, nevertheless, anyhow, despite.  It is our motto for 2021. 

He will touch our feet, symbolic of our actions and choices.  We will walk on the mountains, the high places, the difficult paths in difficult times – in the midst of the years.

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