How is our voice shaped by the journey that we are taking with the Lord and how He is speaking to us?
I suppose we remember certain voices in our generation – or even in past generations now we have the ability to record sound and video and see and hear what “great men” have said. When they hear the words “I have a dream”, most people in my generation will not need to be prompted a second time. Martin Luther King’s speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963 is a once in a lifetime landmark remembered by people across the world. Equally for people of my father’s generation in the UK “we shall fight them on the beaches” is a reminder of the tremendous boost that Sir Winston Churchill gave the country in the dark days of the battle for France (this speech was given to parliament on 4 June 1940).
Some voices remain in our heads – those of loved ones, friends, teachers and other people who have been significant to us in some way. Two that I remember at a church that I went to in my teens were an elderly lady that now and again gave exhortations starting “my child”. This “first person” voice that she used to encourage, support and challenge the saints in that church always felt deeply personal, and it was always very moving to hear the word of the Lord come across in that way. No matter what – even in rebuke – the voice was dripping with love and compassion and melted your heart with a desire to please Jesus. Another person – an older man in the same church – used to pray about God’s faithfulness. He would relate stories about normal happenings being at home alone in “his little flat” and all of a sudden “Great Scott” he would say “I realised that the Lord was right there with me”. He found the Lord present in the smallest things and his voice was full of gratitude and love for the saviour who has promised never to leave us or forsake us (his favourite verse).
The Old Testament prophets all have a specific voice. Yes, they gave out the same kinds of warnings – to Israel with warnings about their unfaithfulness and lack of love for the one who had chosen them as His special people, and to other nations about, for example, the fact that they had enjoyed and been over-zealous when God chose them to discipline His Israel. But they also had a unique voice – one which betrays their own relationship with God at the time, maybe their background and personality and why the Lord called them to be the bearer of a particular message. Here are a few thoughts and a bit of a summary of a recent journey through Habakkuk:
The prophet starts with a question which is prompted by seeing the sin and corruption of God’s people through the eyes of the Lord Himself. He is seeing the revelation but doesn’t know what to do with it. He asks the Lord why He has shown him this distress yet is apparently doing nothing to help those who are injured by it? He asks the Lord – having shown me the problem why don’t You answer my prayer for justice and mercy for the poor and exploited and downtrodden? The Lord does answer and promises unbelievable events in the prophet’s lifetime that will completely destroy the status quo.
The prophet carries on asking questions because there only seems to be evil upon evil: “But how can you stand these treacherous, evil men? Your eyes are too holy to look at evil, and you cannot stand the sight of people doing wrong. So why are you silent while they destroy people who are more righteous than they are?” (Habakkuk 1:13)
Still not understanding the ways of the Almighty the prophet determines to play his part and “stand his watch”. Habakkuk 2:1: “I will climb my watchtower and wait to see what the Lord will tell me to say and what answer he will give to my complaint”. He knows that if he is faithful to his calling and patient, the Lord will correct his lack of understanding and wrong assumptions about what is going on. The Lord gets the prophet to write down the vision as a test and testimony:
The Lord gave me this answer: “Write down clearly on tablets what I reveal to you, so that it can be read at a glance. Put it in writing, because it is not yet time for it to come true. But the time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true. It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed. “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:2-4)
The Lord counsels patience and gets Habakkuk to wait on Him for the fulfilment – for the promise is that it will not wait for ever. The prophet’s expectation is that the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise is imminent and will come suddenly. The Lord’s expectation of the prophet is that he will wait in faith and not trust to his own devices. Maybe there is a temptation to “tweak” the word a bit so as to make it a little more ambiguous? Maybe there is a temptation to get stuck in and try and do a bit of manipulation in the meanwhile – he is warned that such things are done in pride and vary from an upright path – “The just shall live by faith” (No plan B).
The Lord now shows Habakkuk a number of things that characterise the evil that His heart abhors. Habakkuk understands the significance of what he is shown and is afraid. He understands the consequences of the evil committed by God’s people and that their suffering will be for a duration. Yet his prayer is for the Lord to limit the time of discipline and for there to be glory and respite in it – a time not only of hardship but also of renewal and revival brought about by a fresh revelation. He waits for the redemption of the Lord with faith and hope in the middle of what is happening to the contrary.
You could say that Habakkuk’s conclusion shows him to be in a new place. His various prayers have turned to praise and trust, and he finishes with this well-known song of praise (Habakkuk 3:17–19):
Though the olive tree 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—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
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.
Like the other prophets, Habakkuk’s journey with the Lord shaped his message and “voice” to the people around him. How is our voice shaped by the journey that we are taking with the Lord and how He is speaking to us? Our audience may not be equivalent to Martin Luther King’s, Churchill’s or Habakkuk’s but we are probably in a position to leave a lasting impression on many like the two people did for me as a teenager all those years ago.
Habakkuk clearly went from being full of questions and perhaps doubts through an experience with the Lord where He knew that nothing else counted except his hope and trust in his Saviour. Although he had a sober message to share about discipline and suffering, and his understanding was still not perfect, he could not help but burst out: “I will rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation”! It is clear that the Lord does not despise or discourage the prophet’s prayers or questions but the answers that appear to shape his message and change its character do not come from direct answers to them, but a deeper relationship with the Lord and who he is. A big part of Habakkuk’s story is that journey.
O Lord make my “voice” to the people that I know ring with your presence rather than my pride – for then my soul would depend on me and not be upright within me – for the just shall live by faith and their path will shine more and more unto the perfect day!
Author: Chris Pearson
May God bless and enrich your life
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