“Overcoming a Weak Faith”
There are many people throughout this world who believe that through their own good efforts, God will save them. They believe that if they do enough good deeds, or contribute enough money, or make enough sacrifices they can receive salvation or enjoy a better life here on the Earth. That is an idea that is taught in some religions; yet it is not found anywhere in the Bible. It is not taught in the Old Testament or in the New Testament. In fact, the Bible emphasizes just the opposite. It encourages one to walk by faith and to depend on the Lord. The two Old Testament prophets, Nahum and Habakkuk, emphasized that very thing. If you find yourself putting your faith in your own efforts instead of what God has already done, the messages from these two prophets might give you some things to consider. I hope you will listen to what they have to say about living by faith.
Have you ever questioned God's work in this world? Have you ever wondered what God is up to and how come some things really don't make sense in life? Perhaps to ask that in an even more personal way, have you ever wondered what God is doing in your own individual life? Perhaps that is something that we do from time to time, we ask those questions and we wonder exactly what is God up to, and if He really is in-tuned with what is happening in the world today. Our lesson today takes us to two Old Testament prophets toward the end of the Old Testament. They saw firsthand God working in this world, and those two prophets were Nahum and Habakkuk. Oh, they knew that God existed, that He was in control over all things, but there were some things that really did not make sense and they wondered what God was up to. And they asked questions like this: in the midst of all of Your judgment and in the midst of all of Your punishment upon people, is there a message of hope? Can something good come out of what appears to be something bad? And again, those might be questions we would ask of God, even still today. Let's begin with the message of Nahum. His message revolves around the destruction of the city of Nineveh, and that is the capital city of Assyria. And that powerful army that comes out of Nineveh is about to be destroyed and taken down, and they will never be heard from again. And no doubt, that will bring great comfort to God's people living in Judah. In fact, that is the meaning of Nahum's name; it is "comfort." But he announces a message of punishment that will come upon all of Nineveh and all of Assyria, but yet through that there is a message of hope for the people living in Judah. We see that in the very first chapter of Nahum. Listen to these words, beginning with verse 12. < This is what the Lord says: “Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be cut off and pass away. Although I have afflicted you, Judah, I will afflict you no more. Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away.” > Oh, the Ninevites had done some bad and evil things in the past, and now they had a stranglehold on the nation of Judah. And Judah was concerned about that. They wondered how God was going to work out a plan where they could be set free from Assyria. But God says, "There is coming a time when I will do that. I will break that stranglehold, that yoke they have upon you, and I will set you free from them." Oh, the Assyrians had taken into captivity the northern kingdom of Israel. These people were brutal and they were mean, and they dished out all kinds of pain upon others. In fact, on those that they took into captivity, they often times tortured and even mutilated them before putting them to death. And as they conquered all these nations around them, they thought they were invincible; they thought that as a nation nobody could take them down; nobody was equal to them in power, or strength, or ability. But Nahum now reminds them that God is in control and He is going to punish them because of their cruel and evil behavior. And as a result of that, His people living in the land of Judah would experience a time of peace. Oh, you might remember some 150 years earlier a prophet named Jonah spoke to the forefathers of the people living in Nineveh. For 3 days he traveled the city of Nineveh and he said, “The time is coming when you will be destroyed, unless you repent.” And on that occasion the people did just that. They repented. They changed their ways. But now some 150 years later, those descendents had gone back into their evil and cruel practices. So in Nahum's prophecy, he tells them the time has come when you as a nation will be taken down. And the people you taunted in the past will turn and they will taunt you. Humiliation will come upon this great city; a city that once relied upon their own strength and their own abilities. And they will be repaid for all of the pain and all of the problems they have dished out upon other people, because God's judgment is coming upon them. Again, that is some good news for God's people living in Judah. Listen to the words of verse 15 of the 1st chapter. < Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed. > Yes, there is one coming who will bring good news to God's people; that your enemy is going to be destroyed, and so celebrate, and rejoice, and take care of your festivals, and honor and worship God, because God is doing something amazing and wonderful in your life. Yes, Nahum reminds the people that the Lord is good. He is a refuge in times of trouble and He cares about those who put their trust in Him. When I think about the overall message of Nahum, I'm reminded of three great truths: when we seek to control others it offends God. That's what was happening with the people of Assyria. They were powerful, they were strong, and they controlled the people around them. But God was greatly offended by that, because these people exercised undue authority and control over those who were helpless and defenseless. Secondly, God's kingdom is not about power and control, and the abuse of it. In Romans 14:17, over in the New Testament, we find that God's kingdom is about gentleness, and kindness, and righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. And those things are exactly opposite of control, and power, and authority, and the abuse of it. And those people who live within God's kingdom are to turn away from the power and the control aspect, and to live a life of kindness, and justice, and joy, and peace. I think about Jesus and His ministry here upon the Earth. That is the way He lived. And no doubt, He wants His followers to live following that example. But then there's one more thing I believe we can learn from the prophet Nahum. We are to trust only in the power of God. Listen to these words in chapter 1, in fact this is the way, Nahum begins his prophecy in verse 2. < The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on His foes and maintains His wrath against His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of His feet. > Oh, that passage reminds me that there is absolutely no power, and no nation, and no army on the face of this Earth that can ever come close to equaling the power of God. He is mighty and He is in control, and we allow Him to be God. We allow Him to work out His ways, even though they may not make much sense to us. But, we know that God's ways are always right and good. And that seems to be the primary messages that we can gain from this Old Testament prophet called Nahum. Let's move on now to the prophet Habakkuk. He spoke just a few years after the prophet Nahum, and he too saw some foreign nations taking advantage of God's people. No, he did not understand some of things going on with all of that. For example, he did not understand why the wicked were prospering more so than the righteous. That did not make much sense to him. And he wonders why God is allowing all of these things to happen if He really is in-tuned with what is going on in the world. He sees things, that in his mind, are not fair. He sees things, that in his mind, are not just and that should not take place. And so, throughout three chapters here in Habakkuk, he carries on a dialogue, or a conversation, with God about all of these troubling events. And he even argues with God, to some extent, in regards to why things are happening as they do. And God gives him some answers. Oh, those are not the answers that he wants to hear, but God hears his questions and He responds to him. First of all, Habakkuk sees some bad things going on, even among God's own people. Some of them are oppressing those who are righteous. Some of them are living in open sin and rebellion. Some of them are worshiping the foreign idols of the nations around them. And, some of them are even oppressing those among their own people who are poor and defenseless. And so he asked questions like, "Why are the wicked more prosperous than the righteous? How long will You allow such injustice and such brutality to go on, right here in Your holy city of Jerusalem?" And, "How long am I going to have to call upon You for help, God, and yet You will not answer me?" That same dilemma disturbs many people today. We often times might ask the very same questions. Why is evil and suffering so out of control, while goodness and justice seem to go overlooked? Why is it, God, that evil seems to triumph good on so many occasions? And we too have questions like that, and we wonder where God is. We wonder why God doesn't answer; why He doesn't respond; why He doesn't run this world the way we think He should run this world. Well again, God gives Habakkuk what he wants. And He says, "I am going to bring justice upon those who are unjust. I am going to punish My own people by using the Babylonians, who happened to be far worse than even My own people." Well, Habakkuk doesn't really like that, either. He doesn't understand what God is up to. And yet, God has a plan, God has a purpose, and He is working out those things in accordance with His will. And it's interesting to note that God doesn't have to run His plan through Habakkuk. God doesn't have to get Habakkuk's approval to do what God thinks is best. But none of that sits well with this prophet and so he responds with these words, in chapter 2 and verse 1. < I will take my stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. > Well, the entire prophecy of Habakkuk is God choosing to do what He believes to be best. And even though it doesn't make much sense to Habakkuk, he says, "Okay. I'm going to sit back, I'm going to watch, I'm going to wait to see how all of this plays out." And in verse 4, God tells him perhaps the most important words in the entire prophecy: "The righteous will live by faith." And as Habakkuk waits, and as he watches to see what will happen, he develops his faith in God. But then he asks another question: "How can You allow Judah, Your own people, to be punished by an even more evil nation than Your own?" He cannot reconcile the cruelty and the inhumanity of this enemy with God's own purity, and holiness. And so again, he wants God to defend His actions. It's interesting to note, Habakkuk doesn't question God about His existence or about His holiness, some things perhaps that would enter our minds today. All of that is already settled in Habakkuk's mind. Habakkuk wants to know things like, "God, where is Your justice? Is what You are doing really ethical and fair? Is what You are doing moral?" and, "Is this the very best approach to take?" Well indeed, God admits that the Babylonians are wicked and they deserve to be punished, but that time has not yet come. God has a purpose for them. He is going to use them in order to teach His own people a very valuable and important lesson. And once the Babylonians do that, then God will deal with them in righteousness and in justice, and they will experience punishment because of the way they have lived. And so, God basically tells Habakkuk, "I am in control. I am working things out," and "Those who deserve My justice will eventually get it." Well in the meantime, Habakkuk learns to trust in God's ways and to allow Him to do His work in this world; and he stands in awe of God's power and greatness. He states in chapter 3 in verse 2, < "Lord, I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy." > Habakkuk knows that God's ways are far greater than his own. And he is to let God be God, while he, in turn, learns to live with a greater amount of faith. He learns a very important truth, and he puts it into the final words of his prophecy. Listen to Habakkuk's summary of what has happened with this dialogue, or exchange, with the Lord. In chapter 3 we begin reading with verse 17 through the end of the chapter, verse 19. < "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, 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 to the heights." > Habakkuk sizes up everything that has happened in front of him, and it really doesn't make much sense. Things aren't normal. Things don't work, in his mind, the way they should work; kind of like nature. And so he summarizes by saying, "Even though things don't work like I think they should, whether it's the fig trees, or the fruit vines, or the flocks, or the herds, my only response is to rejoice in God my Savior." And now he can be as confident and sure in God's promises as is a deer climbing the steep and uncertain terrain of a mountain. Yes, Habakkuk now has confidence and faith in God. And he knows that wherever he goes and whatever happens in the world around him, God's presence is always there and His will is always done. When I think about Habakkuk's message, I think, "You know, that applies to me." Sometimes things don't work the way I think they should. Things are out of sorts. Nature doesn't seem to be working its way out, the way it has in the past. And I wonder why. And, I wonder what God is up to. And I take these three verses from Habakkuk, and I put them into perhaps some words that we might say today when we begin to question what God is doing. We might put it like this, for example. Though my job goes away and my health fails, though the forces of evil seem to have their way, and the economy doesn't work the way I think it should, the government doesn't function effectively, and I am not appreciated by my family and by my friends, and even though nothing seems to make much sense, there is one thing that I will never do; I will never pull the plug on God. I believe that is what Habakkuk said here in verse 17 through 19. He doesn't give up on the Lord. Oh, we may always have some questions about God's work in this world, but we can never stop believing in God. We can never turn our back upon Him. But, we understand that if we allow the circumstances in our life to control us, they will, and we will see a negative view of things. But, if we recognize that God is in control, we will be amazed at how He accomplishes His purposes, not only in this world but also in our own individual lives. Sometimes we don't like the way things are going in our life, in our health, in our job, in our church, in society, whatever it might be; and we are tempted to pull the plug on God. But when things don't go the way we think they should go, we may even think about turning away from God instead of drawing closer to Him. We look for a way that agrees with our world instead of looking for a way that we can agree with God's world. And Habakkuk reminds us, in this story, that God is in control, and we are not. Certainly that takes the pressure off of us trying to figure out the way things are, or the way things should be. Let me offer some observations, as we draw the story to conclusion. God knows our concerns and He hears the questions of our heart. And, He wants us to ask Him about these things, and there is not a bad question. But yet at the same time, there are some questions that never get a full answer. But, the questions that God does answer for us are always right, and they are always right on time. Take a look at this video clip. It's entitled "Trusting in Our Own Efforts," and it serves as the illustration for our lesson today.
Perhaps the most common thought among religious people today is this: if I do enough good deeds in life then God will grant me His salvation. If I go to church enough, if I read my Bible on a regular basis, if I spend time praying, or even if I give money and help other people, then God will give me what I have earned. In other words, we might think in our mind, well I deserve salvation because, look God, at all of these good things I have already done. But nowhere in the Bible do we read anything like that. God has already provided His salvation through the giving of His son Jesus Christ, and He simply wants us to receive what He has already done. And then, there is nothing in the Bible that says -the more good deeds I do the more good things God will give to me. When we think about the Bible, we recognize that God has already given to us Jesus Christ, His son, and that is where we find our salvation. But then we ask the question: well, if I cannot depend upon my own good efforts and good deeds then will I really receive that salvation? I believe that God would say to us, in the midst of all those questions, simply walk by faith in Me. Even when things don't make sense in the world around us, even when things do not turn out the way we think they should turn out, God says simply, "Trust Me." He wants us to walk with Him each and every day, in a spirit and attitude of faith and trust. And when we do that, even though things don't work out the way we think they should, we know that God will provide for us exactly what we need. My encouragement for us is to simply walk by faith in God. Put our complete trust in Him, and not in our own efforts, but to know that He has and He will continue to provide exactly what we need.
Oh, these two prophets remind us of some great truths. First of all, Nahum reminds us that no person and no nation can be great apart from God's strength and God's power. And no matter who we are, no matter where we live, no matter what flag flies over our country, our faith in God is to be the number one thing, as we put our trust in His strength and power. But then secondly, Habakkuk reminds us to walk with God, even when His ways are difficult to understand. Because we know from chapter 2 in verse 4, the righteous will live by faith; a statement that is made many times throughout the Bible. Oh, even though we do not know all of the answers to the questions of life, we are to live by faith. We are to remember that God can be trusted in each and every situation in life. And when we live like that, it brings peace to our life as we overcome our weak faith and have a stronger faith in God. That is my prayer and my encouragement for you; to have a strong faith in the Lord God Almighty.
Thank you for being our guest today. I trust this message about walking by faith inspired you to do just that. If you would like to know more about putting your faith in the Lord, please contact our ministry either by phone or email. We offer a free Bible study and free access to various messages. I hope you will call the number on the screen or go to our website. You might even want to find us on Roku television, or add our free phone app to your Apple or Android phone. These are all opportunities to assist you in your daily walk with the Lord, and hopefully you will take advantage of them. Thank you again for joining us for today's broadcast. And I invite you to join us again next time, as we continue to study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."