If you ask most people, they will tell you it is easy for them to thank God when things are going well, but it’s not so easy to praise God when life throws them a curveball. If I am honest with myself, it is much harder for me to thank and praise God when I have suffered loss, persecution, or hardship as well.
Realizing the difficulty of thanking God in the hard times is what makes Habakkuk's words so amazing. In chapter 3 of his book he says,
"Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Hab 3:17–19, ESV)
So Habakkuk vows to thank the Lord, even during times of hardship. In fact, he promised not to allow anything to get in his way of praising and rejoicing in the Lord. How can Habakkuk make that promise? How can he promise ahead of time to rejoice in the Lord when everything around him comes crashing down? When he is facing hardship and suffering loss, what is it that allows him to take joy in God?
What is it that allows us to be thankful when things are difficult? I believe Habakkuk clues us into four truths in these three verses that allow us to thank God even in the difficult times.
(1) We can be thankful in difficult times because God is unchanged (v.17)
As Habakkuk begins his promise, he paints a picture of loss for us. Specifically, he envisions losing things that are vital to the economy. The fig trees are not going to blossom. Fruit will not be found on the vine. The olive trees will cease production. The fields will yield no harvests. Cattle and sheep will be lost. Losing all these things at once would put a major strain on the economy and the people of the land.
We know this to be true. Several years ago our country experienced an economic disaster when the housing bubble burst. During that time people not only lost their homes but many lost jobs as well. All that loss resulted in the economy tanking because no one had any money to spend.
All the changes that happened during that time not only had an effect on the economy but also people personally. Some went without food and other basic necessities. Others saw their marriages eroded. Still others experienced strained friendships. While others experienced loss when their houses were taken or they had to move away from friends and family to other parts of the country to find work. Surely, all of this caused stress, worry, anxiety, and tension.
I am sure Habakkuk would have felt that as well. But even so, in verse 18 Habakkuk promises to give thanks to the Lord. How can that be? How can Habakkuk promise to be thankful during such difficult times? Habakkuk new a crucial truth about the Lord, he knew God was unchanged. While things in this world will change, God won't. In Malachi 3:6 we read, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” And in Hebrews 13:8, we learn: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Since God and His promises will not change nor fail us, we can promise ahead of time to be thankful even during the worst of times. One promise we can count on is that God will provide a way for us to experience salvation, which leads us to the second reason for why we can be thankful in difficult times.
(2) We can be thankful in difficult times because we have salvation (v.18)
As much as we would like to think life is stable and certain, it isn't. In reality, we are never far from problems in this life.
Not too long ago my dad told me about a guy on his softball team who was diagnosed with stomach cancer. One week he was playing alongside my dad in a softball tournament. The next week he was sitting in a doctor's office being told he had stage 4 stomach cancer for which there was nothing they could do. He died in a matter of months.
Or take my mom for instance. One day she noticed that one of her fingertips was turning black. After a series of tests, she was diagnosed with Scleroderma, a disease that changed her life and ultimately took it.
Or consider my grandma. One night she went to bed just as she always did. At some point in the middle of the night, she had a stroke, which left half her body paralyzed and her unable to speak. She lived the rest of her life in a nursing home being cared for 24 hours a day.
You see life isn't as stable and certain as we think, but there is one thing that is — our salvation. Everything else can be taken from us — Our job, house, health, ability to communicate, our freedom, and even our life — but our salvation is certain. In Romans 8:1 Paul writes, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro 8:1)
You see, those who have repented of their sin and believe in Jesus, as their Lord and Savior, no longer have to fear God’s punishment because Jesus has taken it for them. Of that, we can be certain not only because God's Word tells us, but also because God is unchanged. There will never come a day when God will change His mind about how we are saved or who is saved. For that, we can be thankful even while facing hardships.
(3) We can be thankful in difficult times because God is Sovereign (v.19)
God being sovereign means that He is in control of everything. As the One who is in control, He either causes or allows everything to happen according to His eternal decree. Hearing that might make us uncomfortable because it means there are things that happen that God could have stopped but doesn’t. But while God’s sovereignty may initially make us uncomfortable, it ultimately should comfort us because it means God is in control and He can and will work all things out according to His eternal plan. Isn’t that what we learn God is doing in the book of Romans? In Romans 8:28 we read, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
In penning that verse, Paul doesn’t mean for us to think everything will work out just hunky-dory for those who are Christians. Nor was he trying to tell us that every bad thing actually has a “silver lining”, or that every terrible thing is somehow actually a good thing if we learn to look at it properly. That is not what Paul is saying. Instead, Paul is telling us God will ultimately use everything in our lives to glorify Him and bring us to salvation. The only way God can use everything in our lives to glorify Him and bring us to salvation is if God is sovereign, which means He must be and is in control of everything. Since God knows and is working everything out according to His plan and purpose, we can praise and thank God even in difficult times.
(4) We can be thankful in difficult times because we are triumphant in Christ (v. 19)
In Christ, we are triumphant over the evil in our lives now because Jesus has freed us from its bondage and none of it will separate us from God (Rom. 8:31-39). We will be triumphant over our enemies in the future when Jesus returns because He will vindicate us and destroy our enemies once and for all (Rev. 19-22).
Before then, we will face difficult situations, but none of them will ultimately defeat us because God will keep us in Christ. In Christ, we will be and are victorious and triumphant. So when we face difficult situations, we should thank God because He gives us the strength to continue in the faith, and He will one day free us from those situations, conquering our enemies and ushering in a New Heavens and New Earth where we will live in sinless perfection for all eternity.
So when you face difficulties in this life, and you will, don’t run from God, rather run to Him, praising and thanking Him for all you have in Him despite the difficulties and hardship you are experiencing.
Admittedly, praising God in the difficult times is not easy, but by remembering our God is unchanged, He provides us with salvation, He is Sovereign, and He causes us to be triumphant in Christ, should make it possible for us to stand and say with Habakkuk,
“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Hab 3:18–19)”