February 25, 2014

He was not brave. “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me” (Habakkuk 3:16a). But he did show courage. “Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us” (3:16b).

At the risk of offending English language scholars who know more than I do, I have always seen a difference between being brave and showing courage. I call upon Merriam-Webster for support. Brave is “feeling or showing no fear.” Courage is “the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous.” The seasoned and fearless captain bravely leaves the bunker, rallies his troops, and leads the charge. The soldiers, trembling in fear at what they know is ahead, courageously follow.

Habakkuk knew what was coming. God would send the Chaldeans to invade and punish His people (1:5-11). When Habakkuk complained about God using the wicked to swallow up those more righteous than they (1:12-17), God told him not to worry, the Chaldeans would get theirs too (2:6-20). The bottom line, however, was that war and devastation would come upon the land of Israel. Trembling in fear, Habakkuk courageously utters what are to me some of the most beautiful words in Scripture.

“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” (3:17-19).

Habakkuk anticipates complete desolation and that everything important for sustaining the life of Israel would be gone—no figs, grapes, olives, grain, sheep, or cattle. Then he speaks that grand conjunction of faith, “yet.” His joy does not come from circumstances but from the God of his salvation. He finds strength, not in his own fearful and weak body, but in the Lord. His courage to persevere, to “tread on my high places,” flows from his God.

We are not called to be strong and brave For Life. We are called to be strong and courageous For Life. We are not called to be fearless but faithful. Our enemy, death, is as ruthless and merciless as the Chaldeans. The champions of death as a solution to the problems of life are relentless and legionary. And even though it seems sometimes that all may be lost and hopeless, YET, we rejoice in God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of life. We find our strength in Him as we live in the victory over death He has won and given to us (1 Corinthians 15:57). Even though we may be fearful, we receive courage from Him to tread on our “high places” and boldly speak up for and defend His gift of life. We do so in the face of misunderstanding, opposition, and anger coming sometimes from fellow Christians, members of our congregations, or members of our own families.

I received a note recently from one of our LFL leaders who had made a presentation on Life Sunday. After the service, a woman she did not know angrily confronted her pointing her finger in the leader’s face and railing about how mad she was and saying that not all women should have to have babies because of one mistake. The angry outburst lasted a couple of minutes, and then the woman turned and left not allowing any response. Typical of the compassion of LFLers, our leader wrote, “I was praying all the time she was speaking. She was obviously speaking from a place of hurt and anger from a personal experience or the experience of a loved one. This lady needs our prayers.”

This time of year I receive notes and phone calls from pastors who experience similar outbursts from members after a Life Sunday message. Members demand such a sermon never be preached again. They threaten to stop giving, go to another church, or never set foot in church again. No one, including pastors, likes such angry criticism. Many of you reading this have your own stories.

That’s why I pray Habakkuk’s message will encourage all who take a stand For Life to be courageous in spite of their fears. We have the message, God’s message, that so many need to hear. There is so much fear that needs to be addressed. The pregnant teen fears what her parents might think. Her parents fear what others might think. An unplanned pregnancy causes fear about future plans. Post-abortive women and men fear others will find out. They fear God will never forgive. The chronically and terminally ill fear pain and suffering. Such fears are real and understandable. It can seem like all that gives meaning to life is gone. The temptation is great to listen to the world’s offer of death as a solution to so many of these fears. We offer the “God of my salvation.”

I remember getting a letter from a woman with an abortion in her past. She had received forgiveness and healing in Christ and pleaded that we do all we could to get this message out to others. She wrote, “God doesn’t fall off His throne when you have a problem. He’s there! His power is never weakened.” No matter how desolate things may seem, God remains on His throne. He rules, not with law and judgment, but with mercy and grace. We see this demonstrated, not in our circumstances, but in the cross. Helping those caught up in difficult situations see beyond their fears and find courage in the ever-present, ever-loving, and all-powerful Savior is the ultimate aim of LFL.

The next time you face some “high places” in your life and it seems like all is hopeless, you need not be brave and fearless. Remember the prophet with the funny name and the grand conjunction of faith, “Yet.” Rejoice and trust in the God of your salvation. Keep going in His strength with “feet like the deer.” That’s courage!