Waiting on the Lord, Part 4
Developing a Listening Heart
My Journey from Complaining to Listening
In the spring of 2003, I lost my first wife Marie to colon cancer. We had been married just under twenty-five years. Through the grief experience that followed, the Lord taught me how to listen.
Thankfully, I had a positive start. A couple days after the funeral, my daughters said, “Dad, we have something to show you.” They led me to the front door, and there on the porch sat an Old Town single seat canoe.
I tried to thank them for it, but they said, “We kind of raided your checking account.”
I didn’t care. I picked up the license and registration stickers the next day, and took the canoe out for the first of many trips on isolated waters. The canoe became my therapy during the dark days.
Stumbling Along until I learned the Beat
At first, I expected that the time on the water would be a vehicle for focused prayer, but that never materialized. To the contrary, I found that on those times when I did think about prayer, the effort resulted more in complaint than in the intercessory ministry I had hoped to develop.
The Lord had to correct my compass settings. One summer day when I was on the water, I gave in to anger. I prayed, “Lord, a thousand years are like a day to you. Would it have been too difficult to have given me another twenty-five with my wife?”
He remained silent that day, and the day after that, and the day after. My question sat for a month.
Then one day when I was exploring a marshy area on the Charles Mill Reservoir, a realization thundered into my senses, so clear that it was almost audible. “If I had given you another twenty-five years, do you think you would grieve any less?”
The answer was perfect for me, and it gave me closure. I realized that our time is in God’s hands. He did not have to tell me why he had chosen 2003 to take Marie home. I continued to mourn, but from that point on, I did so without anger.
A Deeper Purpose for Quietness
More significantly, I the incident allowed me to understand the purpose of quietness. My time on the canoe was never meant to be busy time. It was meant to teach me to listen. From that point on, listening would become an integral part of the time I spent in prayer.
The object was not to dictate my wishes to God. Rather, the long goal was to be ready to hear when he wanted to speak. I learned that when I dedicated periods of time to be quiet, I became more attuned to his voice later.
Habakkuk’s Fighting Match
The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk understood this practice long before my time, and far better than I could. Habakkuk wrote at the end of the sixth century BC, a few years before the fall of Judah to Babylon.
His single surviving work begins as a lament on the pervasive injustice among his people. Everywhere he looks, he sees violence and destruction. Justice is paralyzed (Habakkuk 1:1-4).
The prophet begins to write a lament on the injustice, but he never completes his prayer. Before he has a chance to finish his opening volley, the LORD interrupts. The text does not even offer the words, “And God said…” God’s word just drops in.
The news is dire. God will judge Judah for her sins, but he will use the Chaldeans (Babylon) as the instrument of judgment (Hab. 1:5-11).
Habakkuk is stunned for a moment, but he returns to the dialogue in 1:12-17. The prophet’s questions focus On God’s apparent cavalier relationship with evi:
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and are silent with the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he?
The verse is not a doctrinal statement on God’s holiness, as we often interpret it. It is a complaint. “LORD, you are holy, yet you plan to use a depraved people to punish your own? How dare you?”
Waiting for the Lord to have his Say
Here Habakkuk shows the wisdom to realize he must stop and listen. In one of the most courageous lines in Scripture, he writes,
I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
The opening of the next verse stands as a testimony to Habakkuk’s discipline. “And the LORD answered me…” (Habakkuk 2:2a).
The remainder of chapter 2 contains the LORD’s three-part reply to the prophet. The LORD never apologizes for his actions. He just reveals what he is going to do. First, he tells Habakkuk to wait. Though the vision tarries, it will come to pass.
Second, the LORD pronounces four woes on those who practice evil—woe to the one who heaps up what is not his own (verse 6); woe to the man who gets evil gain for his house (verse 9); woe to man who builds a town with blood (verse 12); and to the one who makes his neighbors drink so that he can take advantage of them sexually (verse 15).
Finally, the LORD addresses the folly of the idol worship that had compromised Judah. Idols are speechless, senseless, and lifeless. “But the LORD is in his holy temple; / let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).
Chapter 3 concludes the book with a prayer. Habakkuk is stunned, but he accepts God’s judgment. The book never reaches any kind of resolution. Instead, we see Habakkuk waiting with a sense of resolution.
I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will wait quietly for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
He closes with a commitment to praise the LORD even in the midst of judgment.
Life is often difficult to accept, particularly when we expect answers to our questions.
The purpose for waiting on the LORD is not necessarily an expectation for the right answer. It is an act of submission to the word he will speak in his time. Only then can we be prepared to act in a way that glorifies him.