Photo credit to meetourclan.com
“…yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakuk 3:18
No one knows a lot about Habakuk. He was alive and prophesying around the same time as Jeremiah in the end of the 7th century BC. Israel had fallen because they had forsaken You, God, and Judah wasn’t far behind. First, Habakuk was upset and complaining because Judah wasn’t listening and wasn’t repenting. Then You told of how You were going to have the Chaldeans (Babylonians) bring terrible judgment on Judah. So Habakuk had another question. Why would You have someone even worse than Judah pass judgment on Judah? Your answer? That afterward, the Babylonians would face their own judgment from You. And when Your people returned to You again, they would be restored.
Habakuk wasn’t living in happy times, to say the least. The book begins with Habakuk crying out, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear? Or cry to You ‘Violence!’ and You will not save?” And it doesn’t stop there. “Why do You make me watch such terrible injustice? Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime, and cruelty to spread everywhere?” Is that how Habakuk really felt? In all honesty, do I sometimes feel that way? Is it OK to call out to You about it?
What was Your answer, God? “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” That sounds great, doesn’t it? It could be. Maybe it depends on where I look and how I look. Even today, depending on where we are or how we look we can see wonders that You are doing and be astounded, things we wouldn’t believe. But in the midst of it, everything doesn’t look beautiful. There are children being killed, people being beheaded or burned alive, villages being slaughtered, immorality rising, a lack of respect for human life growing, families breaking, hearts hurting, people being misguided, loneliness, and depression. But You tell us “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded, for I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”
Are You really doing a work through that “bitter and hasty nation” of the Chaldeans? Did You really do a work through their violence and the captives they gathered? Did You use “guilty men, whose own might is their god?” Let’s think about this with Habakuk. “So why do You tolerate the treacherous? And why do You stay silent while the wicked devour those who are more righteous than they are?” Why do You today?
Habakuk and I can look at all the wickedness and all the foolishness that goes on and we can keep looking at it. Or we can choose to look at the Lord and see You in Your holy Temple. I can respond like Habakuk. “Lord, as I listen to what has been said about You, I am afraid. Lord, revive Your work throughout all of our lives- reveal Yourself throughout all of our lives- when You are angry, remember compassion.” Like Habakuk I can see and even be in the middle of all this awful stuff but I can still see You and choose to wait for You. I love the conclusion he comes to. These are some of my favorite truths in Scripture. “Even though the fig tree does not blossom, and there are no grapes on the vines; even if the olive harvest fails, and the fields produce nothing edible; even if the flock is snatched from the sheepfold, and there is no herd in the stalls- as for me, I will rejoice in the Lord. I will find my joy in the God who delivers me. The Lord God is my strength-He will make my feet like those of a deer, equipping me to tread on my mountain heights.” (Habakuk 3:17-19)
I suppose it’s like this. How does my laundry get clean? Here in the states I toss it in a washing machine that agitates it. There’s something in the middle of the wash drum that twists back and forth in the water and soap in an attempt to knock the dirt out. It’s not totally gentle on the clothes. There’s a lot of rinsing and spinning that goes on too. And I’ve learned to add fabric softener and let it soak in that. Then there’s more rinsing and spinning. From there I hang it to dry or put it in a dryer where it also takes a warm beating. That’s where lint comes from, because it’s not a gentle product. It takes all of that for my clothes to be clean.
But if I go the Philippines, or Kenya, I’ve learned that sometimes my clothes need a better cleaning. Because that agitation in the washing machine isn’t enough to get the red dirt out of my socks in Kenya. I have to take them off, and wash them by hand in the sink. I have to scrub them part by part with a toothbrush. I have to do it each day after I wear them. And if I do, I get to see that red dirt flow down the drain and I get to hang up white socks on the line, not pink ones.
In the Philippines, I know I’m loved because Lola Patsy makes my clothes so clean. If there is a stain, she doesn’t just drop it in the machine. She scrubs it out by hand. Then it goes in the machine. From the machine it’s soaked in the fabric softener. It’s spun out and then hung by hand. It’s an all day process. And after it’s hung and dry, she irons it and folds it. Then I get to wear it. I put it on and I smell that wonderful fragrance of the fabric softener that make me happy like in the Downy commercials in the Philippines. I wear it through even a hard and smelly day and guess what? While I’m coming home on a Jeepney packed like a sardine in a can, I play scratch and sniff with my shirt. I rub the material on my shoulder, and even after a long, hard day, that fabric softener aroma floats through the air to my nose and brings back that smile like when I first put it on.
That’s what You are doing in our lives. You design agitation in our lives so that we’re not just sweet smelling aromas at the start of the day but at the end of the day, no matter the circumstances in between, we are still giving off that sweetest of aromas that is You. You never leave us and You never forsake us. You are better and deeper than fabric softener. Even the horrible, unimaginable agitations of life are for Your purpose and to remind us that our delight is in You.
We’re called to be living sacrifices. Since when is it supposed to be easy to be a sacrifice? But I do know one thing about sacrifices, a true sacrifice, a right sacrifice always sent up a soothing aroma, a pleasing aroma to You. We have to go through that terrible washing machine of life for a reason. You are making us a pleasing aroma that is acceptable unto You. This is our opportunity to be used by You to reveal Your holiness among us, so the entire world can see (Ezekiel 20:41) and smell! Paul tells us, “To God we are the aroma of the Messiah among those who are being saved and among those who are being lost.” (2 Corinthians 2:15) And he reminds us “Live lovingly, just as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us as an offering and sacrifice, a fragrant aroma to God.” (Ephesians 5:2) Lord, may I be a fragrant aroma, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to You. Lord, even if it hurts, scrub me by hand so that I am sweeter smelling at the end of the day to You and to others than Lola Patsy’s clean laundry.