Today’s guest blogger, Phil Huber, looks again at the prophet Habakkuk, whose words underlie the meditation for January 20.
IN my meditation published in The Upper Room, I focus on God to help make sense of circumstances. Here I intend to focus on circumstances to help make sense of God. I hope this rounds out the picture.
On Thanksgiving eve six years ago, I was visiting my wife's parents and attending a Thanksgiving service at their church. I did not feel thankful. My life was falling apart. I had lost my job and had no idea how I would provide for my family in the months ahead. My wife and I were at odds and were struggling to hold our marriage together. We had left our church and felt little spiritual support. It was a bleak season in my life -- certainly not one abounding with obvious reasons for gratitude.
At the very end of the service a teenage girl settled in behind the piano and gently sang a song with aching tenderness. I discovered later it was called "Gratitude" by Nichole Nordeman. Each verse expresses a longing for God to send relief - drink for the thirsty, food for the hungry, peace for the war-torn. But each request istempered with the perspective that maybe it won’t be done. Maybe God won't satisfy that desire for drink, for food, for peace but instead may allow that longing to remind us of deeper longings - longings satisfied only in God, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Prince of Peace. And so we give thanks not only for appetites sated but also for longings that remain.
The book of Habakkuk concludes with mention of similar unsatisfied longings (Hab. 3:17-18). Fig trees that are not budding, grape vines that are not fruitful, fields that are barren, sheep pens and cattle stalls that are empty -- this is what Habakkuk sees as he scans the landscape. In this moment, all these vessels- trees and vines and fields and stalls - beg to be filled. They are empty, incomplete. They are implicit longings in search of satisfaction.
That night, the lyrics of the song found their way into my heart. Tears welled up. My gratitude that year would be for all that I had lost and the longings the losses evoked. I wanted financial security, I wanted relational intimacy, I wanted spiritual vibrancy. I had none of them. My solution was simple. "God, just satisfy the longings." God's solution was more nuanced. These desires would pull me to deeper dependence on God, who would not settle for satisfying these desires but instead wants to satisfy my soul. I committed to praise God for this dark season of my life, still longing to be pulled out, but resolved to trust. It was difficult.
After describing emptiness, the book of Habakkuk ends on a note of praise and confidence: "The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights" (Hab. 3:19, NIV). This praise seems overblown. Even if all the emptiness of the previous verses were filled, that would not account for this exuberant praise. This is grander than bumper crops and burgeoning flocks can account for. I suspect this is because the longing in the moment was pointing beyond itself to something greater. This is an exuberant soul.
So what are the unfulfilled longings in your life? A child not conceived, a promotion overlooked, a relationship not reconciled, a child who has strayed, a house foreclosed, a parent lost, a dream dashed? Maybe God will fulfill your longing. And maybe not. Maybe that desire, so strong it burns, is drawing you (can you feel the pull?) toward a deeper fulfillment found only in God. With that in mind, hard though it may be, we can express gratitude for the things we don't have - longings left unfulfilled, drawing us home.
-- Phil Huber
Phil blogs weekly at www.aploddingpilgrimage.blogspot.com