When “Better Days” Aren’t Ahead: Five Lessons of Life-Giving Hope

Things were unraveling quickly for Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, around 600 B.C. The northern kingdom, Israel, had already been carried away into exile, and Judah had endured a series of bad kings. Drought had devastated the land to the point that their fields produced little to no fruit, and their cattle had all either starved to death or been stolen.

The prophet Habakkuk’s description of the situation basically reads like the Hebrew version of a bad country song: My wife left me, I lost my job, my truck broke down, and my dog died.

What’s more, Habakkuk knew what was to come for Judah, and it didn’t look good. Invasion, deprivation, and death were on the horizon for Judah. It’s understandable, then, that after meditating on his nation’s future, Habakkuk says: “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 ESV).

Many of us look around at our society and feel like Habakkuk could have been writing about today. Destruction is abundant. Optimism is in short supply.

But look at Habakkuk’s resolve:

“Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. 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.”
-Habakkuk 3:16b-19

What characterizes that profound statement is hope. Habakkuk didn’t let the darkness surrounding him crush his spirit; neither did he shrug it off with vain platitudes about “better days ahead.” He looked destruction straight in the eye and still had the strength to say, “I will take joy.” That’s life-giving hope.

We can learn five things about life-giving hope from Habakkuk’s declaration:

1. Hope in the future leads to prayer in the present (3:1-2).

Habakkuk prays for an outpouring of God’s mercy in his day. He knows that, in the end, God is going to turn all of his despair into joy, but he really wanted to see his generation included in that joy.

Shouldn’t we be praying for the same thing? When I see God’s goodness expressed at the cross, not only do I have the faith to endure under trial; I also yearn to see that goodness break out in my generation. I want to see God do miracles in the lives of my friends, my kids, our church, our city, and our church planters around the world. I want to see a society that’s splintering and divided find unity in Christ. Yes, it’s miraculous, even impossible. But we serve a God of the impossible, and he hasn’t changed.

2. Hope comes from remembering and repeating (3:3-15).

We need to learn a lesson from what Habakkuk did here. He wasn’t simply creating a response to evil; he was rehearsing the Exodus, remembering and repeating God’s past faithfulness. God’s past faithfulness leads to hope in the darkest of present frustrations.

Your spiritual health will be directly determined by how often you review the benefits of your salvation and the God behind it all. When life saps your strength, you need to force yourself to remember and repeat and wrestle with God until he reveals himself and his glory to you, like he did to Habakkuk.

You need to stand there with Habakkuk on the watchtower and say to God, I am going to stay here until who you are and what you’ve done become real to me again.

3. Hope can exist alongside grief (3:16).

There’s a real danger in Christian talk of implying that faith is some kind of stiff-upper-lipped stoicism or that being filled with sorrow is somehow a lack of faith. That’s not what you see in the Bible.

When Job heard about the terrible things that had happened to his business—and then his family!—he arose, tore his garments, and fell on the ground. Yet in all these things he “sinned not.” Also, we know Jesus was perfect, yet Scripture says he was filled with sorrow and even wept. Hope doesn’t drive out grief. It transforms it.

4. Hope is a choice (3:18).

In verse 18 Habakkuk says, “I will rejoice.” That is the language of choice, which is why the Apostle Paul gives it as a command: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Rejoicing is not a description of the feelings you have. It is a choice to posture your heart to what you know to be true, even when you don’t feel it. You probably most need the command precisely when you least feel it.

You cannot command yourself to be happy about tragedy. But you can explain to yourself why you should be happy in Christ. You can rejoice as you understand, through faith, that in Christ you possess something better than anything life can give and more secure than anything death can take away.

5. The heights of hope come from the depths of faith (3:19).

When God becomes your strength and joy, you will have a joy safely above what pain or disease or death or disappointment can destroy. Then, like the mountain deer, you will move confidently across dangerous terrain, even in the toughest seasons of life.

There are aspects of God you can only know when your fields are empty and there’s no cattle in your stall. When your marriage is broken or you feel alone. When injustice seems to win, again. When you want to respond like Job, falling to the ground and tearing your clothes. God wants you to have a faith that dwells in the mountaintops and feet like a deer’s, but the only way he can get you there is through trial.

George Mueller was a 19th century pastor who ran an orphanage and was famous for receiving stunning answers to prayer. More than once he sat the kids down with nothing to eat, and then while he was praying, someone would show up at the door with bread or milk.

In 1890, Mueller’s wife contracted rheumatic fever. He prayed earnestly for her healing, but she died. She was only 57. The last verse he read to her was Psalm 84:11: “No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (NIV).

Mueller learned that the goodness of God went deeper than his pain—that it is, in fact, better than life. That great gift of hope is available to you, too—to know God, to see the value of his presence in your life, and to feel the constant warmth of his compassion toward you. To look destruction straight in the eye and say, “Yet I will hope in him.”