When Christians look for Scriptures on prayer and faith in trying times, they often turn to the book of Psalms. That is a great choice, but there are many others. One little book that usually remains tucked away in many Bibles is the book of Habakkuk the prophet. This is a powerful example of a prophet who was struggling with how and when God answers prayer.
Why does it take so long for God to answer our prayers? That was the prophet’s question. Jerusalem in his day was full of evil. The leaders were corrupt and the people were no better (Hab. 1:3-4). Habakkuk had prayed and prayed for God to intervene but nothing had changed. Growing impatient, he said, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save” (Hab. 1:2). His was the age-old question that has frustrated godly people for thousands of years and still puzzles us to this day. From a human point of view, the matter looks simple: when there is evil God should put a stop to it, especially when His people suffer because of it and plead with him to end it. David said, “How long O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psa. 13:1-2). The martyred souls in Revelation cried out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). When evil prevails, we want justice and we want it quickly.
God told Habakkuk that his prayer would be answered. The Lord said He would send the Chaldeans upon Jerusalem to punish the wicked Jews for their sins (Hab. 1:5-11). But that response didn’t satisfy the prophet. Treading lightly as he prayed again, Habakkuk asked God why He would use a nation worse than Judah to punish His own people. How could that be fair? Didn’t the Chaldeans need to be chastened by God as well (Hab. 1:12-17)? After laying out his case before the throne of God, he said he would wait for an answer (Hab. 2:1).
The Lord let the prophet know that He knew what He was doing and that what He was about to do was just. The Lord knew how evil the Chaldeans were and said He would bring them down—in His own time, not when Habakkuk thought He should (Hab. 2:2-19). He called on the prophet and all of mankind to submit to His management of the world: “But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Hab. 2:20).
God’s answer humbled the prophet. In chapter three he praised the great wisdom of God. Having started out questioning God’s ways, he ended up submitting and growing in faith. He said, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17-18). It is hard to wait when you’re under a load of stress, but if you spend just a few minutes reading this seldom-noticed book that load will seem lighter.