O Lord, How Long?

“O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.” Habakkuk 1:1-4

There are many today who may have similar questions as the prophet Habakkuk. There are many today who cry out “O Lord, how long?” in their prayers. Maybe you’re one of them. Trouble seems to expand as the minutes go by. Wickedness grows day by day. As we read Habakkuk’s complaint, we are given a window to the issues and troubles he saw. Sin was rampant among the people of God. Habakkuk’s list of troubles may seem similar to those we see around us, some inside and many outside the church. Plundering and violence. Strife and contention. The law seems powerless and paralyzed. The wicked surround the righteous. Justice is perverted. It appears Habakkuk had often prayed to God to correct the people for their wickedness. For in families, among neighbors, in commerce and the courts of the law, people were high handed and did wrong against one another. As time went on, it got to a point where Habakkuk began to wonder and conclude that God wasn’t hearing him.

Yet, the just God, the one who brings about true justice, heard the cries of His servant. Consider God’s reply to Habakkuk in verse 5, “Look among the nations and watch—Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.” God told Habakkuk that He would act, that judgment was coming in a way Habakkuk wouldn’t expect. It would be in a manner and to the point in which someone could tell Habakkuk God would bring judgement in that way, and it would blow Habakkuk’s mind. God’s judgement would be astounding! God would raise up the Chaldeans, a terrible and dreadful people (v.7), to come against and chastise His own for their sin. Notice in Chapter 2:3b-4, how God also encouraged Habakkuk to be patient for, “Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”

Matthew Henry gives a helpful perspective regarding wickedness and the tarrying of the Lord’s judgement- “We must not think it strange if wickedness be suffered to prevail far and prosper long. God has reasons, and we are sure they are good reasons, both for the reprieves of bad men and the rebukes of good men; and therefore, though we plead with him, and humbly expostulate concerning his judgments, yet we must say, “He is wise, and righteous, and good, in all,” and must believe the day will come, though it may be long deferred, when the cry of sin will be heard against those that do wrong and the cry of prayer for those that suffer it.” Beloved, God is righteous, wise, and good, in all. Though we may not understand His reasons, we should have much peace and confidence in His good providence (WCF 5), even as God’s timing in dealing with wickedness doesn’t match our desires.

In a perilous time when we call upon the Lord, I want to encourage you to consider the following:

Always remember that God hears the prayers of His people (Proverbs 15:29). As events unfold around us, like Habakkuk, sometimes the question of “How long, O Lord shall I cry, and You will not hear?” may rise in our minds and hearts. “It’s taking so long, Lord. I don’t see You moving. I don’t see You acting.” Don’t let doubt take residence. That question needs to be challenged. Though we may perceive lack of hearing and action on God’s part, we need to understand and recall to our minds that He both hears our prayers, and acts according to His will. Therefore, we should approach Him sincerely with our petitions, as well as be at peace with His will. His ways and timing are always good and best.

Though we know God has appointed a day when Jesus Christ will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31, WCF 33.1), we can also recognize that He is at work in our midst. The foundations of men are being shaken even now. Pillars are crumbling. He is also at work in, blesses, grows, and is building up His church. Though we suffer, and though our suffering may be likely to have a sharp increase in the days and years ahead, this remains- King Jesus sits on His throne. He sits in Heaven and laughs at His enemies(Psalm 2). His church will continue to press on, grow, thrive, and accomplish His purposes, for His glory. His light continues to shine through His bride. May it shine forth more brightly every day! Let us continue to pray that His will be done in all things. Let us continue to pray that He would save many through the proclamation of the Gospel. Let us pray that He would be pleased to use us in wonderful ways as instruments of His grace in the lives of others, even in our community. Let us continue to pray that He would draw His people closer to Himself, sustaining us, giving us strength to endure, maturing us by His grace.