It’s starting to get old, this constant barrage of bad news. It is of course the nature of the news business to look for and magnify bad news. Hard to say when it started or why. Perhaps it started, at least this time around, with the Pandemic and the required lockdown which got everyone more upset than normal. One result is that the average church attendance is down about 50%, not counting online participants. Some observers are saying this is the end of the church as we knew it? Maybe. But maybe that is not such a bad thing.
Ever since the Pandemic resulted in social distancing and suspended services, church experts have been predicting a difficult future ahead. Some have predicted significant percentages of congregations will not return but at best will continue to watch the live stream presentations. Others have predicted that we will never return to the way things used to be. Still others have noted that the church was already changing and that the current crisis has only accelerated the pace of those changes.
The Lord’s answer: (v.5) “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.” What was the work? He was raising up one of the most violent and evil nations ever, the Chaldeans. In other words it’s going to get worse. (Would we look at the rise of an evil empire as the work of the Lord?)
I was reading in Habakkuk recently and some of the circumstances struck me as similar. Their circumstances were similar at least in this sense, things aren’t going well both for many individuals and for many groups (churches). Many wonder, often secretly, what God’s role is in all of it and where it might end. Will the church survive? Will we? There are clues about the way the Lord chooses to work in the Book of Habakkuk. In fact, it is presented as sort of a dialog between Habakkuk and the Lord.
Written during or at the beginning of the Babylonian captivity, Habakkuk opens with a complaint. He is complaining about four things describing the corruption in his society: violence, wrong doing (iniquity), destruction, and a paralyzed legal system. In 1:4, the prophet says, “the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” Some might say that this evaluation accurately describes some of the current circumstances in our country.
Habakkuk complains again, reminding the Lord about how evil the Chaldeans are. Then he waits for an answer. You can almost visualize him standing on the wall of the city with arms folded and daring the Lord to answer.
The answer for him and perhaps for us is that sometimes the worst circumstances are part of the bigger picture. Sometimes they are part of the vision.
Habakkuk’s answer comes in Habakkuk 2:2–4:
“And the Lord answered me: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. ‘Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.’”
Write the vision. The vision, described in the following verses, gives assurance of the Lord’s coming and His righteous dealing with the unrighteous. Since He says write it clearly so the messenger can read it, He must want it communicated. For us, perhaps this includes the vision or even current local opportunity the Lord is giving us. Perhaps it is a new direction. A few months ago Pastor Dennis Cahill in his article for BFC OneVoice said challenges are “not just challenges, they are opportunities.” Opportunities to go in new ways to achieve the ultimate vision. What is the ultimate vision for the church? Reaching the lost and making disciples.
Many so called church experts say the church will never be the same after Covid. If that is true, then it must be that the church needed to change. Perhaps we will be less tied to expensive buildings so when we lose our tax exemptions eventually it won’t matter as much. Perhaps we will be less visible but more effective and intentional so that when persecution comes, like the church in China, we will be able to continue proclaiming the truth. No matter what happens, remember it is the Lord who builds the church and what we are experiencing may be an opportunity for Him to make some changes.
Then the Lord says to Habakkuk, if it seems slow in coming, wait for it. We can apply that to discerning the Lord’s direction as well as to the results. If you have been praying for answers or for specific direction, keep praying and wait for it. After all, we are called to live by faith.
So, remember, wait for it, the Lord is at work even if we can’t always see how.