Habakkuk didn’t doubt God’s existence. He wondered about God’s presence in his life. “God, are you there? Do you know what I am going through?” But notice what Habakkuk did in his doubt. At the end of chapter 2 he says, “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20).
When in doubt of God’s presence, quiet yourself before him. Silence enables us to listen.
What came from Habakkuk’s silence? “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth” (Hab 3:1). No that’s not a typo. No one knows for sure what “Shigionoth” means, but it’s likely a musical term because he closes his final chapter with instructions for “the choirmaster: with stringed instruments” (3:18). Habakkuk’s “quiet time” before the Lord inspired him to write a musical worship prayer!
Most of us don’t write out our prayers. If we do, it’s probably for a worship service or wedding or funeral. It takes time and prayerful reflection to do that. We may go through several drafts, crossing things out, trying to get our words just right. Those of you that have written a prayer or two know that the process is delightfully challenging and life changing.
Not many of us put our prayers to music! Music adds a unique dimension because it engages our emotions in a different way. Plus, musical worship prayers are not one-time prayers; they can be shared with others in corporate worship again and again. Think of all the psalmists and composers of hymns and spiritual songs that have enriched Christian worship throughout the centuries to this day. Habakkuk chapter three is one of those songs!
“O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear” (Hab 3:2a). Habakkuk’s worship prayer-song begins with holy fear. What is holy fear? Sounds a bit more than reverence or awe, doesn’t it?
“We do not displace fear with the absence of fear but with the presence of a different kind of fear, an altogether transformed sort of fear” (Russell Moore). Yeah, holy fear. According to Michael Horton, “The fear of God is sublime … It’s a paradoxical reality.” Holy fear simultaneously thrills and scares us. Holy fear draws and intimidates us. When the women saw Jesus’s empty tomb, they ran to tell the apostles with “fear and great joy” (Matt 28:8). In other words, it felt like they had jumped out of an airplane. Holy fear is a blown-away-scary-joyful-exhilarating paradoxical reality.
We can hear reports of God at work and try to fear him. We can read scriptures that certainly command us to fear him and try to respond. But like Habakkuk, holy fear only happens with an up-and-close experience of the Lord (see also Job 42:2-6). Moving from doubt to worship sees God as he really is.
In holy fear, Habakkuk uses a Hebraism, “in the midst of the years,” that means “between now and the end” to make an astonishing request. “In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab 3:2).
Let us move from doubt to worship and pray (and perhaps sing!) Habakkuk’s worship prayer today: “Between now and the end, Lord, have mercy, send revival.”