Habakkuk 3:17-19 – Free Sermon Notes – Joy In The Midst Of Trials

Habakkuk 3:17-19 – Responding to Trials with Joy

Big Idea: Choose to rejoice when facing trials.


There was once an elderly woman who suffered chronically from a painful illness. Her pastor went to visit her to see how she was doing. She was in good spirits and smiled at him. He asked why she was so joyful. And she told him, “I have a lovely robin that sings outside my window. I love him, because he sings in the rain.”He sings in the rain. When storms silence most other birds, robins keep right on singing in the rain. Singing in the sunshine is easy, but we need to learn to sing joyful praises to our God even when the storms of life hit.

Today we are studying Habakkuk 3:17-19. We come to the very end of this book. We have seen that Habakkuk has struggled with confusion and doubt. He doesn’t know why God does things the way he does. Habakkuk has said, “Why God? Why do you allow these things?” However, we have seen that Habakkuk moves past this. In this chapter we see his prayer to the Lord and learn that he finally accepts God’s plans. Last week in Ian’s sermon we see that he accepts that God is God and we are not. And today we will see the ending of his prayer as he makes a commitment before God to choose to rejoice when facing trials.

Let’s read together.

Let’s pray.

I. You will face trials

A. Habakkuk describes catastrophic trials

Habakkuk lists out some of the worst trials that people faced in his days. We don’t know Habakkuk’s occupation. Perhaps he was a farmer. But even if he wasn’t, he was writing in terms that all of the farmers around him could relate to. Most people lived off of the land, either by growing crops, or raising livestock. In this verse fig trees, grapes, and olives are mentioned. One interesting thing about all of these specific fruits mentioned, is that they take 3 to 5 years to bear fruit. They require a long term time commitment. The farmer puts in a lot of work preparing the soil, planting the crops and making sure they get the water and nutrition they need. He expects to see a good return on his investment. He not only expects it, but he needs it. These fruit would be sold to provide his livelihood. He and his family are counting on it. So after years, the day to harvest comes. Naturally the farmer walks through his fields to examine the trees and the vines. But he doesn’t see what he expects. Even after waiting three or more years there is nothing. His trees are not producing fruit. The figs are not even blossoming! It cannot be explained. Through reasons he cannot see or understand, they are completely barren. All of his work is for nothing. And what is more, even his fields of planted vegetables produce NO FOOD. None. It is not just an especially bad crop. It is no crop whatsoever.

After this, however, the trials only get worse. You can imagine Habakkuk starting to panic as he walks through his fields. The magnitude of the disaster in front of him is starting to dawn on him. How will his family have enough food for the coming year? How can he repay the debt he owes? Well, at least he has a lot of sheep, right? If worse comes to worse, he can always sell his sheep to make ends meet. So he keeps walking to his sheep pens. Only when he gets there, he finds there are no sheep. They have all disappeared into thin air. So he rushes to the cattle stalls. ALL GONE!

The trial that Habakkuk describes here is sudden; it happens with no warning. It is severe. It is a financial disaster. And it is not a normal level of trial that farmers would face. The causes are not seen. There are no answers to the question “why?” or “how?” or “why me?” Habakkuk basically describes the worst nightmare of a farmer.

B. What trials do we face today?

Are there any farmers here today? Anyone who grew up working on a farm? I see not very many. Let’s make it easier. Did any of you have a garden? When I grew up my family had a garden. It was not an easy place to grow things. The good news is that in Texas where I lived there were not many rocks in the soil. In fact, there was only one. But the bad news is that it was very large and covered the whole state :) We also lived in the country where there were many deer who would eat the crops. So dirt had to be hauled in just to make a garden. And then an electric fence had to be built to keep the deer out. The hardest part was digging the holes for the posts in solid stone. Thankfully, my brothers were older than me and got to do this. Finally the garden was ready and everything was planted. We planted a few watermelon plants and I loved watermelon. So I excitedly watched as they grew. Two watermelons started growing and I went out everyday to see their progress. But after a while they stopped growing. Finally they withered up and died. I was really disappointed.

So I can feel a little what Habakkuk is talking about here. But obviously this was not a big trial. We could still buy any food we needed from the supermarket. So what might Habakkuk say to convey this idea if he lived in modern day New York. He might say something like this:

Though my salary never arrives,

and I am fired suddenly from my job,

though my bank account is emptied through a scam

and my English students refuse to pay me,

though my refrigerator is empty

and there is no food on the table…

He describes a catastrophic trial. It is sudden. It is severe.

C. Brothers and sisters all around are facing trials, often unseen by us

I believe that many of you are facing trials. Some of you are facing health issues. Some of you have chronic pain. Others have frequent sicknesses. Our brother C has a strong negative reaction to pesticides. In his own words he says, “When I get around pesticides, my thinking slows down, my balance is impaired, I can get palpitations, and I have bouts of sudden, extreme fatigue.” He also has to avoid many places and often he needs to wear a charcoal mask.

Our brother A has Crohn’s disease, which is a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. There are many foods he can’t eat, which affect his everyday life. Here are just a few he can’t eat: bread, spicy food, high fiber food, corn, beans. No pizza. No burgers. No hot dogs. It causes him to lose weight. He needs to make many hospital visits. And it zaps his energy and causes extreme fatigue.

A few months ago we had a sports meeting. What you might not know is that sister A was hit by a flying ball from another group and got a bad concussion. She felt dizzy and weak for weeks. Just when she was starting to get back on her feet, she slipped on a marble floor and hit her head again and got another concussion. In the time she was able to come to church she had to wear sunglasses and ear plugs to limit the stimulation. These are just a few of the health trials some members of GICF face. Perhaps you are facing yours silently and nobody knows it.

Others in our congregation are facing challenges with visas. Brother B spent almost a year trying to get a work visa. He faced countless obstacles and setbacks, although he eventually received it. Another brother many of you may not know is brother D from the ushering team. Brother D is from India. He had to return to India to get a visa before returning to Guangzhou. That was over one year ago and he still cannot return yet.

These are only a few of the trials that I know about. I believe there are many more unseen.

Some of these trials are short term, but others are long term. Some of you hope to get married. Perhaps you have been hoping to get married and have a family of your own for years. Some of you want to have kids, but haven’t been able to.

These are not easy things. And it is challenging for me to stand up here and tell you “everything will be OK” or to quote Scripture to you like a robot. I cannot possibly understand the difficulty of what you are facing, the nights when you have cried yourself to sleep when the trials of this world become too much to bear. I haven’t faced these things. I can’t feel what you are feeling.

D. God is good all the time (even when we face trials)

And yet I am standing up here today because God’s truth is still true even when it is hard to understand. He is still on His throne. He is still good. He does love you and He does have a plan for you. The power of His Word speaks to our own life situations regardless of the messenger.

Psalm 84:11 “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

James 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

Both of these verses tell us that God has our best at heart. Do you believe that?

It is easy for us to focus on the trials that come to us and forget the many blessings. When we do that doubts about God’s goodness may slowly creep in. This week I was teaching my children that they should say “thank you” for the good things people do for them instead of taking those things for granted. It is a simple lesson, but the truth is we all sometimes take the Lord for granted. When He gives us good gifts we may forget to say “thank you.” And when we face trials, we may complain instead of seeing the good in them.

E. Trials have a purpose

The truth is even trials are for our good. If you know the Scripture, you already know that trials have a purpose. And yet in Scripture we are constantly reminded “do not forget.” So today I want to remind you to not forget that trials do have a purpose.

James 1:3 says, “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

1 Peter 5:10 tells us that “after you have suffered for a little while, {He} will restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”

God uses trials to build our character. In the book of Habakkuk we see that the Israelites are going to face a serious trial of defeat and exile. For hundreds of years they will be forced subjects of a foreign kingdom far from home. And yet God used this to turn their hearts back to Him. God wants to use trials to strengthen you and your faith. The Israelites faced a trial of discipline because of their sin.

Sometimes a trial could come because of our own poor choices or even be discipline from the Lord. In these cases we need to learn the hard lessons and change our behavior. But they very often are not because of our sin. The disciples faced this own question about the man born blind. Who sinned? He or his parents? Jesus said his blindness was not a cause of anyone’s sin.

God sends you trials because He loves you. REPEAT. This is a bold statement and perhaps hard to accept, but it is nonetheless true. He wants to mold and shape you into the best version of yourself you can possibly be. He cares more about your long term good and character than your short term comfort. We are often about the here and now, creatures of the present, so this is difficult for us. But to God a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day. If a trial today can improve your character for a thousand years, then it is worth it. This is the purpose of trials.

At the same time, we should remember that God does not send us into these trials callously. He does not send you in alone.

F. We don’t face trials alone

Isaiah 41:13 says, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.”

And of course we remember Psalm 23 “Though I will walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Turn to your neighbor and say, “God is with you!”

God is with us. He will never leave you nor forsake you. But that is not the only way He helps us. He also wants us to help and encourage and lift up each other.

Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens

2 Corinthians 1:3-5, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”

We are a family in Christ. And a family should be there for each other. Today I mentioned a few of the trials that some of our dear brothers and sisters have faced. But there are many more all around you. Look around you for a moment. Many of the people you see are facing trials. Some are feeling weak or discouraged or alone. Do we even know? And if we know, do we do anything about it?

The first step is to get to know the brothers and sisters. Build up relationships where you can share the real struggles you are facing. Listen to each other. Comfort each other. Pray for each other. Encourage each other. Sometimes physical help is needed. Don’t say like the apathetic Christians in James “Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed!

And may I suggest that you don’t even say, “If there is anything I can do for you, let me know.” That is closer, but many people are too shy to tell you what they need help with. Instead observe their situation and offer to help them in a very specific way that you believe will minister to them.

Application: Seek to encourage and lift up the brothers and sisters around you who are struggling. Do this by serving them, praying for them, and listening to them.

  1. You should rejoice when you face trials

A. Joy does not depend on circumstances

In verse 17 we see Habakkuk describe a catastrophe. There seems to be no silver lining. And yet in verse 17 we see that Habakkuk is joyful. Has something changed? Have the sheep returned? Are the fig trees finally blooming? No. Nothing has changed. The circumstances are still bad. Therefore we learn that true joy does not depend on circumstances. It is possible to be joyful in any situation, no matter how dire it is. And it is not only possible, but it is commanded. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 says to “Rejoice always.” This is not a suggestion. It is a command. We are commanded to rejoice always. By His grace we can.

In Acts 16 Paul and Silas were thrown in to prison. Prisons in those days were dirty and smelly. Their feet were put in stocks. Circumstances were not good. It was a serious trial for them. They were not in prison because of their own sin. They had been faithfully serving God and sharing the good news. And yet God allowed them to be wrongfully taken and thrown in prison. Some people would become bitter and angry and question God, “God, have you abandoned me? I was serving you! How can you let this happen?” You know the story. Paul and Silas were singing hymns to the Lord in prison. Eventually the jailer and his family were saved. Although they didn’t know what it was at the time, God had a clear purpose in allowing this trial to happen. The lesson from Paul and Silas is simple, no matter how bad things get around us, we decide how to respond.

B. Joy is a decision

Note what Habakkuk says in verse 18, “I WILL rejoice.” He makes a decision. He decides in his heart and before the Lord that no matter how difficult things become, he will respond with a good attitude and be joyful. True joy is not an artificial smile that we paste on to cover over our true feelings. When I went through training for the teaching job I have, my school told all the teachers to “check our problems at the door.” In the classroom we are supposed to smile and pretend to be happy no matter how we feel. So in the office teachers might be complaining or upset, but in the classroom they smile. Joy is not a fake exterior we put up to show others.

Neither does joy mean there is no room for sadness. We are rather commanded to “weep with those who weep.” There is a time and a place for grieving. Was Habakkuk happy about all of the disasters the Babylonians would wreak on his people and nation? Did he hear about this and say “Woo hoo!” No. Happiness and joy are different. Happiness is primarily a feeling that we have which is triggered by exterior things such as the people around us. It is not natural that we would be happy when for example someone around us dies. And yet, even in those situations, we can make a decision that we will not complain. We will not become bitter and angry toward God. We will not become grumpy and upset with the people around us.

Joy is a decision that from our heart we will keep a good attitude before the Lord and men. We will remain thankful and optimistic. We will remember God’s goodness and place our faith in the fact that the trial we face has a purpose.

Perhaps some of you have not responded well to the trials in your life. Perhaps you have complained. Perhaps you have become short tempered and easily irritated. Perhaps you have even allowed anger toward the Lord to build up in your hearts. This book of Habbakuk is for you. We have seen Habakkuk struggle with these things. We have seen him question God. But at the end of it all, he decided to rejoice no matter what. Are you willing, right now, to do the same? Are you willing to make a decision to respond to that trial with joy?

C. Joy comes from the Lord

How is this type of joy possible? Yes, it is a decision. It is a willingness to say “I will” even when it is difficult. But it is also more than this. If someone is far from the Lord, he will not able to demonstrate joy no matter how many times he repeats to himself “I will be joyful. I will be joyful!” Habakkuk says, “ I will rejoice in the Lord.” and “I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” He is joyful because of his relationship with God. He is joyful because he knows who God is. He is joyful because he has experienced personal salvation from the Lord, which far outweighs all of his trials.

We can choose to be joyful because even in the midst of suffering, God is present with us. In Galatians 5 joy is listed as one fruit of the Spirit. The closer you get to God the easier and more natural it will be to make that choice to be joyful. And if you are far from the Lord no matter how hard you strive in your power to have that kind of joy, you will only fail again and again.

We see in verse 18 that Habakkuk makes a very important commitment before the Lord. His commitment is that in the midst of any trials, he will turn TO God. Not away from God.

This is the question before you this morning. Where will you turn when you face trials? Will you turn inward, toward your own understanding or depending on your own strength? Will you turn to some comfort or pleasure in the world to get your mind off of things? Will you turn away from your brothers and sisters in Christ and isolate yourself? Or will you perhaps instead turn only to people with your problems, expecting that they can strengthen and support you? Or will your turn to the Lord? He alone can sustain you and bring you through.

Application: When you face trials, turn TO the Lord, not AWAY from Him!

III. The Lord gives you strength to face trials

In verse 19, we can see the result of turning to the Lord. What is the result? In a word, victory. He will give you the strength you need, not to stumble through the trial but to make you an overwhelming conqueror.

Romans 8:36-37 –

As it is written: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Maybe you need strength to make all those hospital visits. Maybe you need strength to keep serving your family when you are tired and in pain. Maybe you need strength to make many trips in the heat on the GZ subway to the visa office. Maybe you need strength to say a gentle word in response to bitter accusations and persecutions. Maybe you need strength to persevere and not give up. God knows! He knows your weaknesses. He knows exactly what you need to be victorious. He was with David when he faced Goliath. He was with Noah when he built the ark in the face of mockers. He was with Stephen when he was stoned. He will be will you too.

A. He helps us stand firm in rocky times

Then Habakkuk says “he makes my feet like the deer’s.” or some translations say “like hind’s feet.” What is this animal? Whatever it is, you probably haven’t seen them running around GZ. So we need a little bit of background about Israel to fully understand what Habakkuk is saying here.

Israel’s topography is very rugged. There is a large wilderness which is quite rocky. The land goes from 430 meters below sea level to 1300 meters above sea level in a short distance. So what? Well, in these rocky cliffs lives an amazing creature which we call an ibex. Photo.

These animals are extremely sure footed. I watched a documentary about them with my kids and saw that they can not only climb up almost sheer rock faces, but they can leap from stone to stone and find grip on the smallest of foot holes. This was the geography that Habakkuk was familiar with and this was the type of animal that lived and still lives there. Very likely the kind of animal he was referring to, especially considering the next line in verse 19 which is a similar thought,

he makes me tread on my high places.” These high cliffs were dangerous. But Habakkuk acknowledged that God could make him walk sure footed on the most dangerous of paths just like the ibex. This is a beautiful picture. The road you are treading may be equally dangerous and rocky. All you can see is pitfalls all around you. At any moment you may slip and fall. God gives you strength. God gives you a solid footing and can keep you falling.

Application: Memorizing Scripture reminds us of the truth in times of doubting

And what can help keep you from falling when you face these trials? Here in this verse is actually a clue of one of our most important ways we can keep firm footing.

Turn to Psalm 18:33. “He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.

Notice that it is almost exactly the same. Is it a coincidence? No. The imagery is the same. Habakkuk has clearly read the Psalms. And he is quoting this Scripture. He turns to the truth of God’s Word. When the trials of life worry him, he is able to stand on solid ground. He is able to make this promise to God. He is able to recognize and appreciate God’s presence with him, because he has memorized Scripture and turns to it in moments of confusion and doubt.

Do you have a Bible memorization plan? Are you hiding God’s Word in your heart? God’s Word is an amazing thing. Those verses you have memorized will pop in to your mind just when you most need them. The Holy Spirit will use the truth of what you have already learned to give you strength. His Word is the solid ground you can stand on and not sink when the trials come.


Review main points

A. You will face trials. Application: So strengthen and encourage each other.

B. You should rejoice when you face trials. Application: Turn TO, not AWAY

C. He helps us stand firm in rocky times. Application: Memorize His Word which can be your firm foundation.

Habakkuk made a promise (commitment to the Lord) that he would rejoice no matter what his circumstances were. He would praise God and be thankful to God even when it wasn’t easy.

Will you make this commitment before the Lord today? Joy in the face of trials is a decision. If by God’s grace, we can make that decision today then the first battle is won. Make no mistake. The fight is not over. There may still be times when you say “Why Lord?” like Habakkuk. But by God’s grace if today we can say “I WILL REJOICE” then we can win today. If we win today, tomorrow will be a little easier.

If you are willing to make this commitment today to rejoice no matter what comes, then please stand with me in prayer. Talk to the Lord. If you are struggling, tell Him that. If you haven’t responded well to trials, confess that. And finally, if you agree with Habakkuk, commit to the Lord that no matter what comes you will rejoice.

Let’s pray.

If you are facing trials and would like prayer, you can come forward after the service and some of us will be happy to pray with and for you.

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