I once had a seminary colleague who told me about his interview to teach at our theological school. At one point, he was asked to evaluate the ministry of a popular television preacher. After spending some time gently critiquing the man’s theology, my colleague then said, “But I think the reason why people listen to him, even people who disagree with his doctrine, is that he gives them hope.”
I’ve never forgotten this story and especially that evaluation. People listen to those who give them hope. Indeed, people cannot survive long without hope. That reality raises a range of questions, though: From where does hope come? Why do some people have hope and others do not? What is the best, the most solid basis, for our hope?
The prophet Habakkuk answers some of these questions in his prayer found in the last chapter of his little book. Habakkuk 3 is profoundly hopeful in the strong biblical sense of earnest expectation that our God will be present, will deliver, will keep His promises, and will enable us to scale the heights in the midst of difficulty and pain.
Habakkuk shows us that biblical hope grows and matures as it looks in a number of directions. First, hope looks back. The first eight verses of Habakkuk’s prayer look back to God’s work in the past as He delivered His people through the exodus. As the prophet remembered how God went with His people and did mighty deeds—displaying His glory at Sinai, using plagues to deliver His people, shaking the earth in judgment upon Korah, showing His power to the Cushites and Midianites—his heart began to hope. He hoped that God would again be present in the now as He was in the then.
Second, hope looks out. Habakkuk moves in verses 9 to 13 to look out on God’s mighty works in creation and providence. He knew these were not just “acts of God” or “natural disasters”—rather, these were examples of God using His power in behalf of His people to provide for and deliver them. Whether in creating the world or making time stand still (Josh 10:12–13), God encourages us to look out on His mighty deeds and to hope again in Him.
Finally, because hope looks back and out, it is empowered to look up. In the worst of times, when the future promises scarcity, emotional breakdown, or relational difficulty, hope enables us to declare, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (v. 18). We can say this because we look to “God, the Lord, [who] is my strength” (v. 19a). He takes us—who are much afraid—and enables us to tread the high places because we have hoped in Him.
When times are difficult and the worst seems to be happening, where do you look? To have hope in those times, Habakkuk encourages us to look all around us and see God at work.