Core of Thanksgiving
Habakkuk is a strange text for celebrating Thanksgiving. But, it is the place I always return- year after year- to be mindful of what thankfulness consists. To summarize the prophets narrative it flows simply. First, he called upon God to do something about the evil around him, about people behaving poorly (1:1-4). That is not an unfamiliar beginning to the prayers of good and godly people throughout the ages. People want God to fix what is broken. God actually replied to Habakkuk with promise of a comprehensive answer to his request (1:5-11). However, not unlike God’s answer to many of our prayers, it is not at all what Habakkuk had in mind. In fact, it was an answer that would make Habakkuk regret asking in the first place. So, Habakkuk prays again, shifting his prayer to convince God to change his plan (1:12-17). It was something akin to the first answer to the first prayer not going as we like so try a second prayer to reroute God’s plan.
The irony should not go unnoticed. People pray ardently for God to do something. Then, God in his providence and omniscience answers contrary to the prayer’s envisioned answer. Subsequent prayer is spent attempting to undo the unexpected or unwelcomed answer even though we know that God knows best. In Habakkuk’s case, at least he was wise enough to know that God’s ways are ultimately best. So, he promised to keep an eye out for the answer (2:1) whatever it might be. God in his wisdom and persistence doubled down on his assessment of the situation and his answer, which we should know is always right whether it looks right or not (2:2-20). At least he offers explanation and rationale, something he is not obligated but always willing to do.
This little book of the Bible ends not with God, but with Habakkuk. We know God is good for doing what he promised. His answer to Habakkuk’s prayer is revealed in several other books of the Bible. We don’t need to see it here. We really need to see how Habakkuk resolves his own issues with how God works. His concluding prayer (chapters 3) contained essentially three elements, all of which are worthy of our attention and replication. First, he acknowledged that God’s ways are best and hence his willingness to accept the answer given (3:1-2), all while asking for God’s special mercy and care in delivering the answer. Second, he did what we should all do- reminded himself of God’s greatness, power and wisdom throughout time (3:1-15). That transcends this moment and this request. A good, big picture reminder of who God is and how he works is critical. If we don’t like the answer, we should take a journey down the corridors of history to remind ourselves that Father knows best. Finally, he concluded that though God’s answers may be difficult to swallow or even understand at times, he commits in prayer to continue following and serving God, pray and rejoice in God even if everything around crumbles into a heap (3:16-19). If everything else fails, God will not.
So, the conclusion of this book is not really about the specific answer to that specific prayer at all. It was the conclusion and resolve of Habakkuk’s own faith in God. In the end, Habakkuk resolved to be thankful for God and God’s answers not because he got what he wanted, but because he got God and what God wanted. The predictable outcome is joy (verse 18) in knowing God is good and answers well; and strength (verse 19) coming from God to handle the circumstances.
Thanksgiving is not just about thanking God for all the stuff, all the blessings and all the great answers to prayer that were answered just as we thought they should be. It is the ability to be thankful to the core when nothing is going as planned, blessings seem far away and prayers are not answered in the manner we had hoped. After all, indefatigable people of faith are thankful people because they know that God is good for whatever he promised and will give joy and strength whatever happens. Everything contains reason to give thanks for truly thankful, faith-filled people.