When you pray, Christian, my guess is that you declare God to be good. Often, you will do so based on the things that the Lord has done for you. He has healed a family member, allowed a friend to get a job, or brought new people to your church. God is so good.
But what do we do when the Lord does not do these things? What do we say when the family member does not get better, when the friend does not land that new job, or when the church is shrinking though the elders are faithful? What then? If God was good for giving us what we wanted in the first example, is he no longer good when we do not get what we want in the second?
Of course we know, looking at a computer screen, that God is still good and worthy of praise no matter what our circumstances. But how hard is it for us to say that when we are in a hospital room or a funeral home? Those are the places where the rubber meets the road.
We need to be ready for the good times and the bad. We need to be personally prepared to declare the Lord good whether or not we have what we want in this life. We will not figure it out and get it right in the moment of pain. WE must have it figured out beforehand. As I heard John Piper say once, the hospital room is not the place to work on someone’s theology. We need to have a biblical theology of the goodness of God and of response to sorrow and suffering worked out before we actually face the pain.
Many books of the Bible show us hard-to-understand suffering. Habakkuk, one of those minor prophets that we seldom spend time on, is a great example. When the book opens, Habakkuk is bothered that God is not taking action to clean up the world and judge those in his nation who are doing wrong. God tells the prophet that he is at work, bringing the Chaldeans to be his instrument of judgment. Habakkuk can’t believe it, knowing that the Chaldeans are even worse than the people he is complaining about. But God will deal with them too.
Eventually, as the book unfolds, as Habakkuk asks questions and realizes the sovereignty of God, he comes to a place to accept that the will of the Lord is more sure and more perfect than anything Habakkuk could come up with on his own.
Look at the prayer of Habakkuk as he gets ready to close this short book.
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
Though the world go wrong, though everything I want fails, I will take joy in the Lord. This is glorious. This is not a prayer that declares God to be good only when we get what we want. Instead, it is a prayer that truly glorifies God as the prophet says that, no matter what his earthly circumstances, God is good and worthy of praise. No matter how hard life is, the joy of the prophet will not be in whether the nation is sustained or whether things go his way. The joy of the prophet will be in the Lord, his only source of lasting joy.
What would it look like for you to grab this prayer and start making it part of your character? How valuable would it be for you to have this in your pocket as a truth before a time of suffering hits? This is a pair of verses worth memorizing and meditating on. Life is hard. It gets tough. Things do not work out always in the way we want. Will we still find our joy in the Lord?
Friends, God is good. He is good when we are full and when we are empty. He is good when we get better and when we do not. He is good when the nation is praising him and when he must judge the nation for rebellion. He is good when the world believes in him and when the world hates all who truly follow him. God is good because God is good. God is our source of joy, because he designed us so that he is the only one who truly fits our longing for joy.
Today, whether you are in joy or in pain, consider bowing before the Lord and declaring him good no matter what. Speak to the Lord and let him know that he is your joy no matter what the circumstances. Of course we would prefer pleasure and ease. And sometimes he gives us those things. But we must be ready, before the hardest times come, to declare him good at all times, in all circumstances. And this is the joyful truth: he is good. God is perfect by definition. He is holy. May we see this and let it prepare us to rejoice, not in circumstances, but in the Lord who made us.