A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.
O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.~ Habakkuk 3:1-2
We have come to the third and final chapter of this prophetic book, and Habakkuk has a renewed disposition. He isn’t the man he was in chapter 1. God has spoken. Things have changed.
Think for a moment of the final verse in the second chapter: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). This was the final portion of God’s second reply to Habakkuk, and it is evident that our prophet brother has heard the word of the Lord and responded in humility, for in the opening chapter, amid Habakkuk’s complaint, his heart was not quiet. He was a man in turmoil, a prophet perplexed. But in chapter 3 we will hear the prayer of a prophet at peace. A humbled prophet. A praying prophet.
When a man one day asked George Mueller the secret of his walk with God, Mueller responded, “There was a day when I died, utterly died—died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends—and since then I have studied to show myself approved only to God.” It seems as though Habakkuk has come through a similar experience. So much of his attention had been on himself:
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (1:2)
“Why do you make me see iniquity?” (1:3)
So much of his attention had been on the wickedness around him:
“Why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” (1:3)
“Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (1:13)
But now something has changed. His perspective in chapter 3 is totally different. He has died a kind of death—a death to self—and his whole perspective has changed. It is this kind of death each one of us needs to die as well. We need to be those believers whose eyes aren’t fixed on ourselves or on the things around us but have our gaze fastened to the Lord seated on His throne of grace.
So Habakkuk, having recognized that the Lord is “in His holy temple,” now offers up this prayer with the renewed expectation that the Lord will hear and answer him. The fact that this prayer is documented for us in Scripture is quite wonderful. This prayer is also a song, which is also a psalm. That is what we can discern from the opening verse of the chapter: “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth” (Habakkuk 3:1). We see this kind of introductory language in five of the psalms.
Habakkuk then recorded his prayer to the Lord as a prophetic intercessor. He documented this prayer on behalf of his people for the sake of his people. This prayer would then be sung by the Israelites, likely during the exile that was to come on the heels of the Babylonian invasion. That is a pretty amazing picture.
Habakkuk has fully settled into the justice of God and the reality of His chastening work to come. He has accepted God’s wisdom in sending a nation even more wicked than Israel to destroy Israel. The turmoil and confusion within Habakkuk have ceased and been replaced by settled conviction and firm trust.
Now the prophet pens his prayer in order to lead his people into this same perspective. He would help them as he has been so helped by God. And, of course, this should be our work today: “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NKJV).
Let’s begin to look now at this psalm of Habakkuk, his prayer.
O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.~ Habakkuk 3:2
Habakkuk opens prayer his prayer by addressing Yahweh, which is the opening word of the final verse of his prayer in 3:19: “God, the Lord, is my strength.” The covenantal and personal name of God serves as bookends to Habakkuk’s prayer, which is rather significant. Habakkuk has God’s covenant in mind as he prays. He is really a perfect picture of one who is pleading the promises of God, and that is where his prayer begins: first with his recognition, then right into his petition.
What is it that Habakkuk has recognized or acknowledged? “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.” From hearing to fearing. God had given him the “report” of what was soon to come:
Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.~ Habakkuk 1:5-6
The phrase God spoke, “I am doing a work,” which literally rendered would be “I will work a work,” is the same language we see here in Habakkuk’s prayer: “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work.” But Habakkuk is no longer fearful of the coming army of Babylon. Instead, he fears the Lord and His mighty work. This is no servile fear that leaves Habakkuk hidden in a dark corner; this is no fear of God that causes the prophet to flee from God’s presence. This proper fear of the Lord sets the prophet to praying and pleading the promises of God. He has this heightened sense of the greatness of the Lord and the severity of His holy judgments. Habakkuk has begun to grasp the sheer awesomeness of God’s great power because the one who can wield an ungodly nation as a sword of judgment is all powerful. Habakkuk sees this now. He is finally convinced that the glory of God is far more important than his own little fears and concerns. The great concern of the Christian is God’s glory and God’s name—even when it costs us.
Habakkuk’s posture is one of submissive, humble, longing prayer. How is it with us? We who claim to have a high view of God, how is it with you in the prayer closet? This is what the prophet has recognized. He is simply astounded at the power and majesty and wisdom of God. It reminds me of the apostle Paul’s doxology in Romans 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).
But now I want you to see his petition. We are living in days much like Habakkuk’s day. If you are at all perceptive of the times and aware of the great evil around us, you likely recognize the judgment of God is near. He may not be sending a great army to crush our wicked nation tomorrow, but instead God has “raised up” (to use the language of Habakkuk 1:6) an army of cults and false religions to tickle the ears of prideful and privileged Americans. Never have there been so many heretical movements in the earth or so many churches in our land and yet still so little truth. Lies are abundant. Lust has saturated the country, leading to all manner of perversions. Violence is everywhere. More than 17,000 murders occur each year outside the womb and more than 800,000 last year inside the womb. I’m not sure there has ever been a time that our nation has been so dark and in such a moral free-fall as it is in our day. Our nation is dying a slow death. Apart from the intervention of God, America is a goner. And all the while, the church sleeps on.
Now I know there are pockets of life here and there. But so much of the modern church is lethargic, inactive, and ineffectual. Bloody Mary feared the prayers of a single man, John Knox. She feared his prayers more than invading armies. Where are the John Knoxes of our day? Where is the fear of God anywhere? Our love is waxing cold. Our prayers have grown unconcerned. Apart from the intervention of God, the church will remain quiet and sleepy.
Yet, it was in such a time as this that Habakkuk’s prayer was birthed. And what is the essence of his prayer? It is a prayer for revival. This is certainly connected by the grand encouragement from Habakkuk 2:4 (NKJV): “The just shall live by his faith.” This is the believing prophet doing what believers in God’s sovereignty and power do. Habakkuk is well acquainted with the need of the hour. Ralph Erskine, preaching on this text, said, “The time of wrath is a sinning time. It’s a sleeping time. It’s a time of apostasy. It’s a dead time.” Habakkuk knows this; he knows it is a time of God’s wrath. Yet, what does he do? He prays, he petitions God, and he pleads the promises.
So, in his prayer, we see Habakkuk emphasizing two important realities surrounding revival: (1) God’s sovereignty in revival and (2) God’s mercy in revival. With God’s character in view, Habakkuk begins his pleading: “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2). Do you see the reliance here in God’s sovereignty? He is asking God to do what only God can do: “Revive Your work, O Lord! Make it known! Man can’t revive it. Man can work it up. Man can’t make it known. God, you must do it, or it won’t be done. You must stretch forth Your arm to save. You must rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.”
He prays for revival—revival that originates with God. He isn’t looking to big stadiums filled with itching ears and eloquent preaching. He isn’t looking to marketing budgets and Easter egg drops. Habakkuk cries out to God to revive His work among His people amid His wrath. Isn’t that amazing? But isn’t that the very thing needed right here and right now?
Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down! Touch the mountains so that they smoke!~ Psalm 144:5
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?~ Psalm 85:6
This is what Israel needed in Habakkuk’s day. And this is what America needs in our day, church. Look at the language of Habakkuk’s prayer in verse 13: “You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck” (Habakkuk 3:13).
Do you hear the utter reliance on God who is sovereign? You went out…You crushed…You laid bare. God must act! This is the way it is and has always been with revival. Why else would a freshly restored Peter stand up within weeks of his cowardly acts and begin to preach to a great crowd in Jerusalem when suddenly 3,000 are converted?
In September of 1857, an inner-city missionary working a Dutch Reformed Church in New York City began a weekly hour of prayer from noon to one o’clock in the afternoon. The first week it seemed no one would join him, but at 12:30 p.m. the first visitor arrived. By the end of the time, there were 6 men who gathered for brief prayer. The following week, there were 15–20 men gathered. By the third week it was 30–40 men. From that week forward, they began meeting daily for prayer.
The agenda was simple. They prayed for the salvation of souls. There was singing and brief edifying exhortations. By the start of 1858, the room was so crowded they began to have three simultaneous prayer meetings on three separate floors of the church building. From the church, another prayer meeting was birthed in a large theater. Thirty minutes prior to the start of the prayer meeting, the theater would be filled to capacity. Theodore Cuyler, pastor of Nineteenth Street Church in New York, said that he was “struck with the earnestness of petitions for the descent of God’s Spirit on our city churches.” The newspaper editor, Horace Greely, who worked for the New York Tribune sent a reporter with horse and buggy to ride from one prayer meeting to the next to see how many men were praying. In one hour he could only get to 12 meetings, but he counted more than 6,000 men. According to eyewitnesses, within six months’ time, these noontime prayer meetings were attracting 10,000 businessmen, all of them confessing their sins and praying for revival.
From New York City it began to spread to other cities. In cities such as Cleveland and St. Louis, thousands of people packed downtown churches three times per day, just to pray. There were 6,000 people in attendance in Pittsburgh. Daily prayer meetings were held in Washington DC at five different times to accommodate the crowds. The effects were remarkable. Many ministers began having nightly services in which to lead people to Christ. People were converted, at times 10,000 people a week in New York City alone.
Bishop Charles P. McIlvaine of the Episcopalian Church of Ohio wrote: “I rejoice in the decided conviction that this is the Lord’s doing; unaccountable by any natural causes, entirely above and beyond what any human device or power could produce; an outpouring of the Spirit of God upon God’s people, quickening them to greater earnestness in his service; and upon the unconverted, to make them new creatures in Christ Jesus.”
It is estimated that over the two years or so this revival of prayer continued that 1,000,000 people were converted to Christ. This was at a time when our nation’s population was approximately 30 million people. It is a sovereign act of God like this that is needed again in our day.
So often, God has done this kind of extraordinary work amid prevailing darkness. Think of the Reformation. The condition of the world and the church was pitiful in the 15th and 16th centuries. Alexander VI, the pope at the turn of the 16th century, was a perverted man. He filled the Vatican with his own illegitimate children and didn’t hesitate to put those children in places of influence and power. He held large orgies in the Vatican, at times with as many as 50 prostitutes hired for the perverted parties. In the days of Luther’s awakening, it was Pope Leo X who ruled the church. He was remembered for saying, “God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” The church was in darkness. People were ignorant, perverted, and superstitious. And from that darkness, God birthed the Reformation.
The Great Awakening came about when England was a spiritual desert as well. The preaching of George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers, and other men lit two continents on fire.
This is how God works. He is sovereign. And how desperate is our situation today? Will you look to your Sovereign King and plead with Him for revival? And still we must consider God’s mercy in revival. As much as it is a sovereign act, it is likewise a merciful act. Habakkuk pleads for that which is central to God’s character. “In wrath, remember mercy!” He wrestles with God in prayer, calling Him by His covenant name Yahweh, holding up to Him in prayer His own mercy: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3–4).
But with you there is forgiveness. But with you, God, there is mercy—plentiful mercy!
We do not ask God to send revival our way because of our own merits. We only ask on the basis of mercy. We do not want what we deserve but what God can freely and mercifully give. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “We have nothing to say but to ask that Thou shouldest act like Thyself, and in the midst of wrath shouldest have pity upon us!” We are to be those storming God’s mercy seat in times like this. “God, please remember mercy! Mercy, Lord, mercy!”
Moses interceded for the people of Israel on the heels of their refusal to go into the promised land and take it:
And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”~ Numbers 14:17-19
In wrath, Lord, remember mercy. Please pardon. This is the foundation of our plea, isn’t it? The mercy of God.
Not what my hands have done, Lord. But we ask You to do what only Your hand can do! You are merciful! You delight to save sinners! In revival Your glory is made manifest in a special manner. In mercy, rend the heavens and come down!
We need revival, dear church. When we are sleepy, when we are downcast, when we are confronted by the calamity of comfort every day of our lives, we must plead with the God of mercy for revival. Yes, revival is an act of God’s mercy, a sovereign act of the Almighty, but God is pleased to use means. Church history tells us in large letters that the typical means by which God brings about revival is prayer. I challenge you to study church history to find one revival that wasn’t birthed through prayer, whether it was six businessmen, a group of pastors, two women, or whatever it might be. We must give ourselves to prayer, brothers and sisters—Prayer for revival, Prayer for mercy.
Let me close with one more account of revival in the late 18th century at Hampden Sydney College in Virginia. It began with one student reading Joseph Alliene’s Alarm to the Unconverted and talking to two other students about it. Those three students began to meet for prayer, then another student joined them. And then the word got out that they were praying. They were harassed and shunned. One student went to the president of the college to accuse them of holding this prayer meeting, but the president replied, with tears streaming down his face, “God has descended. I will join them.” At the next meeting the president joined them, and a remarkable revival swept through the college. More than half of the students of the whole college were converted and began attending prayer meetings. This revival spread to other colleges and universities like Yale, Dartmouth, and Princeton. Many, many students were coming to Christ and crying out for revival at God’s mercy seat.
Dear church, will you pray for your nation? Will you ask God to revive His church? Do you long such a movement of mercy in our day? Honestly answer these questions, and then pray as Habakkuk prayed: “Revive your work in the midst of these dark years. In wrath, remember mercy!”