The Choice To Rejoice

Bible Book: Habakkuk  3 : 17-19
Subject: Joy; Hardship; Trials; Gratitude

When a grief-stricken woman was sharing her feelings, her friend said sympathetically, “Sorrow does color life, doesn't it?” “Yes,” the woman agreed, and then added, “but I intend to choose the colors.” (Our Daily Bread 10/3/98) How do we respond in the face of difficulty? How do we react when the bottom seems to fall out? Do we let sorrow and grief rob our joy and drive us away from God? Or do we choose the colors?

Habakkuk wrote this book under the inspiration of God to warn Judah that God was going to use a pagan nation to chastise Israel because of her backslidings. By this time in Israel’s history, they were not openly practicing idolatry, but had relapsed into carelessness and forgetfulness of God, and various evil practices. God commissions Habakkuk to tell Israel that God would use the Babylonians to punish her for her sinfulness.

Terrified at this account of the coming Babylonian destruction, the prophet asked the Lord to not to punish unto death, and not to involve the good in the fate of the evil. Then he inquired how God, in his holiness, could look calmly on the wickedness of those whom he uses as the instruments of his vengeance. God graciously responds bidding him to write the oracle plainly that all may read, because, though the fulfillment may be delayed, it is absolutely certain. The law of His kingdom is that the just shall live by faith.

Even though Habakkuk was terrified at the coming judgment, he believed that he could choose how he would respond to whatever came. He could either sink into despair or rejoice in God's redeeming power. What insights we can gain from his decision.

I. Pain And Loss Are A Fact Of Life (3:17)

The prophet noted a complete failure of all creature comforts. People are seldom reduced to the bare necessities of life, but it does happen. Persons, sometimes even the righteous, the people who fear God and keep His commandments, have been known to be placed in a position of complete destitution. When the Babylonian invasion came, it would not be a pretty picture.

I have had people ask me, “Pastor if God is love, why is there so much suffering?” When Adam sinned the ground was cursed, the earth and the environment was affected (Gen. 4:12). Christians live in a real world, and are not exempt from the laws of this universe.

Sometimes barrenness and difficulties come as a result of our sin. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” (Gal. 6:7) Sometimes Christians get this idea that since they have Jesus in their lives, it really does not matter how they live because one day they will go to heaven. God told his people through Hosea the prophet, “Throw out your calf-idol, O Samaria! My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity? They are from Israel! This calf--a craftsman has made it; it is not God. It will be broken in pieces that calf of Samaria. They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:5) Make no mistake about it, if you sow the wind, you will most often reap the whirlwind. The Bible makes it very clear that God disciplines His children.

However, at other times good godly people experience illness, heartbreak and even death because they are a part of a fallen world. Jesus reminds us that in this world we will have trouble (John  16:33). He also reminds us that, as His children, we will be persecuted. The simple truth is pain and loss are a fact of life.

II. We Can Choose How We Repond To Difficulty

Though he might lose everything that normally brings life and joy, Habakkuk vowed to rejoice in the Lord. He chose to rejoice, even in the midst of his country’s devastation. His decision to rejoice was not a denial of the pain. It was a decision to trust based on the truth that God would remain with him and be his strength and enabler.

“The word translated ‘rejoicing’ represents strong emotions. Habakkuk had used them previously to express his anxiety over the unbridled avarice of the Chaldeans (1:14–15). His choice of them here underscores his repentant heart and triumphant faith. Together they express his resolve not merely to trust in the Lord through everything that would come to pass, but to rejoice fully in the covenant keeping God. Israel’s covenant Lord was still on the throne.

Someone has said, “If a man loses three-fourths of his fortune, it may be natural to grieve over what is lost, but it cannot fail to strike one as more sensible to make much of and rejoice in what remains. So a child of God, when he sees his creature comforts taken from him, will show himself a wise person by letting these go without expressing much sorrow and cleaving to the one who is our strength and shield.” Anyone can do without material possessions, but no one can do without God.

The choice to become bitter or to rejoice is with us every day. To refuse to choose is itself a choice. If we refuse to choose the difficulties and pain of life will overwhelm us. We will become bitter and sour toward God and towards others. On the other hand, we can deliberately choose to rejoice in God.

Caleb Morris wrote, “Spiritual joy is a free, full, and overflowing stream that takes its rise in the very depth of the Divine essence, in the immutability, perfection, abundance, munificence of the Divine nature. While there is a God, and that God is happy, there is no necessity that there should be any unhappy Christian.”

I cannot tell you how many wonderful Christians I have seen who have lost a loved one or who have a terminal disease that get angry at God and eventually become bitter toward God and life.

Temporary anger is part of the grieving process, but if that anger is prolonged and turns into bitterness. Bitterness is sin. The Bible tells us that we must look diligently after our relationship with God “lest a root of bitterness spring up in our lives.” (Heb 12:15) We need to have the attitude of Thomas A. Kempis who wrote “Provided that Thou dost not cast me off for ever, nor blot me out of the book of life, no matter what tribulation befalls me, it shall not hurt me.”

The Bible is full of examples of people who rejoiced in spite of their circumstances. They were not super Christians. They were people just like you and me who made a deliberate choice to be content. When several of the apostles found themselves imprisoned for preaching the gospel and beaten with a whip, they responded with joy. Acts 5:41 indicates “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”

The prophet Jeremiah said, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by name, O Lord God of hosts (Jer. 15:16).” Jeremiah chose to rejoice not in his circumstances, but in God's Word. Nehemiah teaches us a marvelous truth. Neh. 8:10, “Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry: for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

It is so much easier to blame others for our inability to be happy. Many of us still blame our parents for imperfect childhoods, find spouses an easy target for our discontentment, or imagine our present job and coworkers are the reason for our miserable life. This will always be the case when we allow any one person or situation to control our level of contentment, or when we forget who and whose we are. Contentment is that quality which allows us to live fully in the present, seeing the possibilities at hand. We can choose how we respond to difficulties, with a thankful heart or a bitter heart.


The entire present world order may pass away, but God’s grace to his people shall endure. A psychologist commenting on the millions of aerobic exercise tapes being sold (mostly to women) observed that “women are not and never will be completely content with their bodies. For men and women, our car is never quite right, our apartment or home is not quite large enough, and our work is never as fulfilling as we want. Our children aren't as gifted as we had hoped, our spouse not as romantic as we dreamed, and our health not perfect.” We must not base our contentment on our situation be it good or bad. Our contentment can only come from God as we live in an active relationship with Him.

Thomas Merton challenges us with the following question, “Why can we not be content with the secret happiness that God offers us without consulting the rest of the world?” Then he declares, “If we are fools enough to remain at the mercy of the people who want to sell us happiness, it will be impossible for us ever to be content with anything.”

God's secret of contentment is for us to become aware of how much we are loved and how much he cares for us. Loss and pain do color life, but we can choose the color. Let’s choose to live in joy!