How to respond when God isn’t paying attention

INSIDE: Have you ever demanded God answer your prayers only to realize you don’t like God’s answers to your prayers? How do we respond?

It was early in the morning and I was already exhausted. I had been up 3 times the night before with 3 different children. Our morning routine had fallen apart and there had been tears and tantrums all before 7am. All I wanted was 10 min to myself. Just 10 min to drink my coffee and not deal with children. But it just wasn’t in the cards. My potty-training 3-year old had yet another accident, for the hundredth time, and it wasn’t just a little piddle in his pants. Nope, it was a huge puddle on the floor. I LOST MY MIND! I started screaming like I was a crazy woman! I was so angry and unhappy with my circumstances, that flying off the handle for much lesser disasters was still pretty common. I decided it was time to have it out with God and I did.

When tragedy strikes or misfortune falls upon you, what is your first response? In times of confusion, where do you turn for answers? When you look at what is happening in the world around you, do you ever look up to heaven and wonder,

“God, where are you?! Are you even paying attention?!”

Do you want to know what I love about the Bible? The fact that God allows His people to ask Him those very questions. The book of Psalms is full of songs and prayers where the Psalmists are crying to God, asking Him where is He, why is he allowing them to suffer and when will He rescue them. Unlike a human parent, God isn’t angry about being questioned because, well, He’s God and He’s perfect! He doesn’t feel threatened when you question Him and His plan. And sometimes He responds with details and answers, and sometimes He doesn’t.

The fact is, you won’t always like God’s answers to your prayers.

Have you ever read the book of Job? Over 30 chapters of a man suffering from grief, pain, and embarrassment with no understanding of what is happening to him or why. Job cries out to God asking for justice and vindication because he knows he has done nothing to deserve such torment. And when God finally does respond, He doesn’t explain a thing! Instead, He says, “Hey buddy, where were you when I created the universe?!” That was enough to shut Job up. But God wasn’t mad at Job, He was just reminding him that He is not required to justify Himself. And then God restores Job’s health, wealth and gives him more sons and daughters. (For more about Job’s suffering and what you can learn from it, check out Session 3 of the Rejoicing in our Suffering audio devotional series)

But today, let’s focus on a man that God does answer. The prophet Habakkuk.

Habakkuk was a prophet who lived during a time of extreme rebellion from the people of Judah (the smaller portion of the nation of Isreal after God split the kingdom during the reign of Solomon’s son). After being under wicked leadership for several generations, Judah was morally and spiritually corrupt. The people had turned away from God and were worshipping the false Gods, Baal and Molech. And Habakkuk, like Job, questioned God’s justice. In fact, I wouldn’t say he questions God so much as accuses Him in a very loud complaint.

O Lord, how long shall I cry out for help and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idely look at wrong? Destruction and volience are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous, so justice goes forth preverted.

Habakkuk 1:1-4 ESV

When I imagine what this may have looked like in my head, I see Habakkuk looking up at heaven, arms raised, fists clenched, shaking his head in disappointment at God. In essence, he is yelling, “Seriously God, how long are you just going to sit there and let sin go unpunished like this? I keep telling You about how corrupt and immoral the people are yet you do nothing to stop them. I cannot believe you are tolerating this injustice! Are you even paying attention?!”

Part of me wants to judge Habakkuk. How arrogant and disrespectful can you be? I mean, this is God you are talking to pal!

But then again…I did the same thing.

I was miserable. Looking around at my circumstances, at the little world around me, and I saw injustice in being “just a stay-at-home-mom” when I had gifts and talents that could be put to better use in a career. I saw sin and strife when my children willfully disobeyed me again and again. I saw corruption in my marriage when my husband, who was supposed to be my spiritual leader, was anything but spiritual himself. And on that morning I talked about earlier, I locked myself in my room and I raised my arms, clenched my fists and cried out to God, “Are you even paying attention?!”

So how did God answer Habakkuk?

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 1:5b ESV

Imagine you are Habukkuk and you layout this crazy, bold demand to be answered and then God does answer you by saying, “Oh don’t you worry, I see everything and I plan on punishing the people because of their wickedness. And here is how: I am going to use a nation even MORE evil to destroy them!” WHAT?! How does that make sense at all? It’s like dealing with a bully by calling in a bigger bully to bully the bully. Won’t that just make things worse?

That just doesn’t seem like the kind of justice that God should be handing out, does it?

Habakkuk doesn’t seem to like God’s answer to his prayers. In fact, he responds with

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?

Habukkuk 1:13 ESV

Essentially, he is saying, “What gives? I don’t understand. How could such a holy God stand to watch a nation who is way more wicked punish Your own people!” And he makes a good point, from a human perspective anyway. Habakkuk goes on, in vs 14-16 to talk about how ruthless these particular enemies are, literally treating their captives like fish, dragging them into captivity by hooks in their noses. It just doesn’t seem right that God would let His people suffer at the hands of their much stronger enemies and go unpunished for their own evil ways. That’s not justice, is it?

Again, God answers him

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith.

Habakkuk 2:3-4 ESV (emphasis added by me)

Huh? So the answer is just…wait?

Yes, that is the answer.

God is telling Habakkuk that he will absolutely punish this evil nation for their wickedness, but it won’t happen on Habakkuk’s timeline. And, in the meantime, the people of God that turn back to Him, they will by faith with the assurance that God will fulfill His promise to redeem them and destroy their enemies in His time.

I received a very similar answer that morning. God heard me and I heard Him but my circumstances didn’t immediately change. When I finally emerged from my bedroom 30min later, I was still a stay-at-home mom who didn’t have a potty-trained 3-year old. My 5 children didn’t suddenly start obeying my every word. And my husband didn’t become a super-spiritual leader overnight. God loved me enough to tell me that I needed to wait for His timing and find my joy in Him, not my circumstances. Now, you might think that I didn’t like God’s answer to my prayers. But, God promised me that, when I turned to Him and lived by faith, He would fulfill all His promises in His time. Now, God did not lay out His plan for me the way He did for Habakkuk. I would have to continue to wait. (Want to hear more about waiting on God’s timing? Read 4 Lessons God is Teaching You While You Wait)

I had no idea what my future held, but I did know that God had a plan for me and it was for my good and His glory.

Habakkuk’s final response to God is one I hold in my heart during times of uncertainty when I wonder if God is even paying attention. They are, in my opinion, 3 of the sweetest verses in the entire Bible…

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the 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 heard in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV

Like Habakkuk, we can have sure-footed confidence in God and can deliver on His promises even amid extreme circumstances. He may tell us what His plan is. He may even explain His reasoning. But, He may not. And even if we don’t exactly like God’s answer to our prayers, we can trust that He is God. He is in control.

And He is always paying attention!

Want more? Check out The Unexpected Answers of God

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