How Long?: learning to pray in difficult times with Habakkuk

“How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

One of the most unique aspects of the prophecies of Habakkuk is that Habakkuk speaks directly to God instead of to the people of Israel. Unlike most of the prophets who are bringing a word to the people, Habakkuk does this indirectly, standing before God with his questions and relating God’s words to the people in response. His starting is a question: “how long?” This question arises many times in the Bible, but particularly in the Psalms.  In the Psalms, “how long?” is the prayer that cries out over the wrongs of the world again and again:

  • Psalm 6:3 – “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?”
  • Psalm 13:1-2 – “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?”
  • Psalm 74:10 – “How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever?”
  • Psalm 89:46 – “How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?”

“How long?”’” is humanity’s question for God in the midst of wrong and violence. And that is exactly what Habakkuk sees: violence. With a parallel pattern common in Hebrew poetry, he throws together pairs of words that reflect what is before him:

  • Injustice and wrongdoing
  • Destruction and violence
  • Strife and conflict

But ironically, the source of this violence and wrongdoing is not where we would expect it in opponents like Assyria and Babylon. Instead, the violence and wrongdoing are within his own people. God’s people. It is because of this that, as he says in verse 4, “the law – torah – is paralyzed.”

Habakkuk’s “how long?” is the cry over the unexpected wrongs rising up within his nation as the truth of God is rejected and seems powerless in the midst of the troubles gathering around.

“How long?” is humanity’s question in the apparent absence of God, as we read in verse 2: “I call for help, but you do not listen?…I cry out to you…but you do not save?”

Many times our “how long?” is a cry for God to act that leaves us wondering if God is absent? We may wonder at times, as the troubles of our world and our lives boil around us, where is God and what is going on? In these times we may resonate with the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote: 

I feel as though I make my way 
through massive rock
like a vein of ore
alone, encased.

I am so deep inside it
I can’t see the path or any distance:
everything is close
and everything closing in on me
has turned to stone.

Since I still don’t know enough about pain,
This terrible darkness makes me small.
If it’s you, though –

Press down hard on me, break in
That I may know the weight of your hand,
And you, the fullness of my cry.[1]

The “how long” is our cry, even without understanding, to God. But the difference between faith and lack of faith in troubling times is what we see right here with Habakkuk. The difference is that faith turns toward God in the midst of the troubles instead of turning away from God.

Habakkuk allows the troubles around him – even within him – to push him toward God. And in this place, he—and we, with him—begins to hear from God. Real faith helps us to talk with God…not turn away from God… in the midst of trouble.

[1] “Vielleicht, daß ich durch schweren Berge gehe ,” Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours, trans. Barrows and Macy, 127.

“Faltering at the Finish line: After the Flood”

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we contimued our preaching series, “Fractured,” drawn from Genesis 4-11. This is the second part of a two-part series on Genesis 1-11 that will stretch from January through Lent up to Easter. You can access the first part of this series on Genesis, “In the Beginning,” here. This fifth week of the series I preached from Genesis 9:18-10:32, walking through the final episode in Noah’s life and the impact upon his family and the nations.

You can find the message outline and video below. You can access the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.

“Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.” (Genesis 9:20)

A New Beginning and the Table of Nations (9:18-19; 10:1-32)

A new beginning in light of God’s covenant blessing (9:18-19)

God works with the generations and all peoples

Noah’s Vineyard (9:20-21)

Noah is the new man of the soil, echoing Adam

Noah is the first to plant a vineyard

Noah enjoys the work of his hands

The Uncomfortable Encounter of Noah’s Sons (9:22-23)

Ham disrespects his father, to his shame

Shem and Japheth respect their father, to their blessing

The Cursing and Blessing of Noah (9:24-28)

The curse on Ham’s son, Canaan

Why is Canaan cursed for Ham’s wrong?

The blessing on Shem’s God, YHWH

The blessing on Japheth’s territory 

Making It Real 

God is faithful to His promises to humanity through Noah, even in spite of Noah

It is good to enjoy the work of our hands, particularly the generative aspects of creation

We must beware of how sin and temptation crouches at the door

It is good be in touch with our need for God’s grace always and in every way

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

Eastbrook at Home – March 26, 2023


Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM. This weekend we continue our preaching series entitled “Fractured” based on Genesis, chapters 4-11, by looking at the conclusion of Noah’s life after the flood as described in Genesis 9-10.

Here is a prayer for this fifth Sunday in Lent from The Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

If you are able to do so, let me encourage you to join us for in-person services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus.

If you are new to Eastbrook, we want to welcome you to worship and would ask you to text EBCnew to 94000 as a first step into community here at Eastbrook.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access the service directly via Vimeo, the Eastbrook app, or Facebook.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in your tithes and offerings to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The Weekend Wanderer: 25 March 2023

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within these articles but have found them thought-provoking.

1*IwPK78lLbKgZbDx-Asl3ZQ“The Well at the End of the World” – Kenneth Tanner: “Jesus is tired and thirsty, not only from walking since daybreak but from the sun’s full strength at noon. The One who made the sun and all stars, now sweats and is parched. The One who faints not, who never grows weary, needs a breather. And he continues to thirst until everyone and everything is reconciled to God. The fastest way home to Galilee from Jerusalem runs straight through a town in Samaria, right by the land and the well of his ancestor Jacob. His feet dusty and sore from the road, Jesus sits down on the well. Wherever there’s water in the universe, he is its source and yet at Jacob’s well he has no means to get to its subterranean flow, some 100 feet down and fed by a spring. The rabbis talk in the Targums of a time when Jacob rolled away the stone that capped this well and it geysered water for twenty years but now you need a skin and a long rope to get the water to your lips. A woman approaches the well with a large pitcher on her shoulder and when she arrives, Jesus asks her for a drink. There are layers of complication around this meeting, this moment, and this request for water.”

042023-autism-church“Five ways your church might already welcome autistic adults” – Victoria Wick in The Christian Century: “My first year serving as a full-time pastor was also the year I was diagnosed with autism. I was 28. Pandemic burnout sent me on a search for mental health support—a search that ultimately led to the discovery that I’m neurodivergent, a nonmedical umbrella term that encompasses those whose brains work differently than most. Autism is one form of neurodivergence. I was surprised that someone could be an autist their whole life and not even realize it. I’ve since learned that there’s a good reason for that: most of the existing research on autism was conducted with preschool-age boys, but autism in girls—not to mention adult women—looks very different. Neurodivergent girls often face more pressure than their male peers to socially conform throughout their development. Many autistic girls learn to mask autistic traits so well that even we don’t realize we’re navigating more challenges than our non-autist peers. But once I learned I was autistic, I made more sense to myself—my love of ritual and routine, my special interest in words, my near-constant analysis of social dynamics and meaning, my unassailable trust that other people have honest intentions. My call to ministry made more sense too. A lot of autistic adults really like church, and not just because of widely held stereotypes about autism and rigid beliefs. Every autistic person is different, but because autistic brains have more neural connections than the average human brain, many autistic people are drawn to explore nuance and complexity. When a congregation succeeds in fostering theological curiosity and encouraging a variety of perspectives, it assures me that my differences might be welcomed and celebrated, too.”

Alan Jacobs - Laity Lodge“Letting Go to Be Repaired” – Alan Jacobs in Echoes: “When I get ready to drive from my home in Waco to Laity Lodge—perhaps to lead a retreat, or perhaps just to have some time on my own—I always pack some sturdy hiking shoes, a bag of books, a notebook and pen, and a plan. It’s about a four-hour drive from my house to the Canyon. During that drive I listen to podcasts or music, but I’m always thinking about my plan—about how to make the best use of my time. But as I turn down the dusty road that drops to the Frio, I feel that my grip on the plan is not quite as firm as it had been. As I drive through the river, the grip loosens a little more. This is troubling. When I get to my room at the Lodge, I re-focus on my plan. I set out the books on the desk. I open the notebook and put the pen across it. But then, because I’ve been in the car for a long time, I need a walk. So, I strap on the hiking shoes and head out onto one of the trails, and as I do, with the Frio below me, the birds above me, and the cedars around me, something happens. Gradually, and without meaning to, I start to let go of my plan. It no longer seems to matter that much. I take a deep breath of the clean air, and then another. I walk; maybe I stop and just breathe for a while. Thus, I begin—for the first time in a long time, I perceive—to listen. And when I start to listen, God begins to speak to me … or maybe it’s better to say that when my own mental babble quietens for a moment, I realize that God has been speaking to me all along.”

Dante Bowe“Dante Bowe Navigates Worship in the Spotlight” – Kelsey Kramer McGinnis interviews Dante Bowe in Christianity Today: “Grammy Award–winning worship artist Dante Bowe is starting a new chapter. After years with some of today’s most influential worship music collectives, Bethel Music and Maverick City Music, Bowe has launched TRUE Music, a label and management company that he hopes will become a hub for creativity and spiritual growth for emerging artists. Bowe has shared a worship stage with the biggest and hippest names in the industry: Chandler Moore, Upperroom, Housefires, We The Kingdom, Crowder, Pat Barrett, and Brandon Lake. He’s known for his soulful, raspy voice and powerful performances on ‘Old Church Basement,’ ‘Take Me Back,’ and ‘Yes and Amen.’ His energetic stage presence and emphasis on spontaneity in worship make him a dynamic and sought-after performer. Bowe left Maverick City Music in September 2022; a social media post by Maverick City announced the departure, citing ‘behavior that was inconsistent with [its] core values and beliefs.’  The 29-year-old singer has reemerged after a social media hiatus with a new song “Hide Me” and a clear vision and a desire to foreground authenticity in his new project. His prominence has put him in the realm of Christian celebrity, though his heart is still to put Jesus at the center.”

pastor trauma

“A Rule for Pastors to Live By” – John P. Burgess, Jerry Andrews and Joseph D. Small in Outreach Magazine: “How can pastors thrive amid the demands of being a preacher, therapist, administrator and CEO? We need a contemporary pastoral rule: a pattern for ministry that encourages and enables pastors to focus on what is most important in their pastoral task. Written by three veteran pastors, this book gives examples of pastoral rules in communities throughout the church’s history, providing concrete advice on how pastors can develop and keep a pastoral rule today. In our many years of working with and serving as pastors, we have observed that the pastoral office today is increasingly held hostage to a multitude of competing demands. The pastor is supposed to be, among many other things, preacher, teacher, therapist, administrator, personnel director, organizational manager, business entrepreneur and CEO—all at the same time. Each of these functions is critically important; moreover, they belong to the reality of pastoral ministry today. We cannot pretend that pastors are immune from the multiple pressures that increasingly define every kind of work in a digitalized, globalized world driven by values of efficiency and productivity. There is no going back to an era in which the pastor could imagine “himself” (as was the case in those days) to be nothing more than the congregation’s resident theological scholar who would be honored for his educated sermons and wise pastoral counsel, while others took care of the church’s ‘business.’ But pastors also have a responsibility to shape our reality. We are not simply passive servants of the marketplace; we are called to live in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We can make choices about what is more or less important. We can strive for a measure of order that honors God even as we remain flexible in responding to the needs of the day as they come at us. We can seek to exercise our service with integrity, in the sense of wholeness, by reframing all that we do in light of what God has done and continues to do for the world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will benefit by having a ‘rule,’ a disciplined way of life that keeps us grounded in the principal calling of a pastor: to be faithful to God and God’s will for us and the people we serve.”

_129040037_gettyimages-1124433825.jpg“UN climate report: Scientists release ‘survival guide’ to avert climate disaster” – Matt McGrath and Georgina Rannard at The BBC: “UN chief Antonio Guterres says a major new report on climate change is a ‘survival guide for humanity.’  Clean energy and technology can be exploited to avoid the growing climate disaster, the report says. But at a meeting in Switzerland to agree their findings, climate scientists warned a key global temperature goal will likely be missed. Their report lays out how rapid cuts to fossil fuels can avert the worst effects of climate change. In response to the findings, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres says that all countries should bring forward their net zero plans by a decade. These targets are supposed to rapidly cut the greenhouse gas emissions that warm our planet’s atmosphere. ‘There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,’ the report states. Governments had previously agreed to act to avoid global temperature rise going above 1.5C. But the world has already warmed by 1.1C and now experts say that it is likely to breach 1.5C in the 2030s.”

Music: Johann Sebastian Bach, “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded,” King’s College Cambridge (2011).

A Prayer of Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune.jpg

Father, we call Thee Father because we love Thee.
We are glad to be called Thy children,
and to dedicate our lives to the service that extends
through willing hearts and hands to the betterment of all mankind.
We send a cry of Thanksgiving for people of all races, creeds, classes, and colors the world over,
and pray that through the instrumentality of our lives
the spirit of peace, joy, fellowship, and brotherhood shall circle the world.
We know that this world is filled with discordant notes,
but help us, Father, to so unite our efforts
that we may all join in one harmonious symphony
for peace and brotherhood, justice, and equality of opportunity for all men.
The tasks performed today with forgiveness for all our errors,
we dedicate, dear Lord, to Thee.
Grant us strength and courage and faith and humility
sufficient for the tasks assigned to us.

By Mary McLeod Bethune, missionary and civil rights advocate.