When the Fig Tree Does Not Bud
A friend who is struggling with cancer writes to say that her combined chemotherapy and radiation treatments have turned into a very difficult ordeal. This is her second time around so her body is a bit weaker, and the prognosis remains unclear. At the moment she has radiation burns plus she is anemic so she has very little energy. After writing a paragraph about her symptoms, she ends with a one-word commentary: "Sigh."
Where do you find hope in moments like this? My friends quoted a few verses from the book of Habakkuk, a little gem hidden away in the section of the Old Testament we call the Minor Prophets. The word "minor" refers to the length of the book (only three chapters), not to the unimportance of the message. After Habakkuk surveys the moral and spiritual desolation of his day, and the confusion about what God is trying to say his people, he ends his message with these ringing words:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
Sometimes the fig tree does not bud.
Sometimes there are no grapes on the vine.
Sometimes the olive crop fails.
Sometimes the fields produce no food.
Sometimes there are no sheep in the pen.
Sometimes there are no cattle in the stalls.
Sometimes life deals you a bad set of cards. What do you do then? You can get angry with God or you can give up on God altogether. Or you can conclude that God doesn't know what he's doing. Or that the universe has spun out of God's control.
Or you do what Habakkuk did--and what my friend is doing: You can choose to believe in God anyway. Often we mistake faith and our feelings. Faith isn't about our feelings, much less about our circumstances. Faith is a conscious choice we make, a moment-by-moment decision to believe that God is fully involved in my situation regardless of my current situation.
Faith chooses to believe when it would be easier to stop believing. Habakkuk said, "I will rejoice" and "I will be joyful." My friend says the same thing. Therefore, the prophet found new strength in the midst of desolation, confusion, loss, discouragement, and the frustration of adverse circumstances.
Chemotherapy is no fun, and radiation isn't a walk in the park. My friend knows that truth firsthand. She would tell you that she is in a fight for her life. But she has chosen to believe and chosen to rejoice. Like Mary of old, she has "chosen the better part" and has received the blessing reserved for those who choose to keep believing when times are tough.
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