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When the Fig Tree Doesn't Blossom

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“2020...what an awful year, right? I mean, can anything else go wrong? I can’t wait until this is all over. 2021 can’t come soon enough!”

 If I had a nickel for every time I have said or heard someone say something along those lines, I am one hundred percent certain I would never have to work another day in my life! All kidding aside, I am sure we can agree that this past year has been particularly fraught with collective challenges on every front—locally, nationally, globally. From the raging pandemic to social and political upheaval to a historic ice storm and prolonged power outages, we have all seen and faced intensely difficult things this year. Perhaps you have also experienced deep personal losses of various kinds. Maybe you lost your job or a loved one. Maybe you were diagnosed with a serious health condition or perhaps your marriage is not as strong and stable as you would like it to be. Or maybe something you hoped for in 2020 never came to pass.

Regardless of the number of difficulties and disappointments we have individually and collectively experienced this year, I imagine we are all looking forward to 2021, hoping for at least some measure of stability, peace, and relief.  But what if 2021 isn’t the reprieve we think it will be? What if, by our own estimation, our circumstances don’t improve all that much? Or what if they get worse? Now, please don’t think I am just a big pessimist who believes that the world’s future is all doom, gloom, and dystopia. I promise I don’t believe that! But these questions have driven me to think deeper about where my hope and joy are truly found, and I hope they do for you, too.  

As I was washing dishes one evening near Thanksgiving, I started to recall the countless things for which I am thankful this year. I found myself defaulting to the many wonderful blessings God has graciously given to help support me through the ups and downs of 2020: my family, my church family, my stable job, my health. I was thinking to myself, “This year has been rough, but at least I’ve got...” And then the Holy Spirit graciously brought to mind Habakkuk 3:17-19:

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor 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 herd 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.”

The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet questioning why God has allowed evil to prosper and has not answered his prayers and cries for help. In Habakkuk’s estimation, the wicked were prevailing all around him and justice was all but absent for God’s people. God responded to Habakkuk with resounding authority, reminding him that he was already working to fulfill his plan for justice in his own perfect timing (2:3) and that the righteous live by faith (2:4). 

Throughout Habakkuk’s exchange with the Lord, his mindset shifts from questioning God’s ability to exact justice upon the wicked and save his chosen people to one of utter trust and joy, despite his present or future circumstances. From an earthly perspective, the future for Habakkuk and the nation of Judah was bleak and filled with profound suffering at the hands of the Babylonians. Even so, Habakkuk readily declared God’s holiness, justice, and might, recognizing that he alone is righteous and worthy of glory.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds, and neither do you. It’s certainly not wrong to hope for brighter days—for healing, for reconciliation, for relief. But what if those things don’t come in 2021? What if you lose your health? What if you lose your job or your home? What if your family deserts you or your marriage crumbles? How would you respond? Would you still have cause to rejoice? Brothers and sisters, though your sorrow and pain would no doubt be immense, if you are in Christ, then the answer is a resounding yes — you would! We all would! Because, even now, we have an eternal hope, an everlasting joy found in the God of our salvation (3:18-19)! He is our strength, and he is at work! 

May we walk forward into 2021 with unwavering confidence and joy in that which cannot be taken away. Whatever our circumstances turn out to be in this next year, whether the fig tree blooms in abundance or withers and fades away, may we choose to say, “The LORD is my portion and my strength. He is more than enough. Blessed be the name of the LORD!”

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