By: Arthur L. Clanton
The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. O Lord, how long shall I. . .cry out unto thee? I will stand upon my watch. . .to see what he will say unto me.
THE VERSES, or parts of verses, that form the basis for this article are Habakkuk 1:1, 2; 2:1. They set forth three things that are vitally connected with prayer, especially intercessory prayer.
A Man With a Burden
Habakkuk was a man with a burden. He was particularly burdened over the sin and evil of God’s people. But he was also burdened over what the Babylonians would soon do to God’s people. Spirit-filled
Christians should be burdened over any alarming trend or condition in God’s church. They should be burdened over the backslidings of wayward brothers and sisters. There is something wrong spiritually with a Christian who does not love his brother.
A lack of brotherly concern is sometimes manifested in such statements as these: “Brother. . .has back-slidden, and that’s too bad. But thank God, I still feel His divine presence. If Brother. . .wants to go back into the world, that’s his business.”
We are taught in God’s word, “Bear ye one another’s burdens. . . .” We cannot share in the bearing of another’s burdens without being burdened ourselves. There are many other kinds of burdens. And these
would surely crush us if we could not obtain help from God.
A Burden Should Lead to Prayer
Habakkuk allowed his burden to lead him to pray. A burden is a liability rather than an asset if we don’t pray, and get victory over it. There is a God who sees us and knows our hearts. When we are burdened, and go to Him in the right way, He will do something about our burden.”
So Habakkuk went to prayer. He prayed, and he prayed, but it didn’t seem to do any good, Finally, in near desperation, he asked the Lord this question: “O Lord, how long shall I cry. . .?” He wanted to know how long he should continue praying, when it seemed he was not getting through, and the answer was not coming.
This is a good question for us. Sometimes a husband prays for a wife for twenty or thirty years, and he wants to know, “How long should I keep on, Lord?” A wife prays for an unsaved husband for forty years and then asks, “Should I keep praying Lord? It hasn’t seemed to do any good.”
Just how long should we pray for something? We should pray until God gives assurance that He has heard us, and that He is going to give us what we ask; or until He says, “No, I’m not going to give it to you,” That is how long we should pray.
Look, for instance, at Elijah. Before Elijah prayed for rain, God had already said, “I am going to send rain upon the earth.” Yet when Carmel was finished, and the fire had fallen, Elijah went up higher toward the top of the mountain with his servant. He got his head between his knees and began to ask God to do what God had already said He was going to do.
He prayed once, and then said to his servant, “Go up to the top of the hill, look over to the Mediterranean Sea, and see if you see any sign of rain.”
The servant came back and said, “Elijah, I don’t see a thing. The sky is clear over that way.”
Elijah got his head between his knees and prayed again, then said, “Go up there and see.”
The servant went and came back, saying, “There’s Still no sign of rain.”
So Elijah prayed three times, four times, five time, and six times, then seven times. After the seventh time, the servant came back and said, “Elijah, I see a little cloud rising out of the sea, like a man’s hand.”
Elijah must have said to himself. “That’s what I’ve been waiting for.” And he told the servant, “Get down and tell Ahab he had better harness up the team, get in his chariot, and head for Jezreel, because I hear the sound of an abundance of rain.”
Elijah didn’t stay up there and pray until the lightning was flashing in his eyes, the thunder was booming in his ears, and the rain was pelting him in the face. When God showed him the sign that his prayer was answered, then he stopped praying.
That is how long we should pray. When God says to us, “I’ve heard you, and I’m going to give you what you desire, then we don’t have to pray any more. We should rather thank God for His promise until it is
The Bible tells us, “If we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” If, after He has assured us that our prayers are heard, and we continue to ask him for the same things, that is a mark of unbelief, rather than of faith.
How long should we pray if what we are asking is not in God’s will? We should pray until this is revealed to us by His saying, “No, I am not going to give it to you.” Then we should stop praying, for it is rebellion to ask anything contrary to the will of God.
This is illustrated by an incident in the life of the man Moses. Some forty years before Israel entered Canaan, Moses failed God as he brought water but of the rock for them in the wilderness. Because of this failure, God said to him, “. . .Ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:10). Nothing could have crushed Moses more than these words, for the supreme desire of his heart was to lead Israel into Canaan.
Moses thought that, through petitioning God, he could change His mind. He said, “I pray thee, let me go
over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.” One can sense the longing in his heart as he prayed.
Listen to the words of Moses, as he penned God’s answer to his prayer: “The Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:25, 26). And there is no record that Moses ever again asked God for the privilege of entering Canaan.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the time that he was given a thorn in the flesh (II Corinthians 12:7). One can well imagine his saying, “I don’t like this thorn. It is unpleasant. It is tormenting me.” Perhaps he was not too disturbed, because he knew that the Lord answered prayer, and had helped him on many occasions.
He went to the Lord in prayer, and asked Him to remove the thorn, but there was no answer. Again he went to prayer, and again there was no answer. When he prayed for the third time, God told him that He was not going to remove the thorn, but would rather give him grace to bear it. Paul never again asked God to remove the thorn.
“How long shall I cry out unto thee?” Habakkuk asked in anguish. “How long shall we pray for a certain thing? we ask. Until God says, “I am going to give you what you desire,” or “I am not going to give it to
you.” To continue to pray for this thing after that is a sign of either unbelief or rebellion.
The Listening Side of Prayer
Not only did Habakkuk have a burden, not only did he cry out to God in prayer, but he also listened. He
said, “I will stand upon my watch. . .to see what he will say unto me.”
There is a listening side to prayer. There is a world of difference in talking to someone and talking with him. If one makes a telephone call, and does all the talking, he is talking to the one whom he has called. If the one called also talks, the caller is talking with him.
Somewhere in one’s prayer time, when he has made his requests known unto God, he should say, at least in his heart, “Lord, I have talked to You; now what would You like to say to me?” And then he should quietly listen for the voice of God.
If we will do this, God will encourage us. He will help us solve our problems. If there is something in our
hearts alien to His will, He will reveal it to us. And, perhaps, if something unpleasant lies ahead, He will tell us about it, that we may fortify ourselves with overcoming grace.
The prophet Elijah did a lot of talking, but in his time of discouragement, when he finally got quiet before the Lord, and listened, God spake words to this effect: “Elijah, you have over-emphasized your problems. Things are not as gloomy and hopeless as you thought. I have seven thousand men in Israel who have not bowed before Baal. And your work is not finished; I have other things for you to do.”
Of course, Elijah hadn’t known any of these things before, because he had been so busy running and talking that he had taken no time to listen.
Many people have inner ear trouble. It not only affects their hearing, but it sometimes makes them dizzy, so that they cannot walk straight. There is also a malady that could be classified as spiritual inner ear trouble. One afflicted with this disease not only does not clearly hear the voice of God, but he is apt to stagger in his spiritual walk with God.
There is a listening side to prayer.
May Habakkuk’s experience be a lesson for us, Let us take our burdens to the Lord in prayer, and then listen to see what He will say unto us.
(The above article appeared in the March, 1976 issue of The Pentecostal Herald.)