“There and Back Again – Cartography” by Rick Shurtz

At Gateway Church in Austin, we began a new series called “There and Back Again.” Rick Shurtz, our teaching pastor and grow pastor shared the following insights:

The Hobbit was originally called There and Back Again, a story that chronicles the epic adventure of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who preferred looking at maps than leaving his house.

Many of us in recent months, have taken some extremely bold steps on the adventure of following Jesus, so you don’t need to be told again to go and do it. What we do need, though, is some honest dialogue about what this adventure of following Christ is TRULY like.

So many of us find ourselves having a quarter-life crisis or a mid-life crisis when we ask ourselves: “Is this really worth it?”

God has been showing me that my struggles with being fully committed had something to do with my unmet expectations. Yes, I was willing to give God my all, but I was willing to give him my all on condition of certain expectations being met.  Those expectations were not being met, so there I was, not so sure I am as “in” as I once was.

Here’s our dilemma: We don’t accomplish what we hoped to accomplish, and we have a crisis about it. Or we do accomplish what we hoped to accomplish, and we have a crisis because it’s not as satisfying as we hoped. Either way, whether we like it or not, many of us pass through a season where we’re a bit disillusioned.

The common theme remains unmet expectations.

I’m going to take us to what I believe to be an extremely important portion of Scripture, one I’ve been reflecting on lately. We don’t know much about Habakkuk the man, other than he has an odd name, prefers to write short books, which we like, and that he must have been a very honest man, because he holds nothing back in his relationship with God.

The three short chapters record a conversation between God and Habakkuk.

They open with this: “O Lord, how long…” Habakkuk 1:2

You don’t have to finish this guy’s prayer to know it sounds familiar.  You and I, we’ve either thought it, prayed it, or suppressed it and prayed something else, because we thought we were supposed to be nicer to God. It’s an honest and forthright prayer…

  • ‘How long is this going to take?’
  • ‘How long am I going to have to put up with this?’
  • ‘How long is it going to go this way?’

We’ve thought this prayer or prayed this prayer.

The comfort-craving Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins loved maps which seems odd since he never traveled. So why did this hobbit love maps? Maybe maps were the one thing that could satisfy both his Hobbit-like disposition for safety and security and his deep-down desire for adventure.

A map could take him up and over the horizon without really going there.  He could dream of adventure without really having one.

‘O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?’ Habakkuk 1:2

Habakkuk looked at the world around him, and it was not the way he hoped it would be.

  • He saw injustice, and had experienced injustice.
  • He saw hurt, and had been hurt.
  • He saw hardship, and had experienced hardship.
  • There was evil, and no doubt, he himself felt vulnerable, there may have even been times that he felt evil.

He prayed…

‘Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.  So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.’  Habakkuk 1:3-4

Habakkuk looks at the world around him, and it was not right. He longed for something better than what was.

It’s as if he’s saying: ‘You know God, my expectations, they are not being met!  I didn’t think it would be quite like this.  I thought if I was faithful to you, everything would go in a good way, a meaningful way, a way that is good and right and just.’

God responds to Habakkuk’s bold and honest prayer. He said:

‘I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.  I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.’  Habakkuk 1:5-6

And so God says to Habakkuk…

‘Habakkuk, you’re complaining about injustice.  You’re crying out asking that I’d straighten things out.  You’re asking me “How long will things not be right?” Here’s my response: it’s getting ready to get even MORE unjust, because I’m going to raise up the Babylonians to bring the Israelites to their knees. The very thing you’re asking, I’m going to do the opposite.’

If this seems confusing, know that it confused Habakkuk as well. Habakkuk prays:

‘Why do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?’  Habakkuk 2:13

In other words: ‘God, what are you doing? Why is it that the Babylonians prosper, and I struggle? Why is it that despite my commitment to doing good, things don’t always go well? Why is it that life often goes great for those most defiant of your will and so poorly for those most committed to your will?

Habakkuk gives tough questions, and God doesn’t dodge them. He gives us the tough truth.

Habakkuk complains ‘Where’s the justice?  You’re raising up the Babylonians, a people more evil than us, and you’re bringing us down.’

To this, God speaks of something he calls the vision. Before telling us the vision, he does what we so desperately need him to do: He level-sets our expectations. He says: ‘If the vision seems slow, wait for it, it will surely come….’
Habakkuk 2:3

In other words, God responds with the following:  ‘You ask, “How long?” and I’ll answer, “It will seem much longer than you prefer.”

God invites us into this lifelong journey. He tells us everything He can tell us about the journey and warns us that there are going to be ups and downs, twists and turns. Even still, we are surprised when things are tough.

It is then that God reminds us something incredibly important that we often miss:

‘…the righteous will live by faith.’ Habakkuk 2:4

It is one thing to know we must live by faith, and know that in our heads. It is quite another to know this in our hearts.

That phrase ‘the righteous will live by faith’ is the most quoted line from Habakkuk in the New Testament. It comes up in several places such as 2 Corinthians 5:7 ‘For we live by faith, not by sight.’

This phrase is most often used as a way of saying we believe things without having good reason for believing them. That’s not at all what it’s saying, though. It’s far more profound than that. We live, we thrive, we experience joy and peace and grace in our lives, not because we can SEE what is going to happen in our lives, but by trusting the one who DOES SEE.

We LIVE by faith not by sight. We live by trusting the God of all circumstances not by seeing circumstances that appeal to us.

So why do we read maps? Maps not only tell me how to get from point A to point B, maps help set my expectations.

So I’ve got this map for my life. I mapped it out years ago. Here’s how it’s going to go God. Yes, I’ve followed God. I’ve done that, but I’ve also been following this map I created. I’ve got my head down, staring at this map, and I’m beginning to realize God’s not paying as much attention to my map as I’ve been paying it.

Right now, it’s as if Christ has turned around and is saying: ‘You still staring at that map?  How about you put that away, and just follow me.’

And I’m asking Him: ‘You want me to put my map away?  You want me to lay my expectations and my plans down?  You want me to just follow you?’

Jesus responds: ‘Yes, you live by faith, by trust, on this journey, not by burying yourself in a map of your personal expectations.’

After processing this with God, Habakkuk finally gets to a place where he puts his map away. I have no doubt it was painful for him to do so, but see if you can’t hear the folding of his map, and the laying aside of his expectations, in some of his final words.

Habakkuk writes:

‘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.’ Habakkuk 3:17-18

What’s Habakkuk saying to us? He’s saying:

  • ‘I’m putting my map away’
  • ‘I’m putting my expectations off to the side.’
  • ‘I’m laying them down, and rather than taking joy from the fulfillment of my expectations, I will take joy in letting God be my God, in letting him lead the way.’
  • ‘I will live by faith, by total surrender, by entrusting my well-being to him, even when the circumstances of my life don’t fully make sense.’

Are you following a person, or are you following your plan, your expectations, your map?

Bilbo loved maps, but his maps were incomplete. There is no way would they have taken him as far as he needed to go. He had to lay his map down, and follow his guide.”

To listen or watch the entire message, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.


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