Developing the Feet of a Deer
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is a verse that is often misunderstood. Habakkuk 3:19 declares, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to tread on the heights.”
People read of “the heights,” and they imagine a beautiful scenic overlook to which you can drive your car and enjoy a panoramic view of the countryside. But that’s not what Habakkuk had in mind. To Habakkuk, the heights are the mountain cliffs where the climb is steep and exhausting, where the ledges are narrow and the traveling is dangerous. The heights are the rocky times in our lives when it is difficult for us to take even one more step, when it is a challenge for us to go on at all.
Too often, Christians live under the delusion that the Christian life is about traveling happily from one scenic overlook to another. Too often, we have the mistaken impression that all should be good in our lives and in the lives of “good” Christians.
Dave Dravecky was an All Star pitcher until he was found to have a cancerous tumor in the muscle of his pitching arm. The tumor was removed and Dravecky returned to pitching for the San Francisco Giants. He wrote a book entitled Comeback about overcoming cancer and returning to the major leagues. But the cancer returned and Dravecky ended up having his arm amputated all the way to his shoulder. He lost his career. He lost the means by which he had earned a living. He couldn’t even tie his shoes or cut the meat on his plate. He feared the cancer would return elsewhere. On top of that, the medication he was prescribed was causing ulcers. Dravecky found himself in the throes of deep depression. A fan, who seemed to believe only in scenic overlooks, sent him a letter of advice. In his book, When You Can’t Come Back, Dravecky recalls, “I received a letter in the mail with an article on depression. I appreciated the letter. It was kind and gracious. But the article wasn’t any help. It claimed to be the biblical answer to depression. It quoted a few verses and then gave this advice: ‘Force your mind into sunshine thoughts. Do this especially when your mind starts the instant replays of old fears and depressive thoughts.’”
In response to this advice, Dravecky writes, “I’m sorry, but to me, forcing your mind into ‘sunshine thoughts’ when you’re going through a time of depression is like standing in the rain and denying there’s a storm. Faith is not denying the weather that sweeps over your life. It’s believing that behind the clouds and beyond the storms waits a faithful God.” (p. 169)
Habakkuk did not close his eyes to the storm that was beating down on him. He faced the rocky “heights” of his life honestly. He stated, “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. 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….”
Habakkuk faced the storms (or the heights) of his life honestly, even though they terrified him! Yet in the midst of the storm, Habakkuk did the one thing that helped: He set his focus on the Lord who was there in the storm with him.
Max Lucado shares, “I have a picture in my mental scrapbook that illustrates this principle. In the scene, my father and I are battling a storm in a fishing boat. We are surrounded by a mountain range of white tops, most taller than either of us. The coastline is hidden, the fog is thickening, and we are honestly beginning to wonder if we will make it back to shore. I am young, maybe nine. The boat is small, perhaps ten feet. And the waves are high, high enough to overturn our craft. The sky rumbles, the clouds billow, and the lightning zigzags.
“Dad has directed the boat toward the nearest beach, taking us bow first into the waves. He sits in the rear with a hand on the throttle and his face into the wind. I sit in the front looking back toward him. Rain stings my bare neck and soaks my shirt. One wave after another picks us up and slaps us down. I grab both sides of the boat and hang on. In vain I search for the coast. It’s buried by fog. I look for the sun…it’s hidden by the clouds. I look for other boats…I see only waves. Everything I see frightens me. There is only one reassuring sight, the face of my father. Rain-splattered and grimacing, he peers into the storm. Water drips off the bill of his baseball cap, and his shirt is stuck to his skin.
“Right then I made a decision. I quit looking at the storm and watched only my father. It just made sense. Watching the waves brought fear; watching my father brought calm. So I focused on Dad. So intense was my gaze that three decades later I can still see him guiding us out of the billows.
God wants us to do the same. He wants us to focus our eyes on Him. What good does it do to focus on the storm?” (He Still Moves Stones, p. 158-159)
That’s why Habakkuk 3:19 means so much to me. In the midst of the storm (in the midst of the struggles of going on the rocky heights), I am reminded to keep my focus on the Sovereign Lord who is my strength and who makes my feet like the feet of a deer to tread on the heights.