Great Is Thy Faithfulness - Hymns 4 Him - Part 10
Today we continue our Hymns 4 Him sermon series with the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisholm. From this great hymn we learn 4 life lessons about God’s great faithfulness to us.
How do you know if someone will be true blue as a friend? Can you tell that in the parties of life? Do you know someone will be faithful to you when everything is going great? When everything is going your way? When you’re winning at everything in life? When you've got your health? When you're on top of the world financially? When you’re popular?
Or do you find out if that friend is true blue when everyone else turns away? When you have had setbacks? When things don’t go your way? When you’re losing and that friend stands by your side - then you know they are the real deal kind of friend. That’s the first test of faithfulness.
#1 - God’s faithfulness IS NEW EVERY MORNING.
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”Lamentations 3:22-23
It’s important for us to know - first of all - that this hymn is based on two verses from Lamentations. You probably have heard that God’s mercies are new every morning. You’ve probably heard that God’s love is steadfast and never ceases. You’ve probably heard that God’s faithfulness is great. But did you know that all that comes from the Old Testament book of Lamentations?
I’m guessing that if I were to ask you to name your favorite book in the Bible, it wouldn’t be Lamentations. This is a book of poetry based on the “laments” of Jeremiah. It marked the low point of Israel’s history. Jerusalem was ransacked. The temple was destroyed. All the best of their population was carted off to the enemy city of Babylon. Jeremiah was a first hand witness of the whole terrible experience and wrote 5 chapters of “woe is me” groaning, crying, depressing poetry.
But right in the middle he writes this about God:
(1) God’s love never ceases;
(2) God’s mercies never end - they are new each morning; and
(3) God’s faithfulness is great!
That this affirmation of God’s faithfulness comes in the middle of Lamentations is important for us to understand. If it comes from Jesus, we say well sure - He’s God’s Son! If Paul or Peter write it, we say well sure they were apostles. If it’s David or Solomon we say they were powerful and wealthy. But this comes from the prophet Jeremiah as he witnesses the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple of God. He writes from a position of weakness, poverty and surrender. When everything is going wrong… when everything is disappointing… when all of life has turned upside down, Jeremiah affirms:
(1) God’s love never ceases;
(2) God’s mercies never end - they are new every morning; and
(3) God’s faithfulness is great!
Each day when we wake up we begin a new day, a new opportunity to live. Each morning we have the opportunity to experience God’s new mercies. Each morning we have the chance to pray a thank you to God for giving us another chance to live for Him, another chance to experience His forgiveness and mercy and grace. We don’t always experience that each morning, but that’s not God’s fault. We must make a point each morning when we awake to pause and pray and remember and be grateful for what God has done for us - even in the midst of trial.
Sing Verse 1 and Chorus.
#2 - God’s faithfulness DOES NOT CHANGE.
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” Deuteronomy 7:9
The hymn writer begins his song of God’s faithfulness telling us that “there is no shadow of turning” that “Thou changest not.” Why does he start here? It is the same place Moses starts in telling us about God in Deuteronomy.
Hey! Do you know God? This is the real God I’m talking about here - not some crappy carved idol. This is the “Lord your God” IS God - The I Am God - the faithful GOD. The God Who keeps His promises and covenants. The God with the steadfast love, Who’s love and faith just keeps going and going and going! You could go out a thousand generations - 20 to 30 thousand years after you’re long dead and this will be the same God! His faithfulness will not change!
Thomas Chisholm was the writer of the lyrics of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” He was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866. He did not have a formal education, yet at the age of 16 he became a school teacher. He later became an associate editor of a local newspaper. He wrote poetry. He became a Christian at the age of 26 and was ordained as a minister ten years later. But because of ill health he could not serve very long. But he knew God’s faithfulness and wrote a poem about God’s faithfulness.
Let’s put the focus where it belongs - on God and His faithfulness. A rather unsuccessful prophet named Jeremiah witnesses the downfall of the children of God, the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, the kidnapping of thousands of Jews, and writes: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”
Then in the late 19th century a broken down man, no health, no wealth, no formal education writes: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness!” This is not a story about the hymn writer or the prophet. It is the story of God’s great faithfulness.
Sing Verse 2 and Chorus
#3 - God’s faithfulness IS NOT SEASONAL.
“[God] is the Rock. His works are perfect. And all His ways are just.
A faithful God who does not wrong, upright and just is He.” Deuteronomy 32:4
God is not like a human who has good days and bad days, whose fortunes come and go with seasons or the years. This is God we are talking about here. You can’t talk about God without also talking about his character of faithfulness. He is the faithful God!
The Hebrew word “Emuna” is translated faithfulness in the Old Testament. It means firmness, steadiness, fidelity, trust. Sometimes “truth.” When the New Testament came along and the Greek translation of the OT, the Greeks used “Pistos” - faithful, faithfulness, believing, sure, true.
As the NT developed it came to refer not only of God’s “Emuna” faithfulness to us but also our “Pistos” to Him, our faith in God, our belief in God! And such “Pistos” could come only to those who had the “Emuna” Holy Spirit God within them. It wasn’t about our faith in God, but about God’s faith in us, through us, alive within us, and back to the living Father God above!
Back to Thomas Chisholm and his story of writing the “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” lyrics. His success as a minister was short lived. Only a year or so. Bad health forced him to leave the pastorate. He became a mostly unsuccessful insurance agent. But Thomas had made a good friend of William Runyan, who was a musician associated with Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute and a hymnal publishing company. Runyan wrote the now familiar melody. Runyan said, “This particular poem held such an appeal that I prayed most earnestly that my tune might carry over its message in a worthy way.” God answered that prayer! The song was sung on the Moody Radio station and became popular with young Bible students.
Sing Verse 3 and Chorus.
#4 - God’s faithfulness IS NOT BASED ON MY FAITHFULNESS.
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful - for He cannot deny Himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13
Whenever mankind builds up a religion, we build up rules that we will follow in keeping up with that religion. The problem with religion is that we cannot keep the rules. We cannot live up to our own definition of religion. Paul spent most of the letters to Galatia and Romans about this very thing. The bottom line? Christianity isn’t about rule keeping. It isn’t a religion. It’s all about a relationship - a relationship with a faithful God Who maintains His faithfulness to us (and to Himself) regardless of our own faithfulness or lack or faithfulness. This is why it doesn’t make any sense to get all bent out of shape when you blow it. God knows you’re going to blow it. He doesn’t want that pain and suffering that will result, but He is never going to base His faithfulness to you upon your faithfulness to Him!
This is also why God does amazing things sometimes through our own puny works. It’s never about us. It’s always about God. God took a good couple of lines from the midst of a crying prophet in the midst of a falling city and Temple, gave it to an unhealthy and unsuccessful pastor, who wrote up 3 verses and a chorus, and sent it off to an otherwise unknown musician at Moody Bible Institute. The hymn never really became popular with the churches of that day. But it was popular on the Moody Bible Institute radio station, where young Bible students listened.
But it was only one student that our faithful God had in mind. You see a young student at Wheaton College named Billy Graham liked the song a lot. And he especially liked the way his friend George Shea would sing it. The first Billy Graham crusade that heard Billy preach and George Shea sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” was a 1954 Great Britain crusade. From then on, it was sang by George Shea at almost every crusade and became internationally famous! Over 58 years the Rev. Billy Graham preached at 417 crusades in 185 countries and territories worldwide, reaching 84 million people face to face. Millions of people became a Christ-follower at a Billy Graham crusade. And the first hymn most of them ever heard? Great Is Thy Faithfulness sung by George Shea!
Was “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” such a massive success as a hymn because of Billy Graham? Or George Shea? Or William Runyan? Or Thomas Chisholm? Or the Prophet Jeremiah?
Or is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” such a massive success because it rings true about the great faithfulness of our Lord God? That God is faithful whether we are or not. That God is faithful in season and out of season. That God is faithful and never changes His faithfulness. That God’s faithfulness to us - his mercies to us - are new every morning?
The sometimes insurance agent, pastor, poet, school teacher - the man named Thomas Chisholm who seemingly never saw great success or health or popularity in his lifetime, wrote one other thing in his now famous chorus:
“All I have needed Thy Hands have provided. Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Do you know the truth of those words in your own life? Do you know that what you need… that ALL you need… is provided by the Lord God Whose very name and very character is known as “faithful!” Do you know that God is faithful to you? Do you know that all you need is provided by this same faithful God?
Thomas Chisholm knew it. As a result, God took this unremarkable man and the unremarkable prophet in the midst of the Great Depression of the Old Testament - and gave us the Great PROVISION and the Great REMINDER. God is faithful and always will be!
Maybe this morning would be a good time to not just sing this hymn, but make it the prayer of your heart and life.
“Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Lord unto me!”