Great is Thy Faithfulness?—New Eyes on an Old Story

BlackHave you ever started to sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” but found the words caught in your throat? A song that at other times has lifted your heart in grateful worship now comes back to mock you, its statements and claims the polar opposite of your personal experience. Morning by morning you haven’t seen new mercies: you’ve heard news of a new crisis. All you have needed His hand has not provided. What are you to make of it?

In the world’s eyes, you might be a laughingstock, someone who has foolishly invested in an unpredictable God and come up empty handed.

In other Christians’ eyes, you might look like a failure, someone who must be out of God’s perfect will. What else would explain His lack of blessing on you, your family, and your work?

Far from being evidence of our Father’s rejection, our hardships are proof of His love.

While others prosper around you, you struggle to make ends meet. While others’ ministries take root and flourish, your sacrificial efforts seem like water poured out on sand. You waver between discouragement and exhaustion, wondering how to interpret your life story. Have you done something wrong, or has God simply been unfaithful?

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered…
Hebrews 5:7-8

But perhaps you have been interpreting your story through the wrong set of eyes. If we evaluated Jesus’ life by the standard of motivational magazines or successful living books, He would come out the greatest loser of all time. Like us, He struggled and suffered. And like us, He begged God to go easier on Him. He still ended up deserted and destitute, mocked and accused of being cursed by God. But that was not evidence of God’s rejection. It was proof of the Father’s love.

And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
Hebrews 12:5-6

God’s way of prospering His children has always looked radically different than the world’s. If our lives are filled with hardship and struggle, it is merely because He is taking us through the same intensive training to which He subjected His Firstborn Son. Yes, He loves us just as we are. But He also loves us too much to leave us that way. His commitment to our development compels Him to afflict us. Far from being evidence of His anger or rejection, our hardships are proof of our Father’s love.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
Hebrews 12:7-9

Because of His great love for us, this Father not only punishes His errant children, He also trains His devoted ones. In some families only the squeaky wheel gets attention. In God’s family, the obedient children get an extra dose of His coaching. At times His training grows so intense that we are tempted to fight Him or simply to quit. But as the legitimate children that we are, we believe He is treating us this way for our good, even when we don’t feel it.

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:10-11

Somehow in the way God writes stories, going with less prepares us to receive more, being knocked down paves the way for us to be raised up. Suffering and reward, pain and glory—these are the themes He wrote into the lives of that great cloud of witnesses who went before us. And this is the plot line He is mapping out for our lives, too.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
Hebrews 2:9-10

And so like the Older Brother who blazed this trail ahead of us, we hang in there. When we are tempted to think that our Father has forsaken us, we look ahead to see how Jesus’ story is turning out. The path to His success led through unspeakable suffering and deep humiliation. But because He submitted Himself to the Father’s discipline, He is now seated with Him in the heavens. The multitude of voices shouting around His throne carry the opposite message of what He was subjected to on earth. And in the midst of all that, He cheers us on.

Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
Hebrews 2:11

You may be a few steps behind, still slogging through obstructed labor and obscured vision, but you are walking the same trail. And you are not alone. Our whole family has been called to live this story. The details will look different as our Father customizes His training with each one of His kids, but as He was with Jesus, He will be faithful to finish the good work He has started in you.

The song rings true after all: Great is thy faithfulness.

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9 thoughts on “Great is Thy Faithfulness?—New Eyes on an Old Story”

  1. My all time favorite hymn….
    Thank you for this, it was excellent, drawing us back to what is really true in the midst of living in and through many difficulties. Praise God He is faithful always!

      1. Thanks for asking me that question; it has really caused me to think.
        It’s funny how just the other day when I was praying, I thought about my words and how I wanted not just to say them, but to truly mean them. I don’t really know how to answer why that is my favorite hymn, other than that something about the words/truth touch something very deep inside. It gives me hope, and reminds me of what is unfailing in my life.
        And I will always remember when my dad was dying; I flew to NY to see him in hospice. On one of the rare occasions I was alone with him, I started to sing that song to him. I didn’t know why…especially under the circumstances. But maybe that’s just it, I know and believe that the circumstances don’t change who He is, even when I don’t understand…About 6 months later on a trip back to see my mom, she asked me if I wanted to have the Bible I had bought for my dad. I said yes, and I put it away. One day I looked at it, and all the verses I had highlighted in the hope that my dad would investigate God’s word. It looked like it had been untouched since I gave it to him. But as I flipped through, there was a church bulletin from one of their visits to our church. That day, years before, my dad had heard our choir sing,
        “Great Is Thy Faithfulness “. I felt like God just wrapped His arms tightly around me. I still can’t quite put into words what that meant to me, as His faithfulness was apparent in many ways.
        And what keeps me believing Him/in Him when life is falling apart can only be His grace. There is so much that hurts, so much loss, and heartache; so much I don’t understand. But somehow He has given me a faith that doesn’t doubt that He is always at work and near, and is the most certain reality in the midst of constant uncertainty. I do a poor job of responding correctly many times, but deep in my heart I know He is good, and faithful, and righteous…He is everything I long for, and I praise Him that I am finally starting to really “get that” and not think that it can be found anywhere else.
        Sorry if this was too long! I love you my friend..

      2. It sounds like the words (and probably music) of this hymn resonate with a chord deep within your spirit. Even when your mind may be questioning and your heart feeling otherwise, the deepest part of “you” (that new creation filled with God’s Spirit) sings out that He is true. The “getting it” that you describe is the process of faith sinking its roots into the core of your being. What a joy to be able to testify from a vantage point of faith that is both tried and true.

        And certain songs do have a way of becoming symbolic of significant experiences and breakthroughs in our life. Perhaps this one is a bit of an “Ebenezer” stone for you. May our Lord continue to unfold His path before you and add new markers of His faithfulness along the way.

    1. Never alone–not just from God, but from each other, either! Maybe that’s the biggest lie we live with, thinking that no one else struggles or doubts as we do. May God keep blessing you in and through the muck, Steve.

  2. Thank you again Mrs. Clark for using Gods eternal Word to correct my erroneous and faulty thinking because of my life circumstances. It’s been a difficult two years BUT God is good and always faithful!

    1. I suspect that has been much of the point of these difficult two years, Mike. Our Lord has been setting up circumstances in which He can prove to you the height, depth, width, and breadth of His unfailing love. May your war-weary soul find rest under the shadow of His wings.

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