Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Season:  Be Still

Leslie Basham: The prophet Jeremiah felt the sting of God’s arrows. Maybe you have, too.

Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: You ever feel like God is using you for target practice? If you live long enough, there will come a time when you will probably feel that way.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, January 14.

That version of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is from Nancy’s CD, Be Still. Today she’ll give us the rich background to this song.

Nancy: Well, I hope that you’ve enjoyed as much as I have this little journey we’ve taken through some classic hymns and gospel songs over the last seven days. This is not ordinary for Revive Our Hearts. Usually I’m teaching from some text, but I love how rooted these great hymns are in the Scripture.

I hope you’ve been encouraged to hear something of the background of these hymns. They’re part of a new collection we’ve put together called Be Still. It's a collection of piano reflections.

I had the privilege of recording these several months ago, and now this CD is available through our ministry, and we are, this month, offering this CD as our way of saying “thank you” to anyone who makes a donation of any amount to help support the work of Revive Our Hearts.

Some of you have asked about the music to go with it, the companion music, that book will be available in the next several weeks, Lord willing. So check back with us about when you can get that, those of you who are pianists.

It’s been so sweet to see how the Lord has already been using this newly released CD to minister grace and encouragement to many hearts.

I have a friend who wrote and said to me,

I’ve been keeping watch over my sweet dad whose last breath will be drawn so very soon. It’s bitter sweet. I want the suffering to stop and the struggling to cease. Soon he will enter into the glorious presence of God, and as I am consumed with worship. I thank you for ushering me into the throne room tonight.

She had just received a copy of the CD and was listening to it and singing in her heart to the Lord hymns that she had first learned from hearing her dad sing many years ago. Now as her dad was on his way into the presence of the Lord, she said this ministered grace to her heart.

This CD is not just for those who are sorrowing and grieving, although I have seen God really use it to minister to some hurting people. But it’s such a great way of establishing our hearts in the truths of God’s Word as we think, not just about these beautiful melodies, but about the lyrics, the texts, the words that go with them, which is why we’ve put all the words in an insert that goes in the CD that you’ll receive.

I want to wrap this series by sharing with you some background on a hymn that I think is familiar to most of us, and that is, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

The original title for the CD, when we had envisioned doing this, originally we had intended on calling it Faithful. And that was because as I was celebrating fifty years of having known Christ, I wanted to give thanks to the Lord—I still do!—for His faithfulness to me over all these years. I also wanted to express my prayer and my desire that He would give me grace to be faithful in the race all the way to the finish line.

Well, there came a point when we changed the title to Be Still, but I still love the title Faithful. I love this hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and I want us to ponder its background and its meaning today.

Thomas Chisholm lived from 1866 to 1960. (Do the math. He lived until he was in his early nineties.)  He was born in a log cabin in Kentucky, and due to health issues throughout his life, he struggled over all the years to be able to earn a living. He had to go from one job to the next because he was limited in what he could do because of his health. But during the course of his life, he wrote over 1,200 poems, many of which have become prominent hymn texts.

Now, some of the hymns we’ve talked about in this series, many of them, were written out of a dramatic experience. You think about “'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” and how Louisa Stead watched as her husband drowned trying to save a drowning boy. Out of seeing God meet her needs as a widow with a little girl, she wrote, “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.”

We’ve heard about some of the dramatic stories behind some of these hymns, but this hymn is different. It was simply written out of Thomas Chisholm’s realization of God’s daily faithfulness in his life—“morning by morning new mercies I see.”

Chisholm wrote this text, and then he sent it to a friend who was a music professor at Moody Bible Institute. This professor read it; he loved the words, and he wrote the music that we know, the tune that we sing this hymn to and have for many years.

And yet the hymn remained relatively unknown until it was popularized by a singer named George Beverly Shea who sang it at Billy Graham crusades around the world. And that’s how “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” became a well-known hymn.

Shortly before his death in 1960 at the age of ninety-four, Chisholm wrote this. 

My income has never been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. But I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.

That was written by a man about to see the Lord after having lived ninety-four years here on this earth, and he says, “I have to tell you about the unfailing faithfulness of my covenant-keeping God.” That’s what’s reflected in these words—you’re familiar with them:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

And then the chorus:

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Now, you are probably aware that this hymn, at least the chorus, is inspired by two familiar verses found in Lamentations chapter 3. You may not know where they’re found, but you’ve heard the verses before. Let me read them:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

And you recognize those verses because you’ve heard them in “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” And that’s verses 22 and 23 of Lamentations chapter 3.

But have you ever stopped to read the entire chapter? Like, what are verses 1–21 about in that chapter? We just read beginning in verse 22 about the steadfast love of the Lord. Are you familiar with the context for those verses about the faithfulness and the mercies and the compassions of the Lord? If you see those verses in their broader context, it makes them even more meaningful.

Now, in the context of the whole book of Lamentations, we’re reading about an individual as well as the nation of Israel—there’s personal and there’s corporate reflected here who are suffering adversity and hardship, and it happens to be under the chastening hand of God.

Lamentations, I mean the name of the book itself means “it’s a lament.” It’s sorrowful. So how do you get these beautiful verses about the steadfast love of the Lord, and His mercies never come to an end, and they’re new every morning, and great is Your faithfulness. How do you find those verses, that pearl, in a book called Lamentations?

Well, I want to take time to read to you the first twenty-one verses of Lamentations chapter 3. If you have your Bible, let me invite you to turn there. Lamentations comes right after Jeremiah. It was written by Jeremiah, who was known as the weeping prophet. He was weeping because he had a message to give God’s people that was a message of judgment, a message of chastening that God was going to punish them for their sins. He was pleading with them to return, but they didn’t. So they ended up going into captivity.

So Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations. It’s a book of grieving over the backslidden condition of God’s people. So let me read in verse 1 of Lamentations 3:

I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer (vv. 1–8).

Now as I read this, let me say, I know there are some listening to these words who would say, that kind of describes a bit of where I’m living right now. Or maybe it describes where you have been at some point in the past—maybe not to this intensity or to this extent, but perhaps you can relate to these days where you feel like you call and cry out for help but God seems to shut out your prayer. You relate to some of these phrases. I think all of us can at times relate to at least some of them.

He goes on: 

He has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked. He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow (vv. 9–12).

Do you ever feel like God is using you for target practice? If you live long enough, there will come a time when you will probably feel that way.

He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; [to my deepest parts, He sent these arrows flying] I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood.

He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, "My endurance has perished;" [I can’t go on my endurance has perished] so has my hope from the Lord" (vv. 13–18).

I mean, could there be any more hopeless, desperate plea than this prayer in this chapter? This is the description of a struggling saint, a struggling person who says, “I have no more endurance, and I’ve lost all hope. I don’t have hope anymore. I’m desperate.”

And then he says in verse 19:

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall [or the bitterness]! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.

But [verse 21—and here comes the turning point] this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.

Here’s a person who says, “I have no hope. I have no more endurance. I can’t go on. I can’t keep pressing into this. God’s using me for target practice. He’s walled my way up—I can’t get out; I can’t get around; I can’t find a way through this mess. I’m depressed. My life is bitterness and affliction, and all the things I’ve just read, but this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.”

So what is the source of hope at this turning point in the chapter? Is it a change in this man’s circumstances? Is it like all of a sudden the cloud lifts and everything turns rosy and cheerful. All of a sudden he feels happy and delighted and everything is going well—he wins the lottery, his wife comes back, his kids turn around?

Is it a change in his circumstances? No. What happens is the turning point here. What gives him hope is the unchanging character of God. Verse 22—we read these verses earlier, but now read them in light of the context of what we’ve just read:

“The steadfast love [the steadfast love] of the Lord never ceases.”

Steadfast love, that’s that Hebrew word hesed. It means “covenant mercy.” God’s covenant-keeping love. God who loves us and keeps His promises toward us, even when we don’t deserve it.

Even when we’re wayward and backslidden, the steadfast of the Lord never ceases—even when He’s chastening His children, even when He’s disciplining us, and even when He’s making our circumstances hard to press us to seek Him. His love never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. In spite of what it may seem like, in spite of what it may feel like, in spite of what it may look like, the truth is that God’s mercies for His children never come to an end.

And not only that, they are new every morning. They never get exhausted. They don’t ever get worn out. They don’t ever get depleted. His mercies, they don’t just drag on and kind of go with us through life, but every morning there are new mercies.

Great is Your faithfulness even when we are unfaithful; even when we have wandered, been prone to wonder, as we heard earlier in this series—His faithfulness is still great.

And so you read these words about the faithfulness and the covenant-keeping love of God and the mercies of God and the faithfulness of God. In the context of a person who is suffering greatly, what a reminder that is of how our source of hope, our source of comfort, our source of courage, our source of perseverance, our ability to press on and into the hard circumstances of life.

Sometimes these may be God’s disciplining chastening hand. Sometimes it may be just life in this fallen world. Sometimes it’s God wanting to do something beautiful in others’ lives, and He’s using us as a means to do that work.

You see, it’s inexplicable; it’s mystery. We can’t see. We don’t understand fully why God does all these things, but in the midst of all that, our hope, our means of courage and grace and steadfastness is not that we are faithful, but it’s that He is faithful. We lean, we rest on His unchanging grace.

And so he goes on to say in verse 24:

"The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

It’s the third time we’ve seen that word in this passage. First I have no hope, and then I do have hope, and my hope is in the Lord.

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him (v. 25).

The Lord is good. Well, this faithfulness of God that Thomas Chisholm wrote about, having been through the ups and downs and tumults of life, struggling to earn a living and dealing with frail health, that faithfulness of God that he celebrates is seen in many different ways, through many different lenses, if we will just look around and see it.

In the second stanza we see that faithfulness of God in nature.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

You know, it’s winter here in Michigan—kind of like Narnia before Aslan got there. And for those who don’t live in this part of the country, we have what they call “the permacloud” here in Southwestern Michigan. For months and months we have these gray skies and cold and sticks in the ground that they call trees, but they just look like sticks this time of year. It’s dark, and it’s dreary, and it’s bleak, and it’s cold, and it’s wet.

And yet, every year we know that spring is coming. We know there will be new life, and we anticipate that. Why? Because God is faithful in summer and winter and springtime and harvest and sun and moon and stars. The sun goes down at night, but we know it will come back up in the morning. We know that. Though there’s a sunset, there will be a sunrise every day, day in and day out.

Who do you think keeps all that going? How do you think it all keeps going? There’s a faithful Creator who not only threw this world into existence by the power of His spoken word, but He keeps it in existence by the Word of His power. He’s a faithful, faithful, faithful God, and all that nature around us gives manifold witness to God’s great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

How anybody could look at all of that and not believe in a faithful Creator, you have to be rebellious. You have to reject the light that has been given. Day after day, night after night, year after year, season after season, God is faithful.

We have those visible evidences of God’s faithfulness. They’re all around us, but there’s more. You see in this next stanza, praising God for His faithfulness as it’s seen in our salvation and in other spiritual and intangible blessings. He names some of them:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

I like to sing that with ten million beside, or ten million, million, million beside. I mean, how many blessings? Countless blessings. Among them: pardon for sin, peace, presence of God that cheers us, guides us. He gives us strength for today when we’re weak. He gives us hope for tomorrow when we feel there is no hope—we saw that in Lamentations 3. Blessings all mine with ten million beside!

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Let me encourage you to make a habit, as you think of it, to journal the faithfulness of God, to track it, to record it. Write it down. Make a list. Put it on your laptop, put it on your phone. Just track what God does. Ask God to give you eyes to see His faithfulness. We’re experiencing it all the time, but a lot of times we’re just not paying it any heed. We don’t realize that’s what it is.

So when you see the sunset at night, thank God for His faithfulness. In fact, I have a little habit—I’m a little hesitant to tell you about it because I wouldn’t want anybody to hear this, but I see a whole lot more sunsets than I do sunrises. But when I do see the sunrises over the course of years—my little habit has been to sing this hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Sometimes I’ll be with others, and I’ll sing it with them on my way to an early conference session on a Saturday morning or whatever.

Great is Thy faithfulness. Just ask God to give you eyes to see His faithfulness, and then rehearse His faithfulness. Keep going back to it. How has God been faithful to you in the past? When it looks in the present like that beginning part of Lamentations 3, ask yourself: “Is God going to stop being faithful to me now? Am I going to be the first person in all the history of the world who found God to be unfaithful?” I don’t think so! That’s why it helps us to track and record and rehearse the faithfulness of God.

Then remember that Jesus is the fullest possible expression of God’s faithfulness. He was the faithful high priest. He is a faithful high priest. He never changes. Revelation 1 calls Him “the faithful witness.” In Revelation 19 when that man on the white horse comes to take over the world, it says, “the one sitting on that horse is called Faithful and True”—it's none other than Jesus.

And then remember when you feel like you can’t cling to Him any longer. There have been many times when I’ve felt like, “Lord, if it’s up to me to be faithful . . ." remember that it’s not your faithfulness, but His.

“Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and honor and dominion forever and ever” (Jude 24–25).

He’s a faithful God. He will keep you faithful.

So my prayer for you is this benediction from 1 Thessalonians 5:

 

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (vv. 23–24).

Leslie: That’s “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” from the new CD by Nancy Leigh DeMoss called Be Still.

I hope you’ll get a copy of this instrumental CD featuring Nancy and some other beautifully arranged instruments. The music is designed to lead you to God’s peace, not just because it’s pretty, but because it will point your mind to biblical truth. When you’re going through a storm in life, I hope you’ll have this CD available to listen and help you lean on God’s faithfulness.

We’d like to send you this CD to show our thanks when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. You can make your donation online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or ask for Be Still when you call 1–800–569–5959.

Well, what are your children’s spiritual gifts? Parents have a unique role in helping kids recognize and develop those gifts. When you do, you’re preparing to launch kids who will affect the world for the gospel.

Bill and Holly Elliff will show you the power of a Christ-centered home tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version. 

 

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.