Old Faithful.

The God Who Always Comes Through.

I vaguely remember a trip we took one summer when I was a kid to Yellowstone National Park. This was a typical Miller family vacation ­­– an epic adventure covering numerous states and countless miles. It included end-of-the-day stops at a wide assortment of budget motels, and far too many hours crammed into our un-airconditioned Plymouth station wagon with my three older siblings. There were plenty of arguments in the backseat, numerous threats from my dad to pull the car over, more potty stops than anyone could ever count, road-side lunch breaks complete with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and assorted snacks, and, of course, innumerable utterances of the phrase, “Are we there yet?” But eventually we did arrive in the great state of Wyoming and made our way to Yellowstone, home of Yogi the Bear, one of my favorite cartoon character. But another icon of this venerable old park is Old Faithful, a cone geyser that erupts every 91 minutes spewing as much as 8,400 gallons of boiling water up to 185 feet in the air. It is a fantastic display of natural power that has been going on like clockwork ever since members of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition first discovered it in 1870. Interestingly enough, it was the geyser’s unwavering reliability that impressed the expedition and led to its name.

As I was thinking about God’s faithfulness recently, the image of Old Faithful came to mind. But what struck me is that this natural geological phenomenon, while remarkable, and albeit reliable, is altogether unhelpful. It doesn’t do anything for us, other than impress. Of course, there was a time when it was used as a laundry by members of the various expeditions that made their way through the Upper Geyser Basin on their way through what would become Yellowstone. They would throw in their dirty laundry and an hour and a half later the geyser would spew them into the air, totally clean and unharmed. But other than that, Old Faithful is little more than reliable at blowing off steam on a regular basis. It’s fun to watch, but there’s not a lot of benefit from doing so.

But when we talk about the faithfulness of God, we are dealing with a characteristic that is about so much more than reliability or regularity. God is unchanging and immutable in His character. Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. The same can be said of God. We can count on Him always being the same, at all times, and in all ways. And His faithfulness is a reflection of His unchanging character. Deuteronomy 7:9 states, “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” A. W. Pink referred to God’s faithfulness in this way: “For God to be unfaithful would be to act contrary to His nature, which were impossible” (A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God). God’s faithfulness refers not only to His reliability, but His unwavering sustainability. His faithfulness is essential to our very existence. If God were to ever fail to be faithful, we would have no hope. His faithfulness keeps the sun shining, the planets orbiting, the seasons returning, the crops growing, and the human race existing. God is the creator and the sustainer of all things. After the devastation of the flood, God promised Noah, “I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood. I will never again destroy all living things. As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night” (Genesis 8:21-22 NLT). God is faithful and He has kept that promise. While virtually everyone and everything around us regularly proves to be unfaithful, God comes through time and time again. He really is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is consistently consistent. He is reliably reliable. He is faithfully faithful.

From Rote to Reality

When I was a kid growing up in my father’s church on Long Island, we sang a lot of hymns. In time, I knew most of them by heart, and I can still recall the lyrics to many of them. One of my favorites was the old standard, Great Is Thy Faithfulness. I can’t tell you how many times I have probably sung this song over the years, but I can tell you that most of the times I did sing it I had no clue what I was singing about. Look at the words:

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 will be.

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.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand 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!

I was singing words about the great faithfulness of God, but had no idea what I was singing about. The concepts of God’s unfailing compassion, consistent presence and provision, and unwavering grace and mercy were foreign to me. I could mouth the words, but couldn’t comprehend their meaning. But time has managed to broaden my horizons, open my eyes, and clarify my understanding of God’s faithfulness. For many of us, learning to sing of God’s faithfulness has come as a result of having to rely on it. Like David, we have had to come to an end of ourselves and arrive at a place where God’s offers of love, mercy, grace, rescue and forgiveness are put to the test. In other words, we have had to learn to put our faith in God’s faithfulness. Like the prophet Jeremiah, we have found God to be true to His word and reliable in His character. “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT). Jeremiah, often referred to as the weeping prophet, was well-accustomed with sorrow and grief. He had been given the unenviable task of preaching God’s news of coming destruction to the people of Judah. He had to watch as the people rejected his message, refused to return to God, and reaped the rewards of their rebellion. In the midst of all his trials and troubles, he learned to lean on the faithfulness of God. He lived and ministered among a people of unfaithfulness, but he knew he could count on God. So he prefaced the statement above with the words, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this…” (Lamentation 3:21 NLT). His hope was based on God’s unfailing love, ceaseless mercies, and great faithfulness.

From Theology to Practicality

So what? That is the question we should always ask ourselves when we deal with concepts of theology and doctrine. What are we going to do with it? How will knowing what we know impact how we behave? This is what some refer to as the balance between orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right behavior). We can talk or even sing about God’s faithfulness, but does our knowledge of it increase our dependence upon it? Does our expressed belief in it show up in our everyday experience? Jeremiah had learned to rely on the faithfulness of God. So had David. “I praise God for what he he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:4 NLT). David knew that God had anointed him to be the next king of Israel. The fact that Saul was still on the throne and David was a hunted fugitive running for his life didn’t alter his trust in God. He knew that God would come through, in His way and according to His timing. Circumstances were not a reliable barometer of God’s faithfulness. David was focusing on God’s promises, not his own problems. He was counting on God to be true to His character and come through in the end. And he did.

There is little we can count on in this world. Everything from people to governments let us down. Faithfulness is in short supply. Cars break down, marriages break up, people let us down, our health gives out on us, friends give up on us, and our hope runs out on us. But God is faithful to the end.  Paul reminds us, “He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9 NLT). He is faithful to do what He says. Do we believe that today? Then let’s live like it.

 

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