The Takeaway - Faithfulness
Today we’ll be focusing on the faithfulness of God as fuel for our lives—and we’ll explore how we can trust God’s faithfulness and respond with faithfulness ourselves. Spoiler alert: it’s not by being more dependable, following the rules, or avoiding dangers. Listen in.
“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 has been Thou forever wilt be. 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!”
This is the unofficial family hymn for my mother’s family. I discovered this when my parents were visiting me when I was in seminary at Princeton. As we were walking across the campus on a Saturday morning, the chapel doors were wide open, and the organist was practicing. The strong, reassuring chords of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” wafted out the door. We were drawn in—the music reminded us of the past, of family members long gone, of storms of life weathered, of hope for the future. God’s faithfulness is like a ribbon threading through our lives, holding it all together.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines faithful as loyal, trustworthy, constant, true. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for faithfulness is emet, meaning trust, fidelity, steadfastness, firmness. In the New Testament, the Greek word for faithfulness is pistis, meaning that which causes trust or faith, promise, pledge. Faithfulness is steady goodness and truth over time.
What do the Scriptures say about God’s faithfulness?
In the Old Testament, faithfulness is part of a pair: “steadfast love and faithfulness” (hesed and emet). This harkens back to episode 2 about the love of God.
God is the definition of faithfulness in the Old Testament. We see God’s faithfulness in creation, in the deliverance from Egypt, and the covenant with Israel. God’s faithfulness is demonstrated in God’s relationship to the people. Israel’s faith, and faithfulness, is only possible because of God’s foundational faithfulness.
In the giving of the Ten Commandments, God offers a self-description to the people: ‘The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, (Exodus 34.6)
The Psalms, Israel’s prayerbook and hymnal, are filled with praise for God’s goodness, steadfast love, and faithfulness: “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100.5)
The prophets are also focused on faithfulness. It comes as no surprise that they are the ones that call out the unfaithfulness of Israel to God—in attempt to right and reconcile the relationship.
Jesus talks about faith again and again. He often tells his skeptics, critics, and uncertain disciples: “O you of little faith!” Jesus finds faith in unexpected places: in a centurion who trusts that Jesus can heal his servant virtually, in the friends who lower the paralytic in through the roof to be healed, in the woman who touches Jesus’ cloak in a crowd, in two blind men, in the Syro-Phoenician woman who asks for crumbs from the master’s table. Jesus calls his followers to have “faith the size of a mustard seed.” In other words, a tiny bit is all you need. And Jesus tells lots of parables about what being faithful looks like.
Faith is the natural, human response to the faithfulness of God. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “by grace you have been saved through faith.” (Ephesians 2.8)
In the long arc of Scripture, God’s faithfulness wins. It outlasts our faithfulness, or lack thereof. In the words of Lamentations 3.22-23, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Yes, that’s where the chorus of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” comes from.
So what? How can you and I participate in God’s faithfulness? How can we lean into it? How can we draft off of it? How can we fill up with God’s faithfulness in the fuel tanks of our lives?
Not by doing your duty, following the rules, or carrying out the plans. Not by being prepared (sorry, Boy Scouts). Not by focusing on safety and security. Not by anticipating dangers, risks, worst case scenarios. Not through worry, anxiety, angst. This pandemic has sent many of our minds in this direction. True faithfulness does not come from dutiful, careful preparation. Take that from me—“Most Dependable” class of 1993, Enloe High School.
The quest to be certain—and equipped or prepared—is the quest of Enneagram sixes, known as “The Loyalists.” Recall that the enneagram is a personality model that describes how we see and interact with the world—and how we grow into our true selves and our true callings. The divine attribute that sixes most reflect is God’s faithfulness. The most common way they get sidetracked in life is their need to be certain, safe, and secure. In order to meet this need, they survey the authorities, their friends, their coworkers, and others, for external guidance. They get tripped up by their own fear, worry, and angst.
Sixes might be the most common Enneagram type, and their loyalty and care for the common good keeps the world turning, literally. They are the glue and stability for the world’s organizations, including the church.
The way ahead for all of us in growing in faithfulness, and not just for Enneagram sixes, is to take courage. To grow in courage—in mind, body, and heart—is the antidote to angst.
There are three dimensions of growing in courage, and therefore faithfulness: mind, body, and heart.
To become courageous in your mind, shift your focus from the uncertainties of life to the faithfulness of God and others. The Book of Revelation reminds us that God’s story ends well. Dwell on the mantra, “I may be uncertain, but God is certain and faithful.” God’s certainty and faithfulness is manifest in the Holy Spirit within yourself. It’s your true north from God.
To become courageous in your body, listen to and follow your inner voice, guidance, intuition. Don’t let a sense of duty, obligation, or preparation, or the opinions or thoughts of others, prevent you from faithfully acting on the question, “Is this mine to do?” Your head and your heart might misdirect you, when you are swamped by fear, but your body holds the truth if you listen. Courage is best taken one small step at a time.
Finally, to become courageous in your heart, bring your worries to light. Name them out loud, write them down. Maybe you can laugh at one of them. Seek out the encouragement of others and the encouragement of God. In the words of Jesus, “Take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16.33)
These three paths of courage in mind, body, and heart will lead you to your true self, you’ll be in your right mind, ready to meet life’s uncertainties with assurances from a certain, faithful God.
And then you can then begin to ask yourself the question: “how can I be faithful, as God is faithful?” Growing in faithfulness happens through the backdoor of growing in courage.
As we turn to God in prayer, we’ll use the words of a collect from Morning Prayer, in the Book of Common Worship.
Let us pray.
You call us to ventures
Of which we cannot see the ending,
By paths as yet untrodden,
Through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with courage,
Not knowing where we go,
But only that your hand is leading us,
And your love supporting us;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Until next week,
I hereby command you:
Be strong and courageous;
do not be frightened or dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1.9)
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, world without end, Amen.