Great is thy faithfulness

Earlier I posted about how I forgot to get an exit visa for our imminent trip to the US. I made short order of filling out the paperwork; and, by all accounts, everything went very smoothly. Signatures were given; documents were presented; and the government affairs department processed my application more quickly than I had seen before. (I was told that I would have our visas in two days, and we did!)

I can still remember vividly the state I was in the night before work that week. I had been characteristically positive about the whole thing: “It’ll be alright.” “It’s never taken more than five days.” “Good thing we remembered now.” I had to be. If I wasn’t, I’d drag Andi down, too.

But that night, as I laid in bed, a feeling of helplessness came over me. I knew that it had been my mistake… my carelessness that had put us in this situation. What if we didn’t get our visas in time? What if Eid came before the process was complete and the week of celebration became an unstoppable countdown to financial and personal loss?

The worst part was that I was stuck in sleepless worry with nothing I could really do, physically, to improve the situation. The government affairs office wouldn’t be open until the morning. Still I laid awake.

(Some scheduling information: we were leaving the week after Eid; so if we didn’t have our visas by Eid, we would be on campus, as planned, but stuck in the knowledge that we could do nothing to get our visas before we were supposed to leave.)

So I prayed. I talked with my father about the worry I felt. About the shame of being careless. About the possibility of letting Andi down. Of letting our families down. Of being irresponsible with the money that he has given us. (Flights to the US aren’t cheap from here, after all.)

I’ve been a student of scripture for a long time: I know that our father cares for us, and that he guides us in his path for our lives. I knew that my faith, however mundane the circumstances, was faltering. I was putting my trust in myself, not in him; and I was letting myself down.

Like I said: everything went pretty well, starting the next morning; I felt a little better when the government affairs representative assured me that we would have our visas before Eid; I felt a little better when his prediction left us with two days of leeway; but I didn’t really calm down until I had the paper in my hand.

Of course, now I’m on the other end of the experience, and I can talk about faith in God with the calm demeanor of someone who isn’t being confronted by it; but maybe I can learn something now, through prayer and study, that will give me peace when I’m in a position to fail myself again.

All things work together for good

My mind first turns to Romans 8.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

My familiarity with scripture is never what I want it to be, so I stumbled around a bit until I found Philippians 1, where Paul gives a more explicit example of what a life lived by faith looks like.

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.

Here is Paul, imprisoned for his teaching; but he knows (and has evidence after-the-fact) that God is using his imprisonment for good. I think, in particular, about the praetorian guard; how, if Paul’s ministry had been simpler, playing out as I would have chosen for myself, it wouldn’t have touched these people.

There are many examples of men walking in faith throughout history; and nowhere are they chronicled more compellingly than they are in Hebrews 11. Continuing on in chapter 12:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

James would point out (as he does in James 2) that the faith we see here doesn’t exist in isolation, but is evidenced in works. Faith, if it exists, must affect our actions. Otherwise, it’s just a lie we tell ourselves.

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

This doesn’t paint me in the best light, of course: but I knew that. I claimed faith in God–even with the knowledge that anything that could happen to me would be within his plan for my life–but when that faith was tested, my actions fell short. My faith was in word only. Maybe that’s why I got my paperwork in the end: not because I so desperately needed to travel to the US; but because, were I to miss out, my reaction would be a hindrance to those around me, rather than a witness. Again, I think of Paul, imprisoned, sharing his faith with his captors.

Forgiveness, and second chances, are welcome respite.

Great is thy faithfulness

All of this has been about me though, and that’s missing the point. It’s not about my faith, or the strength of my faith, or some arbitrary, disconnect ability that I have to put faith in things. The power of my faith is not my own, but is God’s. I could choose to put my faith in myself; in political leaders; in charismatic teachers; but the value of that faith is limited to the faithfulness of the one you trust. Compared to God, we all fall short. That’s why it’s so amazing and awesome that we have him.

Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Psalm 36

And, of course, there’s always the classic twenty-third Psalm

But, in the end, the ultimate expression of appreciation for God’s faithfulness, in my mind, comes in Lamentations 3. I didn’t know that, but Wikipedia tells me that it served as the inspiration for the timeless hymn.

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’ve been staying away from the topic of salvation through faith because it’s such a large topic on its own; but we shouldn’t forget to remember that the ultimate expression of God’s faithfulness points back to the promise that he made so long ago: to fix us and our world; to conquer death; to cleanse us of our sins (even the sin of faltering in our faith); even so far as to sacrifice his son, the Christ.

Sometimes my faith is weak, but your faithfulness is so great!