Faithful God – Lamentations 3:22-24

  • Sep 16, 2013
  • Series: President's Bible Study

This Bible study is focused on God’s faithfulness for a very special reason. This week Northern Seminary celebrates 100 years since its founding in Chicago in September 1913. The seminary began in the basement of Second Baptist Church with just seven students. In 1920 it moved to its own campus on West Washington Boulevard, and exactly fifty years after Northern was founded it came to its present campus in Lombard in the western suburbs. But locations are secondary. What is primary is that hundreds – now thousands – of people have been prepared for Christian leadership. The first ever was Amy Lee Stockton who went on to have a remarkable evangelistic ministry. Many, many more have served the Lord with great distinction.

If ever there was a time for Northern Seminary to honor and celebrate God’s great faithfulness, it is now. A much-loved hymn was written by Thomas Chisholm ten years after Northern was founded: “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

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.

Behind those famous words is a Bible passage from Lamentations, and that is our study today.

Lamentations 3:22-24

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
  for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
  great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
  therefore I will wait for him.”

One of the interesting things about this passage is that for twenty verses before this the writer has listed all his struggles and afflictions. Life is hard; life is tough; life is full of pain and difficulty. But, he says, there is something that gives him hope: God loves him, God is faithful, and God shows compassion.

There are two things in particular he writes about.

1.      God loves us because he has chosen to love us.

He says:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
  for his compassions never fail.”

The Hebrew word used for that love is hesed and has the sense of loyal love, committed love, settled love. In other words, this love is not about any kind of superficial attraction. Nor is it a response to someone’s goodness. Hesed love is God’s choice. It is God’s decision. It is settled, fixed, final. It is a love which will never change, a love given freely and forever by a God who has chosen sinful men and women as those he will love. God loves us because it is his will to love us.

It has always been like that. Moses made it very clear to ancient Israel that they had not earned God’s love. Deuteronomy 7:7-9:

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors… Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”

In other words, God’s love was never a recognition of greatness or goodness. Just that God chose to love Israel and covenanted always to love Israel.

That is our security too. We are loved and will always be loved. First John 4:8 says, “God is love.” It is his nature. For God, love is not a mood, not an attraction, not a response to anyone else’s actions. Love is at the center of his being. It flows from a heart overflowing with longing for the good of his people.

When I’m buying coffee I need to remember to tell the server to leave room for cream. Otherwise, too often my cup has been so full there was simply no room to add cream. It was already brimful of black coffee. Nothing else could get in!

God’s heart is brimful of love. There is no room for anything else. There is no place for evil, no place for deceit, no place for harm. There is no intent to walk away from us, those he has chosen to love, and to love deeply and forever. It is settled; it is done. Loving us is God’s will.

2.      Because God loves us, his faithfulness is there for us day after day, year after year.

God’s love will not change, will not forget, will not be put off by our failings, and will be the same morning by morning, day by day, year by year. No wonder the writer of Lamentations says: “Great is your faithfulness.”

Because God loves us he is faithful to us in general things (like providing daily bread to eat) or specific things, promises that may be only for us. We are blessed in many ways by God’s faithfulness.

I sincerely believe I could list one hundred ways in which I have seen God’s faithfulness. Just fulfilling the role I have now, President of Northern Seminary, would be on the list! But let me select just two ways in which all of us will have been helped by God’s faithfulness.

a)      Because we are never abandoned.

That might be true personally or perhaps in our church. We are never abandoned by God. His faithfulness brings us through. I know there are many times I could have lost the ministry God gave me – through illness, my failures, frustration, opposition – but God cleared a way, even if only at times in my own heart.

Many years ago – long before I came to Northern – I felt very down. Work was full of discouragements and I was deeply uncertain I could go on. At just that time I was far from home in another country, and went on my own to a church service. I knew the pastor, but he had no idea until he saw me that I was even in that country. He also knew nothing of my feelings or situation. After the service we talked in his office and I was very careful not to mention anything about being troubled. But he said to me: “I want to pray for you.” I hadn’t expected that, but it’s hard to refuse someone who wants to pray for you! His prayer was deeply personal, and finished with words of encouragement and promise from God for me about my calling, about the work he had given me, and how he would use me in that role. It was exactly what I needed to hear and just at the time I needed to hear it. Only God knew my need and he met it perfectly that night.

I have seen that kind of faithfulness too in church life. At one stage I was pastoring a new church. We wanted to grow but many times I ran out of all contacts to visit. I did not know another person in that town I could visit to bring them the gospel. “Lord, I have no idea what I can do,” I prayed. Then it was as if God said, “Then sit back and watch what I will do….” And that Sunday a new family would turn up for the church service, or that week one of our church members would discover that a friend was interested in the gospel. Over and over I had not a clue how that church could grow any more, and over and over God filled the emptiness with new people.

We are never abandoned. We may not see the path our life is meant to take, and the hand that guides us and holds us may be invisible. But the path is seen by God and it is his hand that keeps us on the right route and slows us down or pushes us forward. God knows what he is doing, provides for every need and never gives up on us. He is faithful.

b)      Because he uses us in ways we hardly know.

I have sometimes teased pastors: “If you want to know how much your ministry has mattered, resign.” That is not serious advice, but when people know you are leaving they finally have the courage to tell you ways in which their lives were changed by words or actions you never realized were significant.

Some years ago the people with whom I had just finished working wrote down their memories, and I was given a leather bound collection of them after I’d gone. Every page recounts ways in which our lives intersected. Many of the stories are humorous but even more are deeply personal as they describe something I said or did which had helped them. For some it was a talk I gave from a platform; for others it was a personal conversation; sometimes a visit I had made to where they were working, and sometimes a note I had written during a tough time in their lives. The odd thing is that I hardly remember some of these things happening and certainly had no idea at the time what those words or actions had meant to them. But their lives had been changed. God is faithful.

 

Everything I have just said about God’s faithfulness has been true also for Northern Seminary through the last hundred years.

Over such a long time there have been good times and, well, challenging times. Northern was around during both the Great Depression and the more recent Great Recession, and there has been many a prayer of faith for God to inspire people to give to such an important work. Often very big decisions had to be made, like leaving Chicago to establish a new campus in the suburbs. There were cornfields round that campus in Lombard back in the early sixties – not now with a shopping mall next door and dozens of hotels and corporate offices just nearby. It was hard when accrediting bodies forced the separation of undergraduate and graduate work into two institutions. Over the years there have been many personal tragedies for faculty, staff or students, each of them felt deeply in a close community.

But God has been faithful in all these times. Those prayers of faith for funds have been answered in remarkable ways. The new campus in Lombard proved to be in a perfect location for commuter students who are now in the majority. And the reluctant separation of undergraduate work allowed Judson University to come into being, and the total number of lives deeply affected by both Judson and Northern is quite remarkable. God knows what he is doing. He is in control. He is always faithful.

And how much has God used Northern Seminary graduates of the last one hundred years? Only God fully knows the answer to that question. The story of the seminary and of the work of many of its graduates is on Northern’s web site and you are welcome to read that. These short ministry stories are deeply moving.

But there is so much more than we know, and only God has the complete record. Thousands and thousands of people have been brought to know Christ. Many, many communities have been deeply changed. Very significant work has been done which has affected people across the United States and around the world. It is an amazing story and it has deep eternal significance. All because God is faithful.

This week at Northern we are celebrating a God who has chosen to love us, and a God who has been with Northern through one hundred years of ministry for his kingdom. His love and faithfulness will be there for us tomorrow as well, for there is so much more we are ready to do as we walk by faith into a future designed by God. These are wonderful days, and we are thankful and privileged to be doing this work at this time.

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.

Words which are true for us at Northern. Words which are true for each person whose life is given to the Lord.