Week of Sept. 13

“Great is Thy Faithfulness” Says It All

Read: Lamentations 3-5; Revelation 15

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV


One of our most beloved hymns, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” incorporates the words of Lamentation 3:22 into the first verse. What we may not know is that the hymn was penned not because of any catastrophic event, but simply as an outgrowth of the songwriter’s life. Thomas Chisolm was born into a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky, in 1866. He did not attend high school or college but became a schoolteacher at age 16 and later entered the newspaper business. He served as a pastor for a while, but poor health required him to resign that role. He then took up the insurance business as an agent. In many ways this man was "every man" in the sense that he simply lived life.

It may be hard to imagine that someone so ordinary could pen even one hymn, but he wrote a collection of poems and sent them to a good musician friend, William Runyan. He leafed through the poems sent by Chisolm while on a trip and was taken by the “depth of meaning and lyrical beauty” of the words found in the poem “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I believe I know why this was the case! Jeremiah’s words blessed people in his day and have blessed countless others through the centuries. Let’s seek God’s message for our hearts today from this meaningful passage.

A Biblical Lens

Just when Jeremiah could not think that things could get any worse, they did. The prophet who had been harassed and threatened for uttering God’s whole truth to his people, sat utterly broken in the midst of Jerusalem’s destruction and the stench of human death all around him. Bible scholars have postulated that chapter 3 in Lamentations is the prophet’s personal lament or a personification of Jerusalem speaking for all the sufferers in the city (NAC). Regardless, we may recognize a number of phrases that have been taken from lament psalms.

I find great help in being able to put my own suffering experiences into words when I read 3:1-20. How about you? He writes of the rod of God’s wrath (3:1), being driven away (3:2), his hand turned against him (3:3), made his skin and flesh to grow old (3:4), besieged and surrounded him (3:5), caused him to live in darkness (3:6), walled him in (3:7), shuts out his prayer when he calls for help (3:8), barred his way (3:9), dragged him from the path and mangled him (3:10-11), pierced his heart with arrows (3:12-13), made him a laughingstock (3:14), fed him with bitterness (3:15), crushed him (3:16), and robbed him of peace (3:17)!

It is a severe understatement to say that Jeremiah had had a bad experience! We have before us a well-orbed understanding of our God. There is the image of God as loving shepherd in the 23rd psalm, but we too often neglect the God who is Divine "other" and Judge (cf. NAC). So, what are we to do when we have been buried beneath the rubble of God’s judgment?

When you and I reach the bottom of our despair, then we are to reach up. The fulcrum that Jeremiah used to lift the enormous weight off of his life was to recall God’s redemptive nature. The rod that hoisted that colossal burden off his heart was God’s steadfast love (Exodus 34:6-8). He called these unshakable truths to mind, and the light began to dawn in his soul (3:21)! The basis for hope was God’s great love.

It had been physically displayed in the covenant, but this was the nature of God. It is a love that obliges, and God is always true to his nature. Jeremiah’s “so be it” makes verse 23 memorable for all time. He uses a word for faithfulness which is connected with the word “amen.” Death and decay surrounded him, but life and love filled him and gave him hope! Every external thing in his world had been taken away, but God was his “portion.” We are taught today that the life we have by virtue of God’s love and forgiveness can never be taken away.

A Moral Pathway

There is more to the story behind Mr. Chisolm’s poem. Years after William Runyan was first struck by the beauty of “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” he began to pray earnestly that the tune he conceived would carry over the message of the song in a “worthy way.” That prayer was answered, and the song was published later in the same year. It was through Runyan’s association with Moody Bible Institute, and the impact of the song on students there, that Billy Graham began to include the hymn in his crusades.

The song resonates with people, I believe, because it echoes God’s matchless faithfulness to offer mercy and forgiveness to all who will seek him. Ordinary Thomas Chisolm has offered us extraordinary insight into this great God. The moral message is simple, the dark depravity of our sin can never eclipse the light of God’s love and forgiveness. Evil is no match for the goodness of God.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness 
(Maranatha! Music)

For Your Journaling

1. In what ways have you fallen short of your covenant commitment to the Lord? Write down the ways and some of the consequences. When you have reached the bottom, so to speak, then reach up to God.

2. Write down your words of praise for God’s faithfulness, despite your rebelliousness. Use phrases from Lamentations and allow the Scriptures to help you express your heart.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock