Despite growing up in the North East of England, when I was growing up I was a fan of Manchester United Football Club. (I would greatly appreciate if you would continue to read this blog and bear with me as I make this statement, remembering that as Christians we confess our sins one to another.)How was it then that at the age of sixteen I was to be found with a quarter of a million other people on Roker seafront, bouncing up and down while singing a declaration of unswerving loyalty to Sunderland Association Football Club? I had always considered myself a faithful United fan and yet somehow over the course of my early teenage years my allegiance had changed. Being a local lad, watching the team train most days and chatting with the players had changed me until I made that euphoric declaration of being Sunderland ’til I die. I would say that I’ve been faithful in my support of Sunderland but yet the fact remains that the support sprang from an act of unfaithfulness. I had first been faithful to United, until I wasn’t anymore. Now, my switch of footballing allegiance at a young age doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans, but it does help to illustrate a fundamental fact; as humans, we sometimes struggle to remain faithful to things or to understand the true meaning of faithfulness.
Make no mistake, humans are capable of some phenomenal examples of faithfulness; take for instance Thomas Cranmer going to his death at the stake proclaiming his faith and loudly declaring, as he burned: “Lord Jesus receive my spirit… I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”Amazing. Faithful even to the death. Yet Cranmer had previously recanted, his resolve and faith returned to him at the moment he was called to finally and publicly denounce his views. He was a faithful man, but he had his unfaithful moments.
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of trying to measure God’s faithfulness to us using our own understanding of the word, our frail human grasp of this immense concept. I’m not going to write about our faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God, but rather the times when we fail to understand His faithfulness to us. Our understanding of faithfulness is often flawed because even the most faithful of people has experienced moments of lack, just as even the most loyal of dogs has had its off day. We can occasionally find that we try to measure His faithfulness on the human scale, not grasping the fact that it is beyond our human experience of it. You see for us faithfulness is an act, a decision, but for Him? It’s a central part of His identity. As Paul writes in his second epistle to Timothy.
“If we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.”
– 2 Timothy 2:13 (ESV)
He cannot deny himself. Faithfulness, you see, is not something that He does or shows, it’s something that He is. It is one of the core characteristics that form Him. It is impossible for Him to be unfaithful in the same way that it’s impossible for Him to be unrighteous or unjust. King David sums up some of these core character points in the psalms.
“Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.”
– Psalm 36:5-6 (ESV)
When we place our reliance on His faithfulness it’s not about us. He knows we will have our moments, times when our imperfections and flaws get in the way of our faith, but He will still be faithful because it is impossible for Him to be anything else. The bible is full of examples of God remaining faithful and true to His word. If we follow the story of the children of Israel we see that though they were entirely unfaithful, sinful, wandered away, God remained true to them throughout. Every time they turned around and came to Him, He stepped up and delivered them. His anger at their unfaithfulness could not out last His own faithfulness to them.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking of reasons why the promises of God aren’t going to come through for us, or reasons why He won’t step up and deliver us when we need it, but they’re not correct. When we do that we make the focus all about us and how faithful we have been or what we have achieved and we miss the fact that we’re not the reason He is faithful. His faithfulness isn’t conditional, it’s an absolute part of His character. When He is faithful to us it’s not about us, it’s about who He is.
It’s so important for us to remember the faithfulness that God has shown us. Hebrews 11 exists as the result of thousands of years of people declaring to each other that God had been faithful to them and passing on their story. Do we do the same? Are we eager to tell people in our world about His faithfulness and encourage them? Sure, it’s great to hear about how God was faithful to Abraham but sometimes it can be a struggle to relate our lives to that of an ancient biblical patriarch. It’s fantastic that God gave Abraham a son, but sometimes what I need to hear is how he gave a friend a job or provided for their need; it’s phenomenal that He healed then but how much of a faith boost is it when you hear that someone in the life of church has baffled the doctors because they can’t find that tumour any more even though it was definitely there?
Hearing about the faithfulness of God to those we know and those who are with us on our walk is so powerful because it highlights the fact that we serve a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Knowing that in the deepest, darkest storm God stayed faithful to your friend or the guy you serve on team with? That’s pretty powerful. Remembering that when it felt like hope was gone in a situation He delivered you? That too is hugely powerful. When we tell each other our own reports of God’s faithfulness we’re not just making conversation, we’re affirming the fact that God is still moving faithfully within His people.
No matter what our situation or circumstance, the promise of God we desire to see bear fruit, the hope He has given us that we long to see fulfilled, we serve a God who is by His very nature faithful and who cannot deny himself. Our hope is founded on a faithful God and that means that it’s a question of when He will deliver us, when He will fulfil His promises, not if. We hinder ourselves in our own faith when we apply our own understanding of faithfulness to a God who is above and beyond our understanding. When we do that we run the risk of damaging our own faith, of scaling back our expectations and our trust in Him, of praying and relying less instead of more.
We need to live constantly in an atmosphere where the tales of His faithfulness in our generation are spoken of and celebrated; we need to remember the times in our lives when He has come through and share them with other people. When we do that we create an atmosphere that honours a God whose very nature means he can’t fail to come through for us. No matter what you’re waiting on that you’ve started to give up on, the hope that has become so diluted, we need to remember that a God with perfect faithfulness and perfect timing is going to deliver our answers. He has not forgotten – in fact, He even remembers the promises He’s made us that we have lost sight of. I’m so thankful that time and time again God demonstrates His faithfulness, in fact when you look back over the years you realise that our journey with Him is a story of His faithfulness. He never writes us off or out of His promises, “He remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”