God’s unfailing faithfulness

Series: Faith in God

Well we’ve come to the end of our series on faith in God. And in this last message the point is quite simple – when you act in faith on God’s word, God will not fail you. Another way to say this is that when you have all three parts of faith: 1) a word from God, 2) trust in God and God’s word to you, and 3) appropriate action, God will come through for you to fulfill his promises.

Let’s look at this.

It is God’s very character to be faithful

That is, faithfulness is a part of God’s nature or essence. Listen to how God describes himself: “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . ..” – Exodus 34:6

Listen to the Psalmist, “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” – Psalm 36:5. God’s faithfulness is great in scope. Listen again, “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. . ..” – Psalm 117:2. God’s faithfulness never ends. Indeed, it’s impossible for God not to be faithful to his word and promise.

Even when everyone else is unfaithful, God is faithful to what he has said he will do. In Romans 3:3-4 Paul asks, does human unfaithfulness “nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. . ..” (NASB) God will be true to himself, even if everyone else is false. As Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:13 – “. . . God remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” It is who God is.

Did you know that this is why we are forbidden to test God? Deuteronomy 6:16 says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test . . ..”  We don’t test God because God’s faithfulness is not in question, ever. It is outrageous to even think that we as humans would ever try to make God prove himself. The ones whose faithfulness is in doubt is us. And that’s why God tests us, to see if we will be faithful.

Let’s look at some scriptural –

Illustrations of God’s faithfulness

As we have seen, God made a promise to Abraham that he would have a son and an heir (Genesis 12:7). Now, Abraham had to wait. He went through many trials. He even got off track at points. But Abraham believed, and after 25 years God gave him a son. God came through for Abraham and God will come through for you.

Now to make this more personal I would like for you to say this, all together: God will come through for me! whenever you see this. And I would ask that you say it loudly and with passion. Let’s try it: God came through for Abraham and “God will come through for me!”

And then there is the story of Moses. God said to him, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10). Moses didn’t want to, but he did. And it was a long and arduous struggle with Pharaoh and with the Israelites at times.

But sure enough, through mighty acts and displays of wonder God led them forth out of Egypt. And when the Egyptians changed their minds, and sought to take them back, God opened the Red sea and let his people pass through, while the waters destroyed the Egyptian army. God came through for Moses and “God will come through for me!”

God said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:6). And they went forth, and God went before them and they received the promise of land and rest. After some 400 years, God answered the promise. God came through for Joshua and “God will come through for me!”

God called Gideon to save Israel from the oppression of Midian (Judges 6:14). But he thought he couldn’t do it. And God had to confirm it to him several times. Finally, he set out with his army. And God said to him he had too many soldiers (Judges 7:2). The army went from 32,000 to 300. But God gave them the victory. God came through for Gideon and “God will come through for me!”

Jonathan was bold and full of faith. When Israel was trembling and hiding because of the vast number of the Philistines who came out against them, he decided to act. Knowing that his father Saul was raised up to defeat this very enemy, he climbed through a mountain pass and attacked a Philistine outpost, believing that God can save “by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

And God acted to confuse and defeat the mighty Philistine army. God came through for Jonathan and “God will come through for me!”

David, who was anointed to one day be king, was incensed that Goliath was taunting Israel, and more importantly the one true God. All the soldiers of Israel were afraid of Goliath and wouldn’t accept his challenge to fight. And so with faith in God, David went out to face the giant. He went with five stones and a sling. And he killed that giant, even though he was only a shepherd boy. (1 Samuel 17). God came through for David and “God will come through for me!”

King Jehoshaphat was faced with a vast horde of an army only 25 miles from Jerusalem. They were coming to wipe away his kingdom. This was an impossible situation. But he turned to God in prayer and did just what the Lord said. They went out to meet the army singing praises to God and God’s faithfulness.

And God fought for them that day. They didn’t have to do the work. And it was a great victory. (2 Chronicles 20). God came through for Jehoshaphat and “God will come through for me!”

Daniel was not liked by many in the court of king Darius because of his success. And so they conspired to do him in. They told the king to pass a law that no one was to pray to any god for 30 days, except the king.

But Daniel continued to pray to the Lord God. And so the men caught him and brought this to the king’s attention. Although the king liked Daniel, he was thrown into the lion’s den to be killed. But Daniel trusted in God, and God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was saved. But his accusers were thrown in, in his place. God came through for Daniel and “God will come through for me!”

And then we have Jesus, who knew that it was God’s will for him to die on the cross. And so he went, entrusting his life into God’s hands. He was treated unjustly, he suffered and he died. But God didn’t let him stay in the grave. God raised him up on the morning of the third day; he was bodily raised from the dead. And he was given a place at the right hand of God. God came through for Jesus and “God will come through for me!”

In one way or another, God will come through

It might be when we are out our weakest point; when only God can fix the problem; after much waiting on our part; after much testing; or at the last minute. But God will come through.

And God might come through in way that we don’t anticipate or can’t even imagine ahead of time. Like resurrecting someone from the dead before the final day, in the case of our Lord Jesus. Or who would have thought that God would part the Red Sea as a way of escape for his people? And God often uses poetic justice, for instance Daniel is saved and his accusers end up in the Lion’s den. And also, God loves to use the weak and the lowly. Think of David facing Goliath.

But, however God does it, God will come through. And that’s the message for today.

The kind of faith that receives from God

Series: Faith in God

Last week we looked at the importance of faith. It’s crucial to our Christian lives because as James (1:7) tells us, without it, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord.” But with faith, as Jesus tells us (Mark 9:23) “all things are possible.” All that God has for us is made available to us by faith. This is how we receive from God.

Today we look at the kind of faith that receives from God, getting a bit more specific. There are actually three parts to faith. And if you want to receive from God, you need all three of these working in your life.

Let’s jump right in. First of all, you need –

1. A word from God

You need something from God concerning his will and his purpose to believe in. You need something to stand on; something to claim that comes from God, not from your own mind or what someone else thought up.

Jeremiah 23:16 speaks of “vain hopes” that are not based on God’s word, but the words of people who have not heard from God. And this is what our faith is if it’s not based on what God says – “vain hope.” Rather, as the Psalmist says to God, we are to “hope in your word” – Psalm 119:114.

What we need is a knowledge of God’s promises; an understanding of God’s word; and the ability to hear God’s voice by the Spirit speaking to us. This is what makes faith possible.

As we saw last week, Abraham had a promise from God for a son. He had something from God to stand on.

  • In Genesis 12:2 the Lord said, “I will make you a great nation,” which means he has to have a child.
  • God said in Genesis 12:7, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
  • And in Genesis 17:16 God said more specifically, “I will give you a son by Sarah.”

As we see in this example, from “the man of faith” as Paul calls him (Galatians 3:9) our faith must be grounded in a word from God. Without this it’s fake faith; it’s simply presumption on our part, not faith. Without a word from God we will find ourselves vainly waiting on God to do something he never said he would do! We’ll talk more about this in a later message.

Second, you need –

2. Firm trust

I also call this “faith proper,” because this is what Scripture usually means when it talks about faith.

Hebrews 11:1 speaks of this. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” First of all, we have “things hoped for” and “things not seen.” These refer to what we are looking for God to do, based on his word to us. What we are hoping for but can’t see yet.

The firm trust is referred to by the word “assurance”, or it can also be translated “confidence.” And also by the word “conviction” which can be translated “certainty.” So, firm trust means being sure of God’s word to us. Being certain in our hearts that what God has said to us, God can and will do.

Abraham trusted in God’s promise to him. After hearing that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, it says, “he believed the Lord” – Genesis 15:6. That is, he trusted in God and God’s promise to him.

As Paul says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – Romans 4:20-21. He had nothing to go on in the natural; they were both too old to have children. But he had “an assurance of things hoped for” – a promise from God; and a “conviction of things not seen” – that God would give him a son.

He trusted that what God told him would come to pass; that his circumstances wouldn’t remain the same. He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – which is an excellent definition of firm trust. We too need to be fully convinced that God is able to do what he promises us.

Finally, we need –

3. Appropriate action

– which flows from our certainty in God’s promise. Paul calls this the “obedience of faith” – Romans 1:5. This has to do with our actions of obedience to God in light of the promises that God gives us.

Abraham is an example. He acted on his faith in a way appropriate to the promise given to him. He left his family and home behind. He moved to Canaan. He waited for a son.

You can see his certainty in the way he acted. He would’ve never done these things if it weren’t for the promise and his firm trust in God and God’s promise. In the same way, when we are truly convinced of God’s word to us, it will show up in our actions. 

As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). What is within us, in our heart, whether faith or unbelief – is made known in our words and actions, what comes out of us. There is a correspondence between what is inside us and what comes out of us; the fruit of our lives.

A sure sign that we don’t really trust God is that we will hesitate to act on God’s promises. And conversely, when we have true faith, we are willing to act on that.

Putting these three parts together faith is trusting in and acting on God’s word to us.  We hear God’s word, we fully trust God in our hearts, and this flows out into how we live our lives.

So this is –

The kind of faith that receives from God

We need, not just one part or two parts, but all three.

  1. You need a word from God as a foundation.
  2. You need firm trust in this word from God.
  3. You need appropriate actions that flow out of this certainty and make your faith complete.

You need all three to receive from God.

And, in fact, all three of these are a part of the Greek word for faith:

1. This word can be translated as “the faith,” referring to what we believe , or God’s word to us. Jude 3 says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to you.” (Other examples: Galatians 1:23; 3:23, 25; 1 Timothy 4:1, 6; 6:21)

2. Or it can be translated as “faith” meaning firm trust, which is the most common meaning. Just to give one example, in Mark 11:22 Jesus says, “Have faith in God” that is, trust in God and God’s promises.

3. Or this word can be translated as “faithfulness.” For instance, in Galatians 5:22, “faithfulness” is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It refers to our actions of faith. (Other examples: Matthew 23:23; Romans 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4)

(The context determines whether it means on specific part of faith or all of them).

These are all a part of faith, and we need them all if we want to receive from God.

This, then, brings us to –

God’s faithfulness

When we have all three parts of faith working in our lives, the result is that we receive what God has for us. God comes through on his word to us; God acts on our behalf!

God is always faithful on his end. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” He will do what he says he will do.

Abraham had faith and so he received the promise of a son. Isaac was born to him 25 years after the promise was originally given (Genesis 21). God came through for him. And God will come through for us as well.

Let me emphasize again, as I said last week –

Our faith is key

We have looked at four things today:

  1. God gives us a word
  2.  We trust in God’s word to us
  3.  We act in faith
  4.  God acts to fulfill his promise

Notice that God begins the process, and God ends it. But we have a crucial role in the middle connecting the beginning and the end. Our faith is the bridge between what God promises and what God does. (God has chosen for it to be this way)

Faith is what gets us from the promise to the reality. Before God acts to fulfill his promise we must trust and we must act on our faith (#2 and #3). God wants to see us trust and act first.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Our faith isn’t anything in itself. It’s just like the completion of a circuit so that the electricity can flow through it. It’s the electricity, or power of God that’s the big deal. God flows through our faith and then works his will in this world, bringing promise into reality.

This is what I think: God has tons of blessings, and he wants to pour them out. God want to use us in amazing ways. But we only receive a small amount. We are limited by our lack of vision and so that’s all we get. We need faith so that we can receive all that God wants to give us.

As we end, let me share with you a –

A call to faith

We are studying and praying about how God wants to use each one of us to lead people closer to Christ; that they might know him and walk in his ways. Whether that is planting seeds or harvesting, or whatever.

God’s will for us is to “make disciples of all peoples.” And this comes with the promise that Jesus is “with us always to the end of the age” to help us do this – Matthew 28:19-20. This is our foundation; a word from God for us.

And so we need to choose to have firm trust in God that he can and will use us. We don’t look at the outward circumstances – “I’m too shy,” or “I don’t know what to say,” or “I’m not good at this,” or “I don’t know many people.” We trust that God can use us.  We know that God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, so I’m pretty sure he can use me and you!

And we need to act when God opens doors for us to share with others. When the door opens, we should be courageous to speak, or serve or listen or bless – or whatever is called for in the situation, to help the person toward Christ.

Do you have this kind of faith? This is the faith that brings God’s promises into reality. This is the faith that makes all things possible. And this is the faith that I am calling you to, so that God might use you to touch people’s lives.

Hannah’s prayer. 1 Samuel 1:1-20

Follow the link for The literary structure of 1 Samuel 1:1-20

This morning we are starting into the story of Hannah found in 1 Samuel, and today we are in chapter 1. She is a strong and godly woman, as we will see, and we can learn much from  her.

Today we begin with –

Hannah’s prayer for a child

What I want to say is that she is an example to us of what to do when you have a really heavy burden. Do you have a heavy burden this morning? Is something weighing on your heart? Keep this in mind as we go through this story and let’s see what we can learn about how to handle these.

By way of orientation, the story centers around two places Ramathaim (Ramah), where Hannah and her husband are from and Shiloh, where the tabernacle of the Lord is at this time (Joshua 18:1). Remember this is before there was a permanent temple building in Jerusalem. These two cities were about 15 miles apart, or a journey of two days by foot with family.

Hannah’s difficult situation

1There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

In v. 1 we get some background on Elkanah. (Based on the larger story of Samuel and other Scriptures [1 Chronicles 6:26-27, 33-34; Numbers 3:33] perhaps he was of Levite descent but lived in the area of the tribe of Ephraim.)

And then v. 2 gets to the heart of the issue – “he had two wives.” Polygamy was not forbidden in Israel, even though the Genesis teaching is one man and one woman. It wasn’t too common because a man had to be well off to support more than one wife.

In Hebrew it’s clearer that Hannah was the first wife. In this case Elkanah most likely married Peninnah to carry on the family lineage, since Hannah couldn’t have children. That’s why he has two wives.

If you look at the stories in the Bible that talk about polygamy, they certainly don’t glorify it. It caused problems and this is what we turn to now in our story.

3Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.

Here we see that Elkanah is a devout man, coming to the tabernacle at Shiloh each year to worship. This appears to be a voluntary pilgrimage beyond what was required by the Law (three visits a year for men on major festivals). So this was a yearly family event, like a “family vacation,” where everyone is together in close proximity. And it caused problems. (That never happens with us, right?) 

4On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.

Now meat was not too common for meals in the ancient world. But when sacrifices were made some of the meat and other items were given to the family for a feast(Deuteronomy 12:17-18). And how this was divided up highlights Hannah’s predicament.  Peninnah got more for “all her sons and daughters.” But she got less.

Elkanah did give her a double portion, because he loved her, which most likely means more than Peninnah got for just herself. But it reminded Hannah that she couldn’t have children.

The phrase, “though the Lord had closed her womb” (also v. 6) doesn’t mean that if you can’t have children God is specifically causing this. God allows much to happen in this world that is not his direct or preferred will. Although God may specifically be behind this in Hannah’s life, even here it might simply mean that God has allowed this to happen.

6And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her.

So you can see the family dysfunction – Hannah is beloved but unable to have children. Peninnah has children but is feeling slighted by Elkanah, and so she torments Hannah. A vicious circle. Peninnah is Hannah’s “rival,” an enemy who is very cruel to her. (See the language of “rival wife” in Leviticus 18:18)

Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

This was supposed to be a festive time of celebration, but it became a yearly time of suffering for Hannah.

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a husband tried to console his wife, without really understanding what she was upset about. In that day it was a real social stigma for a wife to produce no children. Others looked down on her. And who would take care of her in her old age? [The mention of ten sons is possibly a reference to the story of Jacob and Rachel, where he loved her more, but Leah, his other wife, had ten sons, with help from her servant (Genesis 29:31-30:22) (Bergen).]

Hannah’s prayer

9After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.

Different translations render it differently, but it appears that the rest of the family feasted, and when the party was over Hannah, too distressed to eat or drink (v. 7, 8, 15), slipped off to the tabernacle to pray.

The condition of her soul is emphasized, “she was deeply distressed” “and wept bitterly” as she prayed.

11And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

Vows are voluntary commitments made to God. They are acts of devotion that go beyond what God requires. They often have a deal quality to them. God if you do this, then I will do this, and you can see that here.

Her vow is that if God gives her a son, then she will give that son right back to him to serve the Lord forever. And in fact, she places the son under a Nazarite vow for his whole life – a special state of consecration to the Lord, so that he can’t cut his hair as well as other restrictions (Numbers 6:5).

Notice the awareness of her lowliness. She is “afflicted” and she calls herself a servant three times. She knows that God listens to the lowly (Psalm 138:6). And she calls on the Lord to remember her in her lowliness.

12As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.13Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.14And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

So she is involved in some really intense silent prayer. But Eli, who is overseeing the tabernacle, mistakes what’s going on. Since alcohol was a part of such festive celebrations (e.g. Exodus 29:40, Leviticus 23:13 and in our own story 1:24) he thinks that she is drunk.

Hannah is quick to correct him, for she did not partake in the family feast. Rathershe is praying desperately to God for help. (Notice the contrast – her condition is not from pouring out wine, it is from pouring out her soul.) (Notice the irony – while she is offering up her possible son to be a Nazarite, who cannot touch wine, she is accused of being drunk.)

Hannah’s faith

17Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

Eli speaks out pastorally – go in peace. And he prays that God will answer her. And this is enough for her. She comes to a place of faith and trust in God and so she can put away her sadness and finally eat. She has “prayed through” as the old phrases goes. Even though her circumstances have not yet changed, she has put her burden in God’s hands and has peace and hope.

This brings us to the end of our story –

Hannah’s prayer is answered

19They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

God did indeed remember Hannah and gave her a son. She names him Samuel, which involves a word play  with the word for “ask” – which is how she got her son from the Lord.

This was a true miracle and it marked the child as special, someone from who great things will be expected. And as we know, Samuel doesn’t disappoint.

Encouragement for us

1. Hannah was in a very difficult situation . . . She wasn’t able to have children which caused others to look down on her and put her in a place of weakness socially. And on top of this her rival tormented her about this year after year. It was so bad that she wept bitterly and was deeply distressed and couldn’t eat. She felt afflicted and forgotten by God. She was troubled, anxious and vexed.

. . . what is your situation? We all go through deep waters that push us to the limit and more; where we feel forgotten and overwhelmed. What is on your heart this morning? What burden are you carrying?

2. Hannah took her problem to the Lord in prayer . . . She poured out her heart to God. She acknowledged her weakness and lowliness and dependence on God. She prayed boldly, even making a vow before God. She prayed so intensely that Eli thought she was drunk. She prayed and prayed until, through the words of Eli, she came to a place of faith and peace – that God would take care of her. She “prayed through.” She connected with God and was able to leave her burden with him and move forward in faith.

. . . we should too! Take your burden to the Lord, cast your care on him for he cares for you. Pour out your heart to God. Pray intensely. Pray boldly. And pray until you connect with God and come to a place of peace and trust, knowing that God has heard you and will take care of you.

3. God took care of Hannah . . . He did remember her, he did help her, he did save her from her situation by giving her a son. She gained a new future, full of hope and life.

. . . and God will take care of us. I can’t say how specifically. It’s not always what we think it will be. For instance, not every godly man or woman who has prayed for a child has received one. But we can say with full confidence that God will hear and act, and be faithful to us as well.

4. God brought something good out of her trial for others . . . God not only answered her prayer, but through her God acted for all of Israel by giving Samuel who will lead the people back to God and new life. It was through her difficulties and her faith that God accomplished this.

. . . God can use our trials to bless others. God can transform our suffering into something that will bless many, many people beyond us. God can bring much good out of our struggles. So don’t give up! Trust God and wait for him to act. He will not only take care of you, he will use your trials to bless others.