During the month of November, Pocatello First Congregational UCC is celebrating Gratitude Month. One of the ways we do this is by opening every Worship by singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisholm . By singing it every First Day in worship, it is teaching the song and our theology to a largely new audience. About half of our friends were not raised in a church or if they have any experience at all, it was in a ‘praise’ style church and as such, they have missed out on the richness that hymns bring to worship. I am not negating modern Jesus music- it is all I listen to out of church, specifically Christian metal. I have come to appreciate the depths of theology found in the old hymns, so usually we will sing only one modern song and the rest are hymns. I tell my parish that there are at least 20 hymns every Christ Follower ought to know… and we are working our was through that list, one a month. This month it’s “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. Feel free to hum along as you read the rest of this.
Great is Thy Faithfulness
This beloved hymn was written by Thomas Chisholm in 1923. It was one poem in a collection of poems he sent to a friend at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. His friend, William Runyan was a musician and was so moved by this particular poem that he worried if his music would even do the poem justice. I think Mr. Runyan had nothing to worry about! That tune is one that once you have heard it a couple times, you will never forget it.
Being associated with Moody Bible Institute, this song quickly became a favorite with instructors and students alike! It wasn’t long before it became a sort of unofficial anthem at the school. Unfortunately, it was slower to catch fire in local churches throughout the county. Keep in mind that this was pre-internet and sharing music was much more laborious. Eventually this little hymn found it’s way to Billy Graham who immediately included it in his crusade. That was all it needed to spread like a wildfire in an Idaho summer! In 1954, The Billy Graham Crusade made it’s way to England where this hymn became and remains one of England’s most beloved hymns!
This hymn is one of my favorites. It seems to really speak to people with chronic health problems or/and struggle with poverty- which is probably why I love it so much. In verse 1, it praises God for God’s unending faithfulness and compassion. Verse 2 celebrates the natural world and how the even the seasons and the stars praise God! Then it ends with the coming of peace found in redemption.
As a person who lives with daily pain and weakness, and is prone to sorts of nerve involvement and falling, breathing problems and high blood pressure, I know how dark some days are. But God is faithful. If I was doing this journey on my own it would feel hopeless, but friends, our God is FAITHFUL. I have never been alone. My vulnerability has taught me to rest in God’s hands. My body may feel weak but my spirit is strong.
About the Author
I have come to find out that the author of this hymn also suffered from chronic health problems- problems so bad that they followed him from profession to profession and job to job. He started out as a school teacher in 1882 when he was 16 years old and then entered the newspaper business eventually became a pastor. Being a pastor in those days took a lot of physical strength and without the fine vehicles we have today, one had to visit parishioners in a wagon or on horseback. It soon became evident that this vocation was beyond his ability. So he changed professions and location again and again. And you know what, even with all of those life changes and ailments- God never left his side. He had housing, food, and all his needs met. In his weakness God made him strong. He ended up producing one of the greatest hymns of our faith! While his calling to preach the Word from the pulpit may have been cut short, it turns out his vision was too small. His ministry – his message has now been spread through the entire planet, wherever Christianity is planted.
As we gather this month of November and sing “Great is Your Faithfulness”, reflect on all you have been given and who has never left your side! You are not alone.