When Peter gave his first sermon recorded in the Book of Acts, he included the words of the Prophet Joel and King David to show that God kept His promises by sending Jesus Christ to be the Lord and Savior of His people (Acts 2:14-36).
When Stephen spoke before the Sanhedrin before his death by stoning, he recalled God’s promises to their forefather Abraham, His presence with Joseph who had been sold into slavery in Egypt, and His empowering of Moses to deliver His people out of their slavery (Acts 7:2-53).
When Paul spoke to the crowds in Jerusalem after his arrest, he recounted his own conversion from a persecutor of Christ-followers to a devout disciple of our Lord (Acts 22:2-21).
In each of these examples, people used accounts of God’s faithfulness in their lives and history as instruction and encouragement to believers and non-believers alike.
Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has turned to its saints to reinforce their faith in God’s powerful strength and presence in the lives of believers. God is said to reveal Himself in a special way in their lives, and these saints are presented as role models to venerate and imitate.
Our New Testament scripture instructs us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23), and we are assured that “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). By His very nature, it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18); what He has promised must surely come to pass, and the Bible is filled with examples of His faithfulness to His people.
My question, then, is this: Why do so many Protestants fail to place this same emphasis on looking to God’s faithfulness in the past in order to assure ourselves of God’s faithfulness in our present and future?
Our church, for example, has a 170-year history of standing in the heart of Media, Pennsylvania, on Baltimore Avenue. We characterize ourselves right now as being in a “state of transition” due to the abrupt departure of our Senior Pastor two years ago and the ensuing turmoil caused by the circumstances of his leaving. Some of us have been energized by the opportunity to address long-ignored issues. Some of us have been disgusted by the whole situation and how it has been handled. Some of us have been scared of what the future may hold. Some of us have been angry about one aspect of the situation or another. Some of us have put our emotions aside, rolled up our sleeves, and gotten to work.
Overall we have drawn strength from prayer, from worship, from service, and from fellowship. But I am curious: what kind of strength could we gain from an understanding of God’s faithfulness to our church throughout its history? I have no idea, because to my knowledge, it has not been discussed.
Isn’t it likely that a church with a 170-year history has experienced upheavals at some point in the past? Aren’t there likely to be examples of failed leadership, issues that divided the congregation for a time, tough decisions about facing the future that had to be made? Couldn’t we find confidence in God’s faithfulness through those times in order to face our own current situation?
If we could recognize the truth of the axiom that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, then perhaps we could spare ourselves just a bit of our current hardship. If we could recognize the absolute Truth of God’s Word that “God’s faithfulness endures forever” (Psalm 117:2), then perhaps we could draw on His supernatural strength to launch ourselves into the powerful future He has laid out for us.
And this isn’t just about my church and its current journey.
I think about the value of focusing on Biblical accounts of people who experience God’s faithfulness in order to bring strength to my own particular life situation as a woman, a wife, a mother, a disciple of Christ, a friend, a person who is aging, a person who faces temptation to judge, to anger, to complain, to worry. God is faithful to me in every role, in every situation, in every personal crisis and struggle, and if I doubt it, I can see His faithfulness in the lives of people like me in His Word.
I think about the value of writing about my own faith journey, so I can see where God has shown His faithfulness in my life, when He has pulled me back time and again when my focus has blurred or my path has strayed.
I think about the value of reading about the lives of other believers—women who fulfill similar roles to mine who write inspirational books for today, missionaries who have experienced God’s faithfulness in strange and challenging environments, saints and martyrs who have paid the ultimate price for their faith in God’s ultimate faithfulness, founders of our denominations who have sought the best ways to honor God with our worship, service, and praise.
I think about the value of listening to one another as we share the stories of our faith journeys. It’s not such an uncommon practice in the Baptist churches I attended as a child—opening the pulpit to members of the congregation to let them share how God has moved and continues to move in their lives. Why haven’t I seen that practice in the Presbyterian churches I have attended in adulthood? I have shared my faith journey with the Elders in order to be accepted as a member of their congregation, but have never been asked about it again.
God is faithfulness, as one of our Bible study participants reminded us yesterday. Our stories may glorify God, she told us, but they aren’t needed to prove His faithfulness. God is trustworthy. Period. But those conversations about His faithfulness, those accounts drawn from our history, both individually and collectively, about how God is moving in our lives, can help us access God’s strength for the journey.
He has provided us a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), and I feel that they are a great untapped resource for my own faith journey. We, too, are part of that cloud of witnesses for others; let’s give some thought to the true stories of God’s faithfulness we can share to encourage one another and build each other up in our faith.