God’s Word prizes faithfulness as better than life itself. It is a gift from God, yet we are to strive for it, pray for it and cultivate it in our own lives. God exemplifies faithfulness in his own divine character, and that is why we sing to God, ‘Great is thy faithfulness.’ It is because of God’s perfect faithfulness that we can be faithful.
Is your faith firm as long as everything goes well with you? Faith trusts God and obeys, no matter the consequences. A glimpse into the lives of the following Christian men and women shows us such great faithfulness through lifetimes of trials and personal loss that most of us could not imagine.
Hudson Taylor (1832-1905)
At the age of 21, James Hudson Taylor sailed to China as a missionary, braving the five-and-a-half-month journey aboard ship. Amid civil war, he preached the good news of Jesus, learnt the language and brought medical supplies to the people of China, with many risks to his life. In his lifetime, Taylor would make ten voyages to China, spending roughly four or five years on the water in transit.
In 1865, Taylor started the China Inland Mission. Missionaries would have no guaranteed salary, relying solely on God’s provisions for their work. This lasting mark of his ministry is captured in one of his most famous sayings, ‘Depend upon it, God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.’ Letters written at the time show how hard pressed they constantly were, but how God continued to provide in incredible ways.
Taylor married fellow missionary, Maria Dyer. When she died, aged 33, from cholera, she’d given birth to eight children of whom only four survived. These were hard griefs to bear, yet Taylor continued so passionately in his work.
At the time of Hudson’s death, the China Inland Mission was an international body with 825 missionaries living in all eighteen provinces of China with more than 300 mission stations, more than 500 local Chinese helpers, and 25,000 Christian converts.
Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)
Francis Crosby wrote more than 9,000 hymns. In fact, she wrote so many that she was forced to use pseudonyms so that the hymn books were not solely filled with her name above all others. What is more remarkable is that she did all this in spite of being blind.
As a new-born, Crosby became ill with an eye infection. While the family doctor was away, an imposter treated her and administered hot mustard poultices to her eyes. Her infection relented but she was left blind by the treatment.
Raised mainly by her Christian grandmother, who discovered Crosby’s amazing capacity for memorisation, she encouraged her to learn large portions of Scripture, memorising five chapters a week.
Crosby often wrote six or seven hymns a day, and many became incredibly popular. Among them are Blessed Assurance, To God be the glory, and Safe in the arms of Jesus. When Crosby penned All the way my Saviour leads me, she meant it both literally and spiritually.
One well-meaning preacher remarked that it was a great pity that the Lord had not given her sight when he showered her with so many other gifts, to which Crosby replied, ‘Do you know, that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I go to Heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Saviour.’
Adoniram Judson (1788-1850)
At only 25, Adoniram Judson was one of the first foreign missionaries to leave America, sailing to India with his wife, Anne. They settled in Burma, a hostile and unreached place. Judson immediately began to learn the language, translate the Bible and evangelise on the streets. The sowing was long and hard, and it would take six years before they baptised their first convert.
When Britain attacked Rangoon, anyone Western was suspected and immediately put in prison, including Judson. Months of misery followed, where he was bound in iron fetters and most nights suspended up by his feet so that only his shoulders and head touched the ground. Pregnant Anne walked two miles every day to plead mercy at the palace. She became as gaunt and ill as Judson, and less than a year after his release, Anne died, followed six months later by their daughter.
This great time of sadness soon corresponded with an outpouring from above which none could have imagined. Judson himself wrote, ‘The spirit of inquiry is spreading everywhere, through the whole length and breadth of the land. We have distributed nearly 10,000 tracts, giving to none but those who ask… Some come two or three months’ journey, from the borders of Siam and China… ‘Are you Jesus Christ’s man? Give us a writing that tells us about Jesus Christ.”
At the end of his ministry, he had created a Burmese-English dictionary and translated the Bible into Burmese. His translation is still the most widely used today. There are now 100 churches and over 8,000 believers.
Faithfulness in action
These men and women of faith had lives that were saturated with God’s Word. They saw suffering as God’s way of deepening and sweetening their union with Christ. They embraced the goodness and sovereignty of God and pursued a prayer life that we should marvel at. Their faith was not affected by circumstance or dictated by their own strengths.
Suffering gave them a glimpse of the magnitude of God’s uplifting and sustaining power and perfect sovereign will. They experienced the inexpressible joy of leaning closely into the Father to tell him of all that concerned them, knowing that all things work together for good for those who love God. Is not this sweet embrace and love beyond anything we could know on this earth? Surely then, we can know what it means when Paul tells us to consider it pure joy when we experience trials of many kinds.
Our ultimate and most perfect example is our Lord Jesus Christ, who exhibits this fruit of faithfulness perfectly. We must go to him, the author and finisher of our faith. Whether as a church or individually, we must have faith without limit because our God has no limit.
No matter where we are in our Christian walk, there is always more to be had: more faith in trials, more faith in prayer. Oh, that we would never be satisfied!