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 (Manna 74: Standing Firm)
How Great Thou Art
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How Great Thou Art

Based on a sermon by Barnabas Chong—Singapore


For You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God. (Ps 86:10)

These words were penned by David and came from the bottom of his heart, for throughout his life, he personally experienced the greatness of God. Such experiences allowed him to understand that it was God who had led him all along. Had it not been for the help of God, he would have fallen under the clutches of his enemies.

Importantly, David did not just appreciate God’s greatness and help in times of distress; he was fully aware and appreciative of His Creator’s almightiness in times of peace as well.

The heavens declare the glory of God; [a]nd the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, [a]nd night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language [w]here their voice is not heard.

(Ps 19:1–3)

David had been a shepherd since young and had spent much time alone in the fields. Perhaps, while tending the sheep, he would gaze at the skies, appreciate the clouds, admire the beautiful rainbows, and marvel at the many stars in heaven. And as David pondered, he would be astounded by the greatness of God, the Creator of this universe.

In 1996, astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute used the Hubble space telescope to study a patch of the sky that appeared to be utterly empty, devoid of any planets, stars, or galaxies. Some critics dismissed their endeavor as a waste of resources.

But the telescope went on to capture profound images. Every single spot, smear, and dot that we see from earth was actually an entire galaxy, each containing hundreds of billions of stars. These results point to a simple fact: no matter how impressive our accomplishments in this world, man is minute compared to the size of the universe and infinitesimally insignificant before the Almighty God.

As His beloved children, we may have enjoyed special experiences that help us understand God’s greatness. However, even without such experiences, we have no excuse to be ignorant of our awesome God. All we need to do is raise our head and look up to the starlit night sky—we shall then be presented with irrefutable proof of how great our Creator and heavenly Father is.


Indeed, God is great, for He created all the stars in a single day (Gen 1:15) and fashioned everything out of nothing. He made all these things for each and every one of us. Therefore, we ought to stand in awe before God’s greatness.

Awe is not just about being afraid of God but also having respect and reverence for God. We may fear those in power because they can pose a danger to our lives; just as people living under tyrannical rulers feared but did not revere these despots. Our God, however, is to be both feared and revered. He has the power and authority to take away our lives any time, and yet He is a God who takes care of us throughout our lives.


Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, [f]or this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, [i]ncluding every secret thing, [w]hether good or evil. (Eccl 12:13–14)

A king famed for his wisdom succinctly tells us how we should fear God. The answer is easily articulated: keep His commandments. However, the more important and difficult issue is whether we have truly kept His commandments. We may not have broken any of the Ten Commandments, but have we set out to observe these commandments with all our hearts, or do we only do it minimally and superficially? Have we kept the spirit of the commandments?

Take the example of the Sabbath day. We are commanded to “keep the Sabbath holy” (Ex 20:8). What does this mean to us? To some, this commandment is fulfilled as long as we have sat in a chapel for one and a half hours on Saturday morning (or afternoon), sung a couple of hymns, prayed twice, and listened to a sermon. And if we have an engagement on Saturday, we attend the Friday evening service instead as “replacement.” At other times, Friday night is for socializing with friends, catching a movie, or unwinding at home by watching TV. Then there are others who may not reserve Friday evenings for social activities, but they still do not attend any church services, preferring to use this time to finish their school assignments or attend to business and work matters.

The Bible teaches us that we should not work from the beginning to the end of the Sabbath day (Ex 20:8–11; Lev 23:3). It is true that we are no longer subject to the rigid demands of observing Sabbath under the Mosaic Law (cf. Lk 13:14–15). However, the Book of Isaiah reminds us that if we were to turn our feet from doing what we ourselves delight in, and did the things that God delights in, then we would have truly kept the Sabbath (Isa 58:13–14).

We must honestly ask ourselves whether we have truly kept the Sabbath. Have we honored the Sabbath as a holy day or merely observed a “holy hour”? The Lord gave us six days to spend on our own matters. Even as we give Him thanks for His care and blessings through the six days, are we aware that the seventh day, the Sabbath day, rightly belongs to our Creator and that we ought to dedicate our lives and thoughts to the matters of God on this day?

The above example of the Sabbath illustrates the attitude that we must take towards God’s commandments. We must ensure that we do not keep the mere letter of the commandment but its spirit. This is the first but crucial manifestation of a heart of reverence and fear for God—we delight in His commandments, meditate on them, and keep them willingly.


God’s greatness should also inspire a heart of thanksgiving in us. The Book of Genesis tells us that our God created the universe and the earth before He made Adam and Eve. From this we know that He made all these things for the sake of man, and that He specially takes care of us. Realizing this should make us feel extremely grateful to God.

For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” (Isa 57:15)

Isaiah describes God as the High and Lofty One, the One who inhabits eternity. Although He is the High and Lofty One, He is willing to dwell amongst man, with those who have a contrite and humble spirit, and with those who have the desire to worship Him.

In particular, God wants to dwell in our hearts. Actually, given how dirty and disorderly our hearts are, we are no worthy dwelling for a holy God. Nevertheless, He is willing to tolerate our unholiness and to dwell in us. Such great love from our God deserves not just a momentary outburst of gratitude, but perpetual and overwhelming thanksgiving.

Many of us already recognize that God’s greatness deserves thanksgiving, but how often do we actually give thanks to God, whether in prayer or quiet reflection? For some, saying “Thank God!” has become second nature. But do we really mean it? Very often, unless something special happens or we experience grace from God, we may not thank Him or thank Him as whole-heartedly as we ought to. Moreover, even after experiencing God’s amazing grace, human beings are wont to be forgetful after the first gush of gratitude. The memory of God’s blessings is often and easily crowded out by the anxieties of daily life.

Hence, we should make it a point to consciously count our blessings every day. We shall then begin to see and appreciate the multifarious ways in which God cares for and guides us in our daily lives. This draws us closer to Him. Conversely, the less frequently we give thanks to God and the more we take Him for granted, the more easily we will fall to grumbling about our poor lot in life. And like the stubborn ungrateful Israelites of yore, we will eventually draw away from Him.

Apostle Paul exhorts us to always give thanks to God (Eph 5:20; 1 Thess 5:18). Our awesome God is willing to dwell amongst us and, more importantly, dwell in us. Moreover, to ensure that one day we can dwell in the heavenly kingdom with Him, He willingly gave up His life on the cross. His love surpasses even the greatest human love.


For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor 5:14–15)

Paul deeply understood and felt the love of Christ for him. This understanding compelled him to resolve to live for the One who died for him. And indeed Paul lived his entire life for God, from the time he believed to the time he was martyred. His life and conduct is truly worthy of our admiration, for it shows us how we ought to live for Christ.

What does it really mean to live for Christ? If we were attending services regularly and participating in church work, does it mean we are already living for Christ?

Consider the example of a family with a disabled person who is unable to care for himself. In a sense, this person cannot live for himself, so the other family members need to live for him. The design and layout of the family home, career moves, holiday plans, future plans, etc. would all have to be developed with consideration for this family member. Yet we are willing to not only give consideration but priority, to this disabled family member because we love him or her. This is the attitude we see in a person who lives for another.

Of course, Christ is greater than we, and He is not a sick man who needs us to take care of Him. But when we are resolved to live for Christ, we will have similar considerations and give first priority to Him. Would God be pleased with what I do? If I do this particular thing, would I live up to God’s standard? Would it benefit the church? If I choose to relocate overseas for work, who would bring my non-believing family members to Christ? If I emigrate, can I sustain the faith of myself and my family?
In short, if we are determined to live for Christ because we are awed and moved by His great love for us, faith—ours and that of our family—would be our central concern.


Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

In the well-known and well-loved hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” the lyricist describes the wonder of nature, the moving magnificence of Christ’s sacrifice, and the glorious hope of eternal life. These then lead to the soaring refrain—our soul can do naught but to tell our Savior how great He is.

This should be the constant refrain of our days on earth—praising Him for great and wonderful grace. More importantly though, when we see and remember the greatness of God, let us also fear Him, keep His commandments with all our heart, give thanks always to Him, and most importantly, live for Him.

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Author: Barnabas Chong