I have always loved the classic hymn, It Is Well With My Soul. It’s a beautiful [and famous] song that’s sung in most Christian churches around the globe. It’s filled with lyrics that speak of surrender, peace, and complete trust in a God Who is good and sovereign. One verse says, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”
What I didn’t know is that the author of this song – Horatio Spafford – wrote this hymn nearly a week or so after his wife and four daughters set sail on a luxury steam liner to Paris for holiday in 1873. While he stayed behind to finish up some last minute work, the rest of his family boarded the ship. After a short time at sea, their steam liner was rammed by a British iron sailing ship and had sunk in the middle of the ocean. Horatio’s wife was rescued after being found unconscious – but his four daughters drowned and were killed. Once Horatio got word from his wife about the tragedy via telegram, he boarded a boat to reunite with her. As he sailed across the exact spot where the steam liner sank (and where his daughters were killed) – he penned the words to It Is Well With My Soul.
Hectic. The tragedy that Horatio faced while writing the lyrics to this song gives it an entirely new and significant meaning. Every time I listen to the lyrics play over my iPhone speakers – I am greatly challenged by this man’s faith, and I am greatly confronted with the lack of my own.
When I am faced with difficulty and trial and hardship and suffering – I doubt, I cry, I panic, and I grow weary. I fear, I argue, I sulk, and I get angry. My faith decreases (along with my patience), and I begin to focus on the vastness of my problems instead of on the vast promises of my Great Problem Solver.
This month, I’ve been battling with a lack of finances and a fear of the future. I have had obstacles and roadblocks come my way that have made my visa application process exceptionally difficult. I have seen the numbers in my bank account dwindle as the service light on my car has switched on. I have struggled through sicknesses that won’t seem to go away, and I have fought through feelings of fatigue that I can’t seem to shake. I’ve spent day after day obsessing over my worries, and I’ve spent night after night trying to forget them. But this… this is nothing.
When I think back on everything I’ve walked through – I have so much to be grateful for. When I think of all the times the Lord has miraculously surmounted my seemingly insurmountable circumstances – I can’t help but drop to my knees. Overall, my health is intact, my stomach is full, my bed is cozy, my clothes are clean, and my shower is steamy. My family loves me, my friends support me, and my God is always with me – but this feebleminded girl still struggles.
This week I was reminded of the time when Jesus sent His disciples out in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. Mind you, this was super late at night (around 3:00am-6:00am before dawn), in a fierce storm, after a long day’s work of ministry. As the disciples were panicking in the boat out at sea, struggling to steer through the rough waters and fierce winds, Jesus appeared to them walking on the water (which just so happened to scare the pants off of them). Peter wasn’t sure if it was really the Lord or a ghost, so in a typical Peter manner, he challenged and questioned Jesus. So Jesus said (and I am completely and totally paraphrasing this from Matthew 14:28-29 in my own words), “Guys, it’s Me, Jesus. I’m here with you now, so relax and stop screaming like a bunch of little girls. Peter, come on out and get a closer look if you want, take a step out onto the water. I’ll be with you.”
So Peter went. At first, his eyes were focused on Jesus – his first few steps were easy. But the further he stepped away from the safety of the boat, the more he paid closer attention to his surrounding circumstances. He began to notice how choppy the waves were, he began to experience the wind violently whipping through his hair, and he began to realize that it was incredibly difficult to see clearly through the dark stormy weather. Peter began to freak out and doubt – and then he began to sink. But as Peter cried out for help, Jesus was already reaching for his hand to rescue him. Peter may have taken his eyes off Jesus, but Jesus never took his eyes off of Peter.
When the storms of this life come my way, will I try to run back to the boat or will I trust in the One who calls me out step out of it? When I am faced will opposition and trial, will I sink in doubt or will I stand firm in my faith? When I doubt God’s promises and feel like my circumstances are too much for me to handle, will I cling to fear or will I hold on to hope?
My prayer is that I will learn how to praise God in the center of my storms, that I will be able to celebrate His sovereignty over my difficult circumstances, and that my eyes will be forever fixed on Him – Jesus – the One who forever fixes His gaze upon me.
And the deepest desire of my heart and my prayer for the church is that one day we will all have so much faith and so much trust in our Heavenly Father (and in His unconditional love for us) that we will be able to stare death, sickness, poverty, loneliness, fear, anxiety, suffering, and pain straight in the face and say with a bold confidence…
It is well with my soul.