Just recently, I ran into one of God's little agents of humility: the influenza bug. I cannot remember a time when the stomach flu had hit me so hard and so fast as this last time. One minute I was fine, the next I was looking at the fluids that are usually hidden away in my stomach.
During my adventure, I cried out to God on several occasions and asked him to have mercy on me and to give me the strength to keep going as the hours I spent outside of the bathroom began to equal the hours I spent in it. I asked God that if it was His will that he would allow the flu to pass from me quickly, but if it was not his will, then I understood. I didn't need an explanation as to why I had to lose my dinner in the middle Wadsworth Road. I knew that my suffering and missing church Sunday morning and evening were for my own good.
During my time of prayer and pondering in front of the throne (pun intended), the great hymn, “It is Well with My Soul” kept playing in my mind. It is one of my favorite hymns and I have always found the words to be encouraging, especially in times of affliction, like this one. After my stomach calmed down and I was recovering from my illness, I began to think more about the hymn. I remembered I had read about the history behind the beloved classic but I had forgotten the details. So, I went and searched out the story....
It is obvious at first glance that the lyrics were probably born out of tragedy and, indeed, they were. This song was written by a man by the name Horatio G. Spafford, a successful lawyer and businessman from Chicago. But “peace like a river” quickly dried up in just a matter of a few years for good ol' Ratio. In 1870, the Spafford's lost their only son to scarlet fever. This tragedy alone would have been hard to overcome. But things were only beginning to get bad for the Spafford family.
If you know anything about Chicago history then you know that the following year, in 1871, one lady's cow caused the financial ruin of many wealthy people. The Great Chicago Fire ravaged most of the businesses and investments in the city, including Horatio Spafford's. Not only did Horatio lose his son but now he had lost his financial stability. But wait, it gets worse. Two years later, in 1873, the Spafford family decided to get away from their troubles and go on vacation in England. They decided to join D.L. Moody on his evangelistic tour through the country. The Spafford family arrived in New York to set sail on a ship across the Atlantic. While in New York, a last minute business opportunity delayed Horatio but he sent his wife and four daughters on ahead aboard the ship. On its voyage to Europe, the “Ville de Havre” struck another vessel and sank in twelve minutes. Nine days later, Horatio received a now famous telegram from his wife saying, “Saved Alone”.
In a span of three years, Horatio G. Spafford had lost five children and his financial stability. As he crossed the spot in the Atlantic where his daughters had lost their lives a few days prior, he was overcome with emotion and went to his room. There, amidst his grief he penned the words to “It is Well With My Soul”.
Though Trials Shall Come
Only a fool would assume that their future held nothing but perpetual joy, wealth beyond Solomon, and fields full of tulips and sunshine. Peter says to us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Many in the church have bought into the idea that their lives should be trial free. They see a hard life as an unholy life and that problems ought to be hated. When affliction comes, all you need is a little “faith healin'”.
Unfortunately, these people forget to read their Bibles. According to the Scripture, trials are to be expected, and dare I say, welcomed. Take a look at what Psalm 119 says. “You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:65-68, 71. It’s not hard to understand what the psalmist is saying here. Affliction is good because it keeps us from straying from God. Affliction is one of the means by which, God teaches us his commands and statutes.
Thou Has Taught Me to Say
Working at a cancer hospital, I often here the cliché “there is always someone worse off than you”. This is definitely true when you compare Mr. Spafford's time of trial and my having the flu. I cannot imagine the pain and emotional torment he went through. In fact, Mr. Spafford's suffering parallels another famous sufferer, Job. These two men had lost almost everything. Yet, through it all they kept their faith. Their children were dead, their livelihood was destroyed and yet they could say it was well with their souls. What an amazing comment. These two suffered great loss and yet their faith did not waver. Have you ever wondered why?
Job and Horatio were both waiting on the Lord. Job was waiting for the coming Messiah and Horatio was waiting for him to come again, nevertheless, both could say, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). They grieved and lamented over their loss but their faith was not in their family or their possessions. Their goal was not the grave or the things of this earth but heaven. Though they both wondered why their suffering was as bad as it was they both realized that it was going to be ok. They looked to Christ and his coming and could say with Paul, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Where did this faith come from? Did they manifest this from something within themselves? Were they genetically predisposed to great faith? Did they follow some ten-step formula to super faith? No, but the answer is correctly given by Mr. Spafford. “Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”
The faith of people like Paul or Job or even my own did not originate from within but was a gift from God, a gift molded by an artist's touch. When I was younger and naïve in my faith, I might have questioned or grumbled against God for making me suffer. Over time, through my trials and afflictions God has taught me to say that I need his mercy. I need him to help me. I do not need an answer to why I have problems because I know that there is a good reason for them. I may never know the purpose behind the trials of this life on Earth, but someday I will understand when God's glory is revealed. I do not need all the answers because I know my sin is nailed to the cross. I know that Christ shed his blood for ME. I can hear him whispering his peace into my soul. My goal is heaven and one day my faith will be sight. Did I come to believe all of this on my own through my own work? Of course not! But through all the trials and afflictions that I have faced, God has taught me to stand here amidst all the small annoyances or even hell on earth and to say “It is well with my soul”.
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