This is the season that we rejoice that Christ, our Saviour, is born – but there is sorrow for many too, and our reflections on the year past give rise to much sadness. We would like to offer you this recording of the much-loved hymn with words by Horatio Spafford. It is a hymn that carries a deep anointing, and is an act of beautiful sacrificial worship in the midst of deep agony. It was recorded recently, in great haste, by Francis and Lindsay Cummings for the funeral of a very dear friend. Recorded in haste it may have been, but it brings lasting peace.
From time to time, the path we are ascending is so rugged that we are required to advance by faith alone. When Jeremiah lamented how hard he was finding his calling, and the opposition that was coming even from his own family, the Lord’s reply appears almost brusque:
“If racing against mere men makes you tired, how will you race against horses?
If you stumble and fall on open ground, what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5)
Effectively, the Lord was telling him to use what he had learned during the latest round of difficulties to help him cope with the tougher times that lay ahead. Horatio Spafford must have understood this when he wrote this hymn, the words of which have been held on to by many all around the world.
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
You might be forgiven for supposing these words to have been penned by an exquisitely happy man in a mid-summer rose garden, surrounded by his adoring family. In reality, they were written in the middle of the Atlantic, as Horatio made his way to rejoin his grieving wife.
Spafford had previously sent his wife and four daughters on ahead of him to Europe, but the ship had collided with another vessel, and all four of his daughters had drowned. Spafford had already experienced much suffering in his life, but this still greater test lent yet more authenticity to his words.
It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul!
Sharing our emotional pain is important, but it would be naïve to expect griefs as great as these to disappear overnight simply because we have spoken them aloud. Like Job we may find ourselves lamenting:
If I speak, my pain is not relieved; and if I refrain, it does not go away. O God, You have ground me down and devastated my family.
The best way to handle those agonizing times when we are unable to sense the Lord’s presence is often just to act as if God is in control and knows exactly what He is doing – for the simple reason that He does.
It is not hypocrisy to act as if the Lord is close by – He is. This is why it is important to hang on to truths and practices that have served us well in the past. Despite the dead weight of our feelings, we will benefit from attending to necessary practical matters. Apart from anything else, this will bring us the comfort of knowing that we are keeping on top of our workload, as well as sparing us from too much introspection.
Better times will return, and we will be grateful that we kept moving through the tunnel. The Lord is still on His throne, and even the most intense sadness will lift in time.
The day finally dawned when Jacob declared, “You will no longer be called Son of my sorrow, but Benjamin, the Son of my right hand.”
Neither do I imagine Rachel weeping to the end of her days. Somewhere along her journey, the Lord will have found ways to call this grief-stricken woman back to life. Just as He found ways to restore Naomi after her great losses in the book of Ruth, so He will draw us out again into a more spacious place.
Reflect and Pray
I walked a mile with Sorrow, and ne’er a word said she. But oh, the things I learned from her, when Sorrow walked with me. (Browning)
Think back to any “tunnel” experiences that you have been through. Did the Lord give you a verse or a promise to hold on to before you were plunged into the darkness?
See also the section on ‘It is well with my soul’ in Handling Dark Times in Vale of Tears.
The God Who rescues
The God Who rescues us (part 2)