As we have just learnt in the book of Jonah, there is a ‘bit of Jonah’ in all of us. On Sunday I was really challenged when we were reminded that every good and perfect gift is from the Lord (James 1:17). And that God is faithful even when our circumstances don’t go ‘our way’. When God provided a shade in the form of a vine for Jonah (4:6), he was very happy about it. But when God appointed a worm to attack and kill the vine, Jonah was very angry (4:8). How often have you and I praised God when He has provided something good, only to sulk and complain when it has been taken away?
This tension of joy and peace regardless of our circumstance is real for all of us. But when I think about praising God in the midst of difficult circumstances, I am reminded of the hymn ‘It is Well’. The story behind this song is remarkable.
In 1873 Horatio Spafford wrote the lyrics of ‘It is Well’ after a series of tragic events in his life. Horatio was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago. He and his wife, Anna, had five children, four daughters and a son. Tragically their son died from pneumonia at just two years old. Later that same year, in 1871, Horatio lost much of his business in the great Chicago fires. Just a few years later, in November 1873, Horatio’s wife and their four daughters boarded the ship, Ville du Havre, bound for Europe. Four days into the voyage, records show that the Ville du Havre collided with another ship. In just twelve minutes the Ville du Havre sunk in the Atlantic Ocean, and of the 313 passengers on board, 226 people drowned, including the Spafford children. Amazingly, Anna was rescued and survived the shipwreck. She sent a telegram to her husband who booked passage on the next available ship to be with his wife. According to records, as the ship went over the place where his children drowned, he wrote the lyrics to “It is Well”.
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.
Isn’t that a wonderful example of someone who understood that every good and perfect gift is from the Lord? A beautiful example of praising God despite what He has blessed or taken away! Each of the verses in this hymn include inspiring truths about the goodness of God. And indeed, in Christ, there truly is peace ‘come-what-may’.
I hope this story encourages you in your faith as it does for me. I encourage you to take time to sit and listen to this song over the weekend.