In the midst of this song we find the beautiful, old hymn, “It Is Well,” written by Horatio Spafford. Spafford lost his fortune as a result of the great Chicago fire of 1871. Even before his finances crumbled, his son died. But the worst was yet to come. Spafford planned a European trip for his whole family in 1873, but because of some last minute business, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead as scheduled and planned to follow a few days later. While on route, the ship that his family was on was struck by another vessel and sank in just twelve minutes. Several days later when the survivors landed in Wales, his wife sent a cable to her husband that read, “Saved alone.” Spafford immediately left to join his wife, and this hymn is believed to have been written as he approached the area of the Atlantic where the ship carrying his daughters sank.
This story sounds a lot like Job’s. Spafford had lost all of his children and his wealth, and still, his faith did not waver. Standing over the waters that took his four sweet daughters, the words that came from his heart are a sweet reminder that whatever our lot may be, whether we find ourselves in the depths of despair or things have never been better, the peace and confidence of the Christian’s soul lies in the hope of who God is and Him alone.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember You…(Psalm 42:5-6a)
Maybe you haven’t lost your fortune and your family over the course of a few years, but all of us can identify with the psalmist’s words above. We have all known those seasons of pain, loss, and sorrows that flood over us like breaking waves and roaring waterfalls. We have felt the dark cloud of oppression resting over us and wondered if we were ever going to feel the sunshine on our face again. So what do we do when we feel like we’re all alone in that dark place and can’t find the means to escape? The psalms are full of emotional pleas from the depths of despair, but I especially love what the psalmist does in Psalm 42. He speaks to his soul and reminds his own heart to hope in God and remember who his Savior is. This is the wisdom of God crying out to us from the crossroads to listen to His instructions and heed His voice (Prov 8). As a matter of fact, when wisdom was incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, He taught His disciples a very similar lesson.
In Mark 4, Jesus has come once again to Capernaum. The twelve disciples were with Him and a large crowd gathered around Him earlier that day to hear Him speak beside the Sea of Galilee. Because of the size of the crowd, Jesus pushed out onto a boat and delivered the famous parable of the sower from there (Matt 13, Mk 4, Lk 8). When evening came, Jesus told His disciples that He wanted to cross the sea by boat because they were heading to the region of the Gerasenes the next day (Mk 4-5). While they were making their way across, a great storm rose up in the sea and the boat was swamped by the raging winds and waves (Matt 8:24, Mk 4:37, Lk 8:23). Now to really understand this next part, you have to remember that though Peter, Andrew, John, and James had been with Jesus for a while now, the other eight disciples had only been following Him for a short time. The boat was filling with water at this point; but meanwhile, Jesus was laying in the stern of the boat doing the last thing anyone else might be doing in the same situation – He was sleeping! The disciples were afraid for their lives, and so they woke Him up and said, “Save us! Do You not even care that we are about to die?” (Mk 4:38)
Amy Carmichael, the legendary missionary to India, describes this story of the storm and Jesus asleep in the boat as an “opal: it has a quiet little flame in its heart.” We have all known that kind of fear and despair, the anxiety that bears the question, “Is all well? Am I really going to be okay?” No well-meaning friend or spouse, nor any cliché can truly hit the mark and reassure us. We need hope eternal; we need the Lord. We must hear His voice and remember the lovingkindness and goodness of God to be able to sing the chorus of this song until the words become more real than our despondency. Jesus knew there would be a storm before He ever got in that boat. He knew the disciples would be afraid, and He was about to reveal that the glory of God in the flesh, the Creator Himself, was the One with them in that boat. The flame in the heart of the opal, and in the midst of all our fears, worries, and despairs, is the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
And He awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm…And they marveled and said, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”(Lk 8:24-25, Mk 4:39, 41)
“For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day. Storms may lie ahead. The waves may break into the ship. There is no promise of a calm passage. Let us settle it, therefore, in our hearts, as something that cannot be shaken, that our first prayer, our deepest desire, shall not be for blue skies and sweet airs, but that we may always have the ungrieved Presence of the Captain and the Master in our ship.” (Amy Carmichael)
Jesus is still the Captain of our boat today. The winds and sea still obey Him. He is the Author and Perfecter not only of each of our stories, but of all of history. The psalmist of Psalm 42 reminds his soul to remember the goodness of the Lord to lead the people of Israel through all the trials that they had known. The same is true for us today. We have to remember that the God who leads our lives with cords of lovingkindness is the same God who didn’t stay in heaven on a far-off throne, but the One who came near and hung on that Cross to reveal His glorious goodness. God took on flesh and stepped onto that boat knowing the storm that would come. Jesus wanted to invite those disciples, especially the eight who hadn’t been with Him for long, as well as every disciple who would come after them, into the truth of who He was and is and will always be as the Lord, our God. He wasn’t just the Captain of that boat; He was the Master of the winds and waves that moved it across the sea. He doesn’t just have our lives; He holds all of Creation and all of history in His absolutely capable hands. We can trust Him. Even when everything seems lost and we believe like the disciples on that boat that we will surely perish, we always have hope. Peace is ours for the taking. We need only to remember who God is and how He loves us. His goodness and love are the banners over the lives of those who love Him, so why would we be afraid? Why would we worry? Is all well? Will we be okay, even when the boat looks like it’s sinking and all will be lost? I could give you the answer, but Paul, with the Holy Spirit’s help, did it so much better:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? ...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37-39)
So if your boat looks like it’s sinking and a dark cloud seems to be following you wherever you go, what you need to do is put your soul before God’s face. Remember Him. Put your hope in Jesus. Rest in His love. Seek Him in the Word and ask the Holy Spirit to help you remember the goodness and glory of God, especially in the face of Christ. And finally, just look to the wisdom of the ancient psalmists when they faced despair and heartache: sometimes the only thing left for us to do is sing our way into His truth.
And through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
And it is well
It is well
So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name
It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
It is well