"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all." Psalm 34:19
Anyone who has spent anytime in a church service is probably familiar with this hymn. It is one of my favorites, for many reasons, but more so than just a song, "It is Well with my Soul" is a hymn filled with the prayer of my heart--a prayer that God will give me the strength to say 'it is well' no matter what lot He gives me.
Earlier this afternoon, I heard a faint sound in one of our conference rooms as I was setting coffee out for a meeting. As I listened closer I was able to make out the words, the melody, and the beautiful message within. Several missionaries, who serve in countries where persecution and death is common to the follower of Jesus Christ, were singing, "whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say 'it is well, it is well with my soul'." Since I am a crier, I had to hold back the tears and focus intently on the coffee pots before me instead of the words the missionaries were offering up to our God. For months I have been asking God to give me more faith. The kind of faith that someone who risks their life possesses. Here in America, we often forget our need for Christ by replacing that void with material things, a tangible person, or the busy-ness of our Western lives. I want the faith that people in impoverished lands have. They have nothing, but to those who know Jesus, they know they have everything.
We are studying the book Radical, by David Platt, in our church. The very first week had a story that refuses to leave the forefront of my mind. It is true, it is desperate, and it is as real as can be. Here is that story from people seeking peace like a river:
"Imagine all the blinds closed on the windows of a dimly lit room. Twenty leaders from different churches in the area sat in a circle on the floor with their Bibles open. Some of them had sweat on their foreheads after walking for miles to get there. Others were dirty from the dust in the villages from which they had set out on bikes early that morning. They had gathered in secret. They had intentionally come to this place at different times throughout the morning so as not to draw attention to the meeting that was occurring. They lived in a country in Asia where it is illegal for them to gather like this. If caught, they could lose their land, their jobs, their families, or their lives.
"I listened as they began sharing stories of what God was doing in their churches. One man sat in the corner. He had a strong frame, and he served as the head of security, so to speak. Whenever a knock was heard at the door or a noise was made outside the window, everyone in the room would freeze in tension as this brother would go to make sure everything was okay. As he spoke, his tough appearance soon revealed a tender heart. 'Some of the people in my church have been pulled away by a cult,' he said. This particular cult is known for kidnapping believers, taking them to isolated locations, and torturing them. Brothers and sisters having their tongues cut out of their mouths is not uncommon. As he shared about the dangers his church members were facing, tears welled up in his eyes. 'I am hurting,' he said, 'and I need God's grace to lead my church through these attacks.'
"A woman on the other side of the room spoke up next. 'Some of the members in my church were recently confronted by government officials.' She continued, 'they threatened their families, saying that if they did not stop gathering to study the Bible, they were going to lose everything they had.'
"As I looked around the room, I saw that everyone was now in tears. The struggles expressed by this brother and sister were not isolated. They all looked at one another and said, 'we need to pray.' Immediately they went to their knees, and with their faces on the ground, they began to cry out to God. Their prayers were marked less by grandiose theological language and more by heartfelt praise and pleading. "O God, thank You for loving us...O God, we need You...Jesus, we give our lives to You and for You...Jesus, we trust You.
"They audibly wept before God as one leader after another prayed. After about an hour, the room drew to a silence, and they rose from the floor. Humbled by what I had just been a part of, I saw puddles of tears in a circle around the room."
I believe their soul, along with the missionaries I heard today, is in a constant state of needing peace like a river. But through the storm we are held. God has won, Christ prevailed. This hymn was written by a man, Horatio G. Spafford, who in the span of 3 years, lost his land and all he had invested in, his only son, and his four daughters. When he was at the part of the ocean where his daughters had been killed, he cried, "It is well. The will of God be done." Later, he wrote the hymn we know today. Let this be a prayer offered to God. Whatever we face in life, pain or joy, we need to thank God, knowing that His good and perfect will is never, ever, to harm us, but to give us hope and a future. Hope that is in Him. A Future that is with Him for eternity.
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.'
My sin, O 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!
O 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!
It is well. It is well. It is well! It is well with my soul!
It is well. It is well. It. Is. Well! It is well with my soul!
Have a beautiful night.
--Inspired by missionaries risking it all for the sake of Christ, Horatio G. Spafford, and 'Radical' by David Platt.