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Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - 8:24am
At long last, David Murray and I are back with season 3 of The Connected Kingdom podcast. There’s a few changes this year, the most notable of which is that we are now including a [partial] transcript of the podcast. So you’ve now got the option to listen to it or read it. More information at the end…
Horatio Spafford was a man who knew pain and a man whose pain has left a powerful and lasting legacy to the church. A wealthy Chicago businessman, Spafford invested heavily in real estate and saw almost his entire fortune consumed in the Great Chicago Fire that swept the city in 1871. Far greater pain awaited him. In 1873 he decided that he and his family should enjoy a vacation. They decided to go to England since their dear friend D.L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. Though business delayed his own departure, he sent his family on ahead. His wife Anna and their four daughters boarded the steamship Ville du Havre and set out for England. On November 22 another ship collided with that one and two hundred and twenty six people lost their lives, including all four of the Spafford girls. Upon arriving in England, Anna sent her husband a tragic telegram: “Saved alone.”
Spafford set out to England to be with his wife and during that crossing penned the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” a powerful declaration of trust in the midst of tragedy.
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.
“When sorrows like sea billows roll.” It is a poignant metaphor, a simile really, that speaks of sorrow coming upon us like waves on a storm-tossed sea. The same sea billows that poured over the heads of his daughters, the waves that stole their lives, are now pressing hard against him, threatening to drown him in despair, to steal his soul. They are rising up above him, they are cresting and crashing down upon him, they are pulling him under and tossing him in the undertow. Yet he has more hope for his soul than his girls did for their lives. The Lord has taught him that all will be well. Whatever his lot, whatever the Lord decrees for him, he is able to say, “It is well with my soul.” What was the source of such comfort in trial? It was this: “Christ hath regarded my helpless estate / And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”
I am a stranger to this kind of sorrow. Though my life has not been completely free from pain and disappointment and sad farewells, I have never known sorrow to come against me like the waves of the ocean; I have never known it to threaten to drown me in despair. But discouragement, now there is something that too often crashes upon me like waves crash against the hull of a ship. There is something that often threatens to crush me.
Discouragement comes in different forms. There is discouragement that comes when I am left grappling with failure, when I have not succeeded at the things I’ve attempted to do well. There are the sermons that never take shape the way I had wanted them to, the ones that never seemed to yield to time and patience and brute force. There are the dreams that never grow into anything more than a rough and untenable plan, the relationships that never lead to friendship, the chapters that have to be left out of books, the opportunities wasted, the holiness lost and neglected. This life is one of so much failure and there in failure’s wake is discouragement, towed along behind it.
Discouragement can come in a very different form—the form of other people’s success. Here is the excruciating pain of seeing others do well in those areas where I have failed, of hearing of the sermons that went in all the directions my own never did or the books that sold a hundred copies for every one of mine. There is the discouragement of coming up to the edge of my own talent and seeing others with greater talent and greater gifts excel all the more. And there is the discouragement of seeing people with equal talents and equal gifts be offered all kinds of opportunity not open to me. Mixed up with sin and pride and envy, this kind brings with it a peculiar and poignant kind of agony.
And then there’s the form of discouragement that comes with trying to do too much and be too much and exceed and excel at too much. Pride can push me here, to make me want to do more so I can be noticed by more people, and so I work too many hours and go in too many directions. I get away from the few things I’ve been called to, ignoring the gifts I’ve been given and trying to convince myself that I need to be someone I’m not. Instead of being me I try to be that guy or that guy or that one. I take my eyes off the great prize of bringing glory to God and instead put so much effort into bringing glory to myself.
And then there is the despair that seems to just come without reason and without source. It is the despair that feels almost physical, the despair that must have some kind of spiritual or supernatural source, the kind that offers no explanation, just the sense of being crushed under foot.
And there is discouragement, washing over me, and I am sinking under it, fighting desperately to manufacture some kind of joy to keep me from drowning in despair.
This is what it is to be crushed. Or nearly crushed. But there’s hope when discouragement is pressing down. The Apostle Paul could say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed. Perplexed but not driven to despair. Persecuted but not abandoned. Struck down but not destroyed.” Where do you find that kind of hope when discouragement is thick, when it is tangible, when it surrounds you like water surrounds a man drowning in the ocean? You go where Spafford went when sorrow threatened to destroy him. You go to the day that all purposes will be revealed, that all sorrow will cease, that all discouragement will be destroyed.
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.
If you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear the two of us interact a little bit. You’ll also hear about how you may be able to participate in it.
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