Reflections on Worship: It Is Well With My Soul

One of the great demands of the worship leader, is to intentionally choose songs each week that reflect the glory of God and that speak the deep truth about God’s character, work and gospel. As a worship leader, this is a critical task that we face each week. Our worship can turn into fell-good tunes focused on ourselves and the blessings we get from God. Or they can focus on God and His love and work through Jesus Christ, and worship the beauty, awesome, and power found in Him alone. Churches often overlook this and they instead fill their services with the traditional hymns they’ve always sung or with whatever is found on the radio or whatever will make the service more entertaining. We should be very purposefully selecting and choosing songs that lead our hearts and our listeners to worship God in spirit and truth.

So in the spirit of that, I am beginning a series of looking into some of my favorite songs and their stories called Reflections on Worship. Some of these posts will probably be longer than others, but I hope to share some of the songs that really stir me to worship and hopefully so that they will stir you and speak to you as well.

I want to begin the series with one of my favorite songs (of which, many probably know the story). “It is Well With My Soul.” This hymn was written by Horatio Spafford around 1873-1874 and published in 1876.

Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer in the Chicago area, dealing mainly with property and real estate. In his life he had acquired a beautiful home, a family, and  a highly successful business. But the Lord would soon test his faith through a series of traumatic events starting with the loss of their youngest son. Shortly after that tragedy, in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire ruined Spafford financially and his investments in real estate were almost wholly destroyed. This was not all, however. In 1873, Spafford had planned a vacation with his family to Europe to escape much of the disaster that they had experienced over those few years. At the last minute, however, Spafford had to stay behind to deal with some meager zoning issues and sent his family ahead of him. Only days later, he received news that the ship carrying 226 persons, had sunk on it’s journey and all four of his daughters had drowned. Only his wife, Anna, had survived. So, he boarded a ship and headed to meet his wife in England. It was on that journey that Spafford would reflect on all that had happened. And it was on that ship in the Atlantic where he would write, “When sorrows like sea billows roll…it is well with my soul.”

Such unmoving faith in the midst of the deepest tragedies, makes this song rise above the rest. Many of us, by the grace go God, have never had to experience such traumatic events in our life. In fact many sing this song without even the thought as to what the phrases might even mean. But Horatio Spafford knew. In spite of losing four daughters, a son, his profitable business, his home and success, he knew that “it is well.” Admittedly, we know that it must have been difficult. It must have crushed him beyond what he ever would have thought God would lead him to, and yet he decided “it is well.”

Surely, millions have sung this song in the many years since it was written, and hopefully for many years more it will still ring out of church buildings all over the world. But more than that, this song, written out of sheer darkness and the deepest sorrow, should remind us that no matter what we may face in this life, it is well because of what Christ has done on our behalf that all can be well.

My favorite verse, and often one that people leave out, is the third verse. It says:

” My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

Not in part, but the whole of our sin has been dealt with and was nailed to the cross by the work of Jesus Christ. No longer do we bear it, but it has been dealt with. That is why it is well today for you and me. That is why Christians can lose all and yet still proclaim “it is well.” Christ alone is where life, hope, and joy is found. And Horatio Spafford knew it.

And so as we remember this song, may we look forward to the day when we see God face to face. May this song remind us to set our eyes above and to await with joy that precious day.

“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.”

A Million Broken Cisterns

Here’s the thing about the world…everyone is about something. For some people it’s academics, some are about partying, some are looking to attain success, some seek harmony and peace, some people desire social change. Take a look at any major newspaper, or any channel on TV or any person’s Twitter newsfeed and there are a million “campaigns” that people shape their lives around. These things become our very identity as we focus on them as the foremost aspect of our lives.

For me, baseball was an area that held my identity. I attempted in every way to achieve success, people’s approval, and worldly attention, so much so, that I sought it before everything else in my life. I was willing to give up sleep, relationships, school work, church and my tiny social life in attempts at being as good as I could be. For others that might look like job searching, or seeking greater wisdom, or identities, or being a part of a cause, or raising a family, or seeing your children succeede. All of us have declared through both actions and thoughts that these things are what are most important to us.

All I need to do is reflect on my thought life, my actions through the week, and where I’ve placed my time and energy, to discover what I’ve been putting forth as the most important area of my life. Often, it’s something that does not fill me. Even when it appears to be something good or right, like comfort, peace, or happiness I’m left empty because what I seek doesn’t have the ability to provide lasting joy, lasting comfort, lasting peace or lasting happiness, etc. My successes, my achievements, my money, my things, my good deeds; they don’t last, sometimes even over until the next day. All of the striving in the world can’t keep those things in my hand, sometimes it takes a matter of days and sometimes it’s when we reach the end of our lives. Because our souls long for so much more.

It’s the reason why we never get enough of what we seek. We keep chasing the best food, the best sights, the best amusement parks because there’s something in our hearts that never gets filled. When you find your passion, all the seeking and climbing and attaining never proves to be enough. For me, there’s never been a week where I will say, “ah I think I’ve played enough guitar for this lifetime.” Or there’s never enough fly fishing to say, “I might never need another river or catch as long as I live.” Maybe if I get my line stuck in the trees enough times haha but that’s not the point.

All of humanity is seeking purpose in a billion different things. There’s a million books about what priorities make for a meaningful life or on what we really should be seeking with our lives. There’s a million answers.

Yet God’s Word remains crystal clear and it speaks right to the heart of this issue.

“My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit…my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters,
And hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” -Jeremiah 2:11,13

Has any truth spoken so readily to a culture focused on a thousand different answers? Is there anything which explains us so clearly? Just as the Israelites sought out other idols to fill them and provide for them apart from God, we are doing the same thing right here in the 21st century. Christians and non-Christians alike are trying out every broken jug under the sun to see if it will hold water. To ultimately see if it will provide. Politics, government, worldly notoriety, fame, fortune, social change and yet the cisterns still hold no water. People get to the top and realize that even the heights can’t fill or provide. People achieve their hoped for level of “goodness” to find that being good isn’t what fills you.

That isn’t to say that any of those things are inherently evil. Money can be a blessing to others, government can be used to bring God glory, notoriety can further the name of Jesus, job seeking can provide opportunities for many things. While many can be sinful, some can be used for Christ.

But those were never meant to be the priority. Those were never meant to be where we poured ourselves into most. The image for me is so clear; us taking broken jugs and trying to catch as much water as we can, and yet finding (to our constant surprise!) that they never fill. Our answer is usually to find another jug!

And yet here is Christ. He’s at the well in Samaria speaking to a woman. He says;
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
-John 4:13-14 ESV

Oh how often we forsake the true living water in attempts to catch it ourselves. We seek all these things more and more and more like a drink that dehydrates us. The more we seek it out, the more it causes us to thirst after it again. Sometimes we get tastes so regularly, we think it’s providing for us. But it never truly fills, it never really truly provides for our deepest longings.

Until we get a taste of that true living water, our lives will continue to be us looking for new cisterns, new answers, new priorities. It’s only in finding Christ that we find what we’re looking for. It’s only in placing God above all else that we truly find what we’ve been missing for so long. And as we come to experience His Spirit becoming like a well-spring in our lives, we will lose taste for the emptiness of the world. We won’t attempt to be filled by the things that are incapable of filling us, but we will find new joy in doing all things in Christ, and through Christ and for Christ.

So what has your heart this week? What has you worried, or frustrated, or anxious? What are are you desiring and seeking after most? If you’re like me, there are always things. But as we are transformed to further obedience, degree to degree, we will find in Christ more of the purpose, fulfillment, and joy that we have sought for so long. No longer allowing other things to take His place in our lives, we will find what life truly is about.

Thoughts on Christmas Time

Christmas time is in full force. Presents have been bought, lights have been put up, and our tree looks wonderful. It’s a completely typical Christmas, except that maybe it doesn’t 100% feel like it yet. But that’s okay. Christmas time is a great time for many things like reconnecting with family, friends, loved ones, remembering those who have passed on, and remembering what the season “is all about.”

Just this week as I was listening to Chris Tomlin’s new album Love Ran Red, I was crushed by the truth that so often Christ steps into full focus around this time each year, and passes without much significant changes to many people’s lives, myself included. Christmas for me has always been a time that I’ve enjoyed the traditions and the songs and even taken glimpses into the beauty and wonder of Christ. But I’ve been focused on the wrong things too and even skeptical, at times, of all the holly and jolly saying “if Christ is so important, why does He often play such a small role in all of this? Even in my own Christmas?”

As the song At The Cross played out, I was overcome with the truth of the gospel and the power of Christ’s birth. The lyrics beautifully reminded me where this child in the manger was heading. His very purpose was to step out of heaven, to reconcile a people to Himself and commit His life as a sacrifice for our very own. Oh how often that truth rests behind much of the worry, hustle and bustle, and preparing that happens each year. This child, humble and low, reflected the very first truths about who He was and what He came to accomplish. And as this song moved me, the bridge, originally about the cross, translated for me into a beautiful response to the birth of Christ;

“Here my hope is found,
Here on holy ground,
Here I bow down,
Here I bow down”

Christmas, and all of very life, is about experiencing and declaring this very truth. In the life, work, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ our only hope for salvation is found and through that He deserves everything. My prayer is that this Christmas people would come to realize that more deeply, in more reality, and with more trust. Don’t let this Christmas pass without finding time to relish and enjoy this very powerful message, what Christmas and all of life is about.

But also, if our very lives are fixated on experiencing and declaring this truth, then it should change our approach to this season. If we are to be “[presenting] our lives as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) to God, then we should be offering each day to God, each moment, even this season to God. And rather than becoming skeptical or getting lost in the merriment, how can we make Christmas about bringing Christ further glory? How can our traditions show others the majesty of Christ? How can these songs remind us of deep spiritual truth? How can conversations be turned to reflect what Christ really came to do? Rather than seeing Christmas as not being about Christ, why can’t we work to make it so?

If we truly believe that Jesus is our very hope and joy, we should share Him and His message with those that are in our lives. As we remember the “reason for the season,” I hope we as Christians bring others alongside us to worship the Prince of Peace, the King of Glory, the Lord of All.