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.”