Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer and real estate investor in Chicago when the 1871 Chicago Fire hit and destroyed almost all of his property. Two years later, Spafford sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him to England, where his friend DL Moody would be preaching. On the voyage there, the ship sank and all four children were drowned. His wife alone was saved. The couple went on to have three more children, but tragedy struck again when their four year old son died of pneumonia in 1880. Near the end of his life, Spafford moved to Jerusalem and ran charitable ventures like soup kitchens, hospitals, and orphanages. He died in 1888 of malaria and was buried in Jerusalem.
While Horatio Spafford endured crippling tragedy after tragedy, he is most famous for having written one of the most beloved hymns of all time: "It Is Well With My Soul." In the midst of serious personal sorrow, God brought Spafford to a place of peace and security wholly independent of his circumstances.
It is easy to fear in life. There are no promises of happiness or fairness. If anybody promised you a rose garden, then they were either naive for downright dishonest. In fact, when things seem to be running smoothly, tragedy can and often strikes and knocks us off our temporary pedestals of comfort. In John 16:33, Jesus warned us that in this world we would have troubles. "But be of good cheer," he said, "I have overcome the world."
In 1 Peter 4:17, Peter tells us that as God begins to wrap up time as we know it, He will allow events to happen in the body of Christ that will try us and test us to the max. How will we make it through this time of testing, if we don't understand what God is doing, and if we crumble at the first hint of suffering? We desperately need to have a grasp of what God's purpose is for allowing these kinds of trials and, most importantly, we need to understand what to do and how to act in them.
During a night season, God initiates a purging, a cleansing and a purifying of our souls from everything that is not of faith. At this time, God crushes our self will, so that He can merge it with His own. In other words, it's our own private Gethsemane. As Jesus cried in the garden, "My soul is exceeding[ly] sorrowful unto death...Nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt." (Mark 14:34-36) During this dark season, God teaches us to say, just as Jesus did, "Not my will, but Thine." (Matthew 26:39)
During this time, God can begin to transform our reliance on physical things to things of the spirit. He wants us to learn to walk by faith, not by our senses, our feelings or our understanding. God wants to teach us how to detach ourselves from all physical, emotional and spiritual supports, so that we will be able to respond with "Not my will, but Thine."
Because this season can often be a time of desolation, of dried bones and ruined hopes, many Christians - because they don't understand what God's will is or what He is doing - get so discouraged and defeated that they give up and turn back.
Many will feel like Job, who "looked for good" but only "evil came"; and for "light," but found only "darkness." (Job 30:26) Or like Isaiah, who uttered "We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places like dead men." (Isaiah 59:9-10)
If we can only remember during our night season that the Holy Spirit has led us into this darkness on purpose. God is not angry at us, and He has not abandoned us – He paid the ultimate price for us, how could He ever abandon us? He brought us to a necessary place where precious things can happen. As he told Mary, whose brother Lazarus had died, "Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?" (John 11:40)
It is in these places, when our normal human securities are stripped away and all we have is Jesus, that He can begin to do in us those excellent things that can make all the difference in our lives and in our walk with Him. When the only thing we can do is cling to God, we come to that place where we see Him more clearly than ever before. That's when the fear goes away, and we can join Horatio Spafford in singing with greater appreciation:
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.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
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!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
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.