It Is Well, Hymn Series – Well-Watered Women

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It Is Well, Hymn Series

June 15, 2021  - By Katie Blackburn

It Is Well Hymn Series | Well-Watered Women Articles

This article is part of our Hymn Series, releasing throughout the month of June leading up to the launch of our new Be Still collection. Rooted in praise to the Lord, hymns have a way of helping us slow down to really reflect on and appreciate truths about God and the gospel as we sing the lyrics and meditate on their meaning. It is our prayer that the new resources in the Be Still collection would do the same. The Be Still collection features a hymn-themed stationery set, a brand new Be Still & Know study on the Christ hymns of Colossians and Philippians, and updated versions of our Be Still & Know: Romans 12:9–21 and Be Still & Know: Ephesians 4:17–32 studies. Find these products in the Well-Watered Co. beginning on Wednesday, June 16th!

When Things Aren't Well

I am an anxious person. I’d like to blame genetics. Specifically my father, who leaned toward worrying my entire upbringing. But I know that’s not entirely fair. First of all, I have a mother who never worried about anything, and I have all her genes, too. Secondly, I am perfectly capable of worst-case scenario-thinking all on my own.

Couple my innate ability to worry with just enough unanswered prayers—the circumstances that I begged God to change, and he didn’t—and it’s clear that life will never be without hardship. It’s dishonest of me even to think that it could.

Life in a broken world plants seeds of fear in all of us. We’ve seen around us, or we know by our own experience, that grief is no respecter of persons. Affliction cares not for wealth, gender, background, or potential. “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV) is a statement as sure as the sunrise tomorrow morning. Life in a world shattered by sin means none of us will get out unscathed. 

But that truth is exactly why these three little words—it is well—are so powerful to me. Both because I am scared of them and because I want the faith to believe them.

A HYMN IS BORN

After the Chicago Fire of 1871 took most of his life’s investments, and as his wife’s health began to suffer, Horatio Spafford planned a few months of respite for his family in Europe. Detained in Chicago at the last minute by business matters, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead with the promise to meet them a few days later. But Spafford would never again see his children. 

On November 22, 1873, the ship carrying Spafford’s family collided with another. It sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in under 12 minutes. Hannah, Maggie Lee, Elizabeth, and Tenetta did not survive. Only Spafford’s wife, Anna, would make it, pulled from the wreckage by a small boat in the early hours of the morning. Once safely on the shore in England, she sent her husband the now famous telegram that began with the words, “Saved alone. What shall I do?” 

What shall I do? This question sits heavy on my mind every time I hear this story because I feel its weight deeply. What would I do? How does one carry on after the unimaginable becomes reality? 

And yet, there was something in Spafford, a man brought to the very end of himself in grief, that returned to truth. Something no person could manufacture on their own or will themselves to feel—a peace that can only be won through affliction and a confident belief in the sovereignty of God that can only be felt by living it. 

In the wake of tremendous loss, Spafford penned the words we still sing in churches around the world today:

Whatever my lot,

Thou hast taught me to say,

“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

WHATEVER MY LOT

If I am honest, I am afraid of these words. Whatever my lot, whatever God might allow to happen to me or to the people I love so dearly in this life? Those are words too vulnerable for me to really think about. Could I say, in the face of pain unimaginable, “It is well with my soul”? Is my faith strong enough to emulate Jesus, who, on the night before his crucifixion, opened his hands in prayer and said to the Father, “Not my will, but yours, be done”? (Luke 22:42).

On my own, never. 

To think about the kind of suffering Spafford and his wife lived through could cause me to lose my breath in fear. I imagine it does for all of us. The fear of loss has crippled many saints in their lifetime and cripples many of us in ours. But I imagine the experience of peace Spafford felt, the posture of his heart which produced these words, can only come through grief and pain genuinely surrendered to God. The world will offer us, at best, sentiments of comfort in the face of pain—but well-meaning platitudes will always fall short. 

PRAY WHAT YOU CANNOT FEEL

The kind of peace that can say “It is well” only comes when suffering meets with the Holy Spirit of a good God. That peace comes through pain, the kind of pain I am afraid of. And because of my fear of surrendering, I struggle to feel the confidence in God’s sovereignty that I wish I had. 

I struggled with it when my toddler son was diagnosed with a lifelong disability.

I struggled with it when we unexpectedly took in a baby girl from a very unsafe home.

And I struggled with it as I watched my husband sink into depression.

I confess it is not always in me to respond to affliction with, “It is well.”

But friends, when we can’t feel the words, we should pray them. 

Lord God, when peace like a river attendeth my way, or when sorrow like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Lord, teach me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

We cannot say this and believe it in our own strength. We cannot live honestly in a world groaning in pain and not have a fear of loss. But this is the grace: the Lord already knows our inability to manufacture faith in him, and followers of Christ are never on their own.

BLEST ASSURANCE

The one comfort we have in life and in death is that we are not our own but belong to Christ. Spafford’s hymn ultimately brings us to the only reason we can have peace no matter the circumstances we face:

Though Satan should buffet [strike or beat with a fist], though trials should come

Let this blest assurance control

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate

And has shed His own blood for my soul

This blest assurance: Christ’s death on our behalf puts our hope in heaven, not anywhere on earth. Not in a full bank account, healthy children, or a community of friends. These are all graces we should never take for granted, but not one of which can secure our salvation forever. 

We will not always feel peace like a river, but we have an ever-present Savior to turn and cry to. He knows the sound of every one of our tears (Ps. 5:2). He regards our helpless estate and still, still, chose the cross and in so doing, chose us. What else can we say, but, “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” I pray that as you reflect on these lyrics born from tragedy and deep sorrow, your heart’s cry would simply be this. Whatever my lot, Lord, teach me to say, “it is well, it is well with my soul.”

It Is Well

Lyrics: Horatio Gates Spafford (1873)

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.”

It is well with my soul;
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.

It is well with my soul;
It is well, it is well with my soul.

My sin oh, 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!

It is well with my soul;
It is well, it is well with 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.

It is well with my soul;
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Meet the Author:

Katie Blackburn is a wife, mama to six, a writer, teacher, and learner. She is saved by grace alone and helped along the way by cold brew coffee and quiet mornings at the kitchen table with her Bible and her words. Katie is a contributing writer to the Coffee + Crumbs blog, and her writing has also been featured on Risen Motherhood, Deeply Rooted Magazine, the ERLC blog, MOPS, and Motherly. You can read more of her everyday words on Instagram or on her blog.

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