It Is Well With My Soul
On Good Friday of this year, I had the honor of speaking at my father-in-law's celebration of life ceremony. I was able to tie together one of his favorite hymns and favorite verses to present the Gospel to a packed house.
“It Is Well With My Soul” is one of my favorite hymns - as it is with many Christians - not only because of its beautiful melody and powerful words, but also because of the amazing story behind it.
It was written by Horatio Spafford, a Chicago lawyer and businessman. In 1873 he and his family planned a trip to Europe. When the time came to leave, he had some business to take care of, so his wife and four daughters sailed on without him. He planned to take a later ship and meet them in Europe.
Four days into the voyage, the family's ocean liner collided with another ship and sank. His wife was rescued from the wreckage, but all four daughters were lost at sea. When his wife arrived in Wales, she immediately sent a telegram back to Spafford to tell him of the accident.
Spafford took the next available ship to Europe. While crossing the Atlantic, the captain let him know when they crossed the place his daughters had been lost. While on this journey to meet his wife, he wrote the words to “It Is Well With My Soul.”
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.
A couple of months ago George heard that dreaded word - cancer. He didn’t cry. He didn’t worry. He didn’t become angry. He said, “It is well with my soul.” That is a peace that only God can bring to those who have called him as savior.
Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, shall keep your hearts, your minds through Christ Jesus.”
George knew through his salvation that Jesus had prepared a place for him in heaven. In John 14:1-4 Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
George would want nothing more than for you to walk out of here today with that same eternal assurance. That assurance can only be found in Jesus. Jesus goes on to say, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
You may be thinking that this is just one version, or one possibility. That one religion can’t have all of the answers. You may say, “Well, I can live a good life and that will be enough. If I believe in God, then that is enough.”
That is when I am reminded of Elijah standing before the Israelites who had given way to worshiping a false god. Elijah said, “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). George believed the Lord is God. That belief comforted him every day but especially in his last days as he suffered the pain of a horrible disease. And because our Lord is God, I am sharing his word with you today - out of duty to our savior and out of honor George.
Because of the belief that the Lord is God, we recall Jesus’ words to a family who had just lost a loved one. In John 11:25-26 he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” We know that George now lives, even though he has passed away. We know that he has taken up his home in heaven, which the Lord prepared for him. The Lord has also prepared a place for you and for me. We only have to accept his free gift of salvation.
Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
None of us deserve heaven. The wrongs we have done in life - however major or minor they be - have driven a gap between us and God. But, Jesus came to fill that gap by dying for sins he didn’t commit. His blood became the sacrifice which allows us to enter through the gates of heaven.
The book of John recounts the encounter between a Pharisee named Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus knew there was something special about Jesus, so he came to see him. Jesus told him that no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. Nicodemus was one of the smartest men around and wanted to know how someone could be born when they’ve already been born. Jesus answered him by saying that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of the spirit. Because flesh gives birth to flesh but the spirit gives birth to spirit.
Do you believe that sin created a gap between you and God? Do you believe that Jesus bridged that gap when he died for your sins and was resurrected on the third day? Do you believe that Jesus has prepared a place for you? Do you believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life?
Have you declared that Jesus is Lord? Have you confessed your sins to God? Have you asked Him to forgive you? Have you made Jesus the Lord of your life?
This is a personal decision that each one of us has to make. I pray that you make that decision today, that you find comfort in knowing that your soul is well, that you are able to face anything in life, that you know you will spend eternity in heaven.
Sean Slagle teaches high school English, has coached numerous sports, overseen drama production, and has served as an adjunct professor. He has been published in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama. He is the author of A Dirge for the Malice series with Floyd's Gap. He is currently working on two novels for Northside Books & Media.
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