Those who trust in and rely on the Lord [with confident expectation]Are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but remains forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem,So the Lord surrounds His peopleFrom this time forth and forever. For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land of the righteous,So that the righteous will not reach out their hands to do wrong. Do good, O Lord, to those who are goodAnd to those who are upright in their hearts. But as for those who turn aside to their crooked ways [in unresponsiveness to God],The Lord will lead them away with those who do evil.Peace be upon Israel.
Anna Spafford stood with her four daughters on the deck of the sinking French liner S.S. Ville du Havre, November 22, 1873. Only moments before, on a clear midnight, the English ship Lochearn struck and clawed a thirty-foot long and eighteen-foot-deep hole in the du Havre. From impact to sinking, the elapsed time was twelve minutes. Two hundred and twenty-six lives were lost- eighty seven survived.
The thirty-one-year-old mother had immediately headed for a lifeboat with her girls, ages two through eleven. Panic reigned. She hesitated to race against the others and paused. She asked herself, “Would I be willing to meet these people before the judgement bar of God if I and the girls were to take the seats of those who would never have another chance to hear the gospel?”
At that moment, the main mast crashed down on the lifeboat she would have entered, killing those in it. The du Havre began to break up. Annie, the oldest, helped her mother support Tanetta, the youngest, who had her arms wrapped around her mother’s neck. Bessie, the second youngest, clutched her mother’s knees. Maggie, the second oldest, calmly stood beside her mother and said, “Mama, God will take care of us.” Annie added, “Don’t be afraid. The sea is His and He made it. Then the water engulfed them.
Anna Spafford’s last memory was of her baby torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. A plank floated beneath Anna’s unconscious body and propelled her to the surface where a lifeboat picked her up. But her daughters were gone. Her first reaction was complete despair. Then, she felt a Voice speak to her, “You have been spared for a purpose.” And immediately she thought of the advice a friend had given her many times, “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.”
Nine days later she reached Cardiff, Wales, and cabled back to her lawyer husband in Chicago these two words, “Saved alone.”
He immediately boarded a ship to join her in Europe. One night the captain called him to his private cabin. “A careful reckoning has been made,” he said, “and I believe we are now passing the place where the du Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep.”
Horatio Spafford went back to his cabin, and on those high seas that night, near the place where his children perished, wrote the hymn later set to music by Dwight Moody’s song leader, P.P. Bliss. It begins: “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.’l
Sometimes we falsely think that the Christian life should carry immunity from disasters like that recounted in the Spafford story. However, ship wrecks, auto crashes, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, cancer, and the whole host of accidents and illnesses fall upon both believer and unbeliever.
The writer of Psalm 125 addresses the question, “How do we deal with deep losses?” He lets us know that his faith, too, has struggled with that question and prevailed. The third verse telegraphs his trial. A foreign invader now rules the land of the righteous and evil has the upper hand. Those who are the people of faith are wavering(“might use their hands to do evil.”)
The writer has sandwiched his adversity in between great affirmations of his trust in God. It’s always good- as is modeled in the Lord’s Prayer- to put your worry, concern, fear, or need in the middle of a prayer that starts with faith and ends with confidence and trust. The pilgrim’s prayer of Psalm 125 provides
Dr. John Thompson