There are many great examples of people who have endured great hardship through the years, but not lost their love for God as a result. In fact, their love for God has deepened through the hardships they have faced.
One example that comes to mind is the author of the famous hymn ”It is well with my soul”. The background to this hymn involves a man called Horatio Spafford, who was a successful lawyer with large numbers of properties and investments in Chicago, USA. As a result of the Great Chicago fire of 1871, he lost his four-year old son, along with many of his properties and investments. He then arranges to travel to Europe, and sends his wife and four daughters ahead of him on an earlier boat. This boat sinks and leads to the death of his four daughters, leaving his wife as the only survivor from his family. As he travels on another boat to Europe to meet up with his wife, he writes the now famous words of the hymn, at the point where his boat passes the place that the previous vessel had gone down.
I can’t imagine the depths of despair that he would have been going through, and the sense of guilt and turmoil he would have felt in sending his wife and daughters ahead on an earlier boat that was ultimately destined for disaster. The song has many verses, and I encourage you to read them in their entirety if you get a chance, but to give you a flavour of what he poured out to God, I want to share the first two verses:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
His response reflects a depth of relationship with God that has been established over the years, and the outpouring of his heart to God has produced words of worship that are a timeless testimony of God’s comfort and deliverance through even the most turbulent of times.
There is, however, no greater example of worship through challenge and crisis than that displayed by Jesus as the time of His impending death was drawing near. Jesus knew of the brutal pain and suffering that He was about to endure. This is reflected in Matthew 26 vs 36-42, where Jesus says, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.” We see a glimpse of the agony that Jesus was facing; His humanity is displayed as He wrestles with the horrendous path that He must go down. He pours out His true feelings to His Heavenly Father, but submits Himself to the will of the Father. This act of sacrifice demonstrates the depth of communion and trust that Jesus had with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. As Jesus hangs from the cross, he calls out those famous words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (see Matthew 27 vs 46), which I had previously thought to be Jesus questioning why God had abandoned Him. However, Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22 and is demonstrating to the world the depth of suffering and separation that He is enduring to pay the ultimate price for our freedom; He is using a worship song written many years before to help the world to understand what is happening in that moment. This is the ultimate demonstration of worship through challenge and crisis, which is born out of a depth of relationship with God and a love for humanity that goes beyond anything we could dare to imagine.
On this special day, when we remember what Jesus has gone through for us as He bore our sins and died upon the cross, the final thought that I want to leave you with is taken from John 16 vs 33, where Jesus says:
“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”