(September 13, 2022) Brian Bell shares comforting words to those troubled in these uncertain times…

Think for a moment on Psalm 107:23NASB, ‘Those who go down to the sea in ships…’ What one natural element of creation did Jonah, Jesus’ disciples, and Paul experience in their lives?

  • Jonah…

The Lord had called him to go to Nineveh, but Jonah had other plans and took a to go in the opposite direction. A fierce storm beset the ship and caused him to end up in the belly of a great fish.

  • Jesus’ disciples…

They were quite familiar with the Sea of Galilee, yet while crossing the sea in their boatone day a great storm blew up causing even those hardened fishermen to fear for their lives.

  • Paul…

The apostle was on his way to Rome under Roman guard when the ship in which they were sailingwas caught in a severe storm and they were shipwrecked on the shores of the island of Malta.

Yes… storms! Contemplating vessels and storms, makes me think about sea and other disasters…

Gospel shared in disaster’s midst
Possibly the greatest maritime shipping disaster of the 20th century to capture the imagination was that of the sinking of the Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912. The story of the RMS Titanic is replete with stories of personal tragedy, great loss, and heroism which, even today, are often remembered.

Such as that of John Harper, pastor of Walworth Road Baptist Church in London, en route to Chicago, where he was to preach for several weeks at the Moody Church. Refusing to save himself, instead he helped others to the crowded lifeboats.

According to survivors, including a young Scotsman who said he was John Harper’s last convert, the pastor had preached the gospel until his dying breath, first on the sinking ship and then in the frigid waters!

Chicago-centred tragedy
In 1873, long before a vessel such as Titanic had been conceived, for Horatio Spafford, a diligent Christian businessperson living with his family in Chicago, a shipping disaster was very far removed from his thoughts.

Spafford was a believer with a living faith who worshipped in the Presbyterian form and also served as an elder within that denomination. The evangelist D L Moody was among his circle of friends.

A lawyer by profession, Spafford also owned a great deal of property in Chicago. Like many believers, the Spaffords were not shielded from the trials of life.

It was in 1870 that their young son suddenly died and about a year later, the great fire that spread through parts of Chicago, caused catastrophic destruction bringing material and financial loss, death and homelessness to many, and also affected properties owned by Spafford.

Following that disaster, despite their personal loss as a consequence of it, the Spaffords made themselves available to help others who had also suffered loss.

Unknown future
Some years after the fire, in 1873, Spafford sent his wife Anna and their four daughters on their way to visit relatives in Europe in the ship SS Ville du Havre, planning to join them as soon as possible.

The ship did not complete its journey however because it was in collision with another ship and sank very quickly. In that tragedy, Spafford’s four daughters lost their lives, while his wife Anna miraculously survived.

Reaching safety, the message she sent to Spafford by means of a telegram included the sad words ‘saved alone.’

On learning of the tragic loss, Spafford left Chicago to join his wife Anna and during the journey, he penned the first line of the verse ‘When peace like a river attendeth my way.’ In a few years this would become the song ‘It is Well With my Soul.’

The ministry of Philip Bliss
If you look at that song by Stafford in a music edition hymn book, you will find that the music is attributed to Philip Bliss.

Bliss, some 10 years younger than Stafford, was a 19th century American composer of gospel music. He is also reported as having had a fine singing voice and came to the notice of evangelist Moody who appreciated and used his ministry of music to favourable effect in his many gospel campaigns.

Around Christmastime 1876, when Bliss was not yet in his 40th year, while travelling not by vessel but by locomotive with his wife Lucy on their way to assist evangelist Moody, the train was involved in a terrible accident when it plunged into a ravine in Ashtabula, Ohio as the bridge it was crossing failed.

While Bliss could have survived, his love for his wife caused him to try and rescue her and in trying to do that they died together.

Examples of encouragement
Bliss’ tragedy was a disastrous train journey, whereas Spafford, Jonah, Jesus’ disciples, and Paul all encountered danger of sea travelling.

I myself can remember ‘rough’ sea voyages, particularly, one some 20 years ago while sailing across the Cook Strait from Wellington in New Zealand’s north island, to Picton on New Zealand’s South Island. It was the most violent sailing I’ve ever experienced, yet I cannot recount a personal story of the magnitude of loss such as that experienced by Horatio Spafford or Philip Bliss.

The reality is that tragedy can touch even the lives of believers… and not too many of us will leave behind a legacy of good deeds, inspired verse and or song to encourage others.

However, we can all praise the Lord for those men and women He has used in this way and from whose tragedy, the Holy Spirit has used to help us focus our perspective beyond the difficulties, tragedies, and disappointments of life… to see and be encouraged in the God who cares for us and is one day coming for His spiritual children.

As some of the words from Horatio Stafford’s song above say –
‘But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!’

Going through a current storm?
May these lines from one of Phillip Bliss’ songs comfort you…  
‘I am so glad that our Father in heaven
Tells of His love in the Book He has given;
Wonderful things in the Bible I see,
This is the dearest, that Jesus loves me.’

If you find yourself in something of a storm of life, especially in these difficult, challenging, and uncertain days, remember Jesus loves you, that He is with you in the storm.

And that it is well with your soul because you are anchored in Him and His promises.

Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. Brian describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’

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