One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Christian life is we are to live by faith. The quality of our relationship with God is predicated upon our level of trust. Through various trials of life we are to grow in our trust level. That’s because one day each follower of Christ will face trials that just seem too hard to bear or, are so overwhelming it thrust us into various stages of despair. God’s goal in all of this is to lead us to His ultimate purpose for our lives.
The familiar story below is a great example of how a deep trust in God leads to God’s ultimate purpose.
In 1871, Horatio Spafford lived in the Lake View suburb old Chicago. He was a young lawyer with a wife, Anna, and four little girls. In October of that year the whole center of the city was devastated by fire. No one is certain how the fire started, but it killed hundreds of people and destroyed whole sections of the city.
All across town, people were wandering homeless and hungry. The Spaffords were deeply involved in doing what they could to help families in distress. They soon discovered the it was not a short term ministry. Two years later, exhausted from their work, they planned a trip to Europe for rest. But at the last minute, business kept Horatio in town. His wife Anna and the four girls boarded a ship and left the harbor.
Late one night during the voyage, another ship rammed the steamer, which sank within twenty minutes. Anna was one of only forty-seven who were rescued. She was pulled from the water unconscious and floating on a piece of debris. The four Spafford girls had perished at sea. Anna sent a telegram from Paris to her husband: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” She remarked to another passenger that God had given her four daughters and taken them away and that perhaps someday she would understand why.
Horatio boarded a ship to find his wife and bring her home. When the ship’s path crossed the very point where his daughters had been lost, the captain called him to his cabin and told him so. Horatio, deeply moved, found a piece of paper from the hotel in which he had stayed before the voyage. He jotted down the words to “It is Well with My Soul”, now one of the world’s favorite hymns.
Back in Chicago, the couple tried to start over again. A son was born to them, and then another daughter. Maybe the worst was over. But then, another tragedy: the boy died of scarlet fever at four years old.
Unfortunately, the family’s church took the view that these tragedies were surely the punishment of a wrathful God for some unspecified sin on the part of the Spaffords. An elder in church asked Horatio and his family to leave the church. Horatio had helped build the church and instead of being taken in and comforted by a healing community, he was turned away.
In 1881, the little family left the United States to begin a new life in Jerusalem. They rented a house in the Old City section, with the goal of imitating the lives of the first-century Christians as closely as possible. Soon the family was widely known for their love and service to the needy, as well as for their devotion to the Scriptures. Even today, the Spafford Children’s Center serves Jerusalem and the West Bank by providing health care and educational support to as many as thirty thousand children annually under the leadership of the Spaffords’ descendants. (Copied from “What Are You Afraid of?” by David Jeremiah)
Anna and Horatio Spafford suffered severe testing of their faith, but they did not blame God for their suffering. They knew He was in control of all things, and because God could not be defeated, neither could they. Their faith allowed them to learn through their various testing and to use their pain to bless others and further the Gospel.
Remember, whatever you are dealing with, and whatever unpleasant circumstances life has sent your way, God always has a plan and purpose, even though you cannot see it at the moment. The ultimate lesson we can learn from this story is to rekindle and keep fresh our trust in God. If we will depend and trust Him in the small stuff, when the storms of life come along our instinct will be to also trust Him.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NAS)