August 21, 2014

The Life of Faith

In 1870 a prosperous couple named Horatio and Anna Spafford were living comfortably with their four young daughters and son in Chicago. The Spaffords were devout Christians, friends of evangelist Dwight L. Moody.

That year their 4-year-old son died of scarlet fever. The next year, 1871, the great Chicago fire broke out, devastating the city and the Spaffords’ personal assets. For the next two years Horatio and Anna devoted themselves to welfare work among the refugees of the fire.

In late 1873 the Spaffords decided to take a respite in Europe. Just before their departure Horatio was detained on business, so Anna and their four daughters set off without him. Partway across the Atlantic Ocean their steamship collided with another ship and sank. Of the hundreds on board, Anna was one of the few who survived, kept afloat by a piece of debris. The four daughters died. In Chicago, Horatio received a tragic telegram from his wife: “Saved alone.”

Heartbroken, Horatio set off across the ocean to bring Anna home. As his ship crossed the Atlantic at the same spot where his four daughters had died, he sat down and wrote the following words:

“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.”

Despite their unimaginable pain, the couple’s faith in God remained strong. Believing that the end of the world was near, Horatio turned his eyes toward the Holy Land. In a letter to a friend Horatio explained: “Jerusalem is where my Lord lived, suffered, and conquered, and I, too, wish to learn how to live, suffer, and, especially, to conquer.”

In 1881 the Spaffords and a few friends set off for Jerusalem, settling in an Old City house that came to be known as the American Colony. The Spaffords shared what they had with all who were in need: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. During World War I, when famine and plague ravaged the city, the American Colony operated a soup kitchen for the poor of Jerusalem, and ran hospitals for the wounded of both sides in the conflict. Today the American Colony stands as a beautiful hotel and a memorial of the Christlike love shown by the Spaffords during the most troubled of times.

“In this world,” said Jesus, “you will have trouble” (John 16:33). He knew better than anyone. For 4,000 years He had watched disease, death, and demons run rampant throughout the once-beautiful world He had created.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to expect life on this planet to be perfect, or even easy. This will never be the case. “In this world you will have trouble.” You will have trouble in your relationships. You will have trouble in work and school. You will have trouble with your health. You will have trouble in every part of your life for the rest of your life.

The question isn’t whether we’ll have trouble. The question is how we’ll respond to it. Will we respond with discouragement and hardened hearts? Or will we respond like the Spaffords, by pressing forward and bringing joy and healing to those around us?

“In this world you will have trouble,” said Jesus. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Do you see where our hope lies? Not in overcoming the world ourselves, but in putting our faith in Jesus Christ, who has overcome the world.

Here’s the most amazing thing of all: Jesus speaks these words to His disciples as they are walking from the Last Supper to Gethsemane, where He knows they will abandon Him. How patient and loving He is! He knows it isn’t easy living in this world. He’s not thrown by our troubled moments or poor decisions. He’s planning to live forever with us.

In this world we will have trouble. But take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.