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The Story of Horatio Spafford

Lisa Barry: Are you a worrier? You know, many of us feel that by worrying it will make us more prepared in the event that tragedy strikes; but the truth of the matter is we're never ready for a crisis. Maybe you've just received some dreadful news recently and you've been reeling from the impact; or maybe you're already over the worst of the crisis but you feel aimless and don't know how you'll live another day, much less the rest of your life. Elisabeth Elliot has some helpful words for you today. Let her take you through the experiences of a few others to show you where they found their gateway to joy. Here's Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love," that's what the Bible says, "and underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot, beginning a series today called "Whatever My Lot."

Some of you will recognize that as a phrase from a very wonderful, and familiar to many of us, hymn "It Is Well With My Soul." I want to tell you a little bit about the story behind that hymn. Probably many of you know the story, but I had a visit with a Mrs. Vester in Jerusalem in 1967. Mrs. Vester was the daughter of one Horatio Spafford. A man who was a very successful businessman in Chicago; and when the great Chicago fire took place in the 1800's, it was a tremendous disaster and many of his friends lost everything they possessed in that fire. Many lost all their businesses.

At that point, Horatio Spafford took stock of his life, and he decided that he did not want to live for the things that he had been living for. He wanted to get to know Jesus, and so he felt that one way that he could facilitate getting to know Jesus without all the distractions of his job and his business in a big city like Chicago would be to move to Jerusalem. So, he decided that he was going to move his entire family to Jerusalem. At the last minute when he thought that all was arranged for the sale of his property, he discovered just before the ship was to sail with him and his children aboard that one of the deals had fallen through. So he took his wife and his four daughters to New York to put them on the ship with the understanding that he would meet them later in France, I believe it was.

Well, for reasons that he could not explain, he decided to change the cabin that he had booked for them on the ship and put them further up in the bow. The cabin in which he had originally booked them was amid ships, and he changed them to a cabin in the bow. Well, most of you will remember the rest of the story. His wife and four children were on that ship when it was struck amid ships by another vessel and sank very quickly. Horatio Spafford received a telegram with two words, "Saved Alone." It was signed by his wife. He learned that all four of his little girls had drowned.

Now, the Mrs. Vester that I had tea with in 1967 in Jerusalem was daughter number five born to Horatio Spafford and his wife sometime after that disaster at sea, and she told me this story herself adding many details that I haven't got time to tell you today.

One of the things that I hadn't heard was when Mr. Spafford took ship later on to meet his wife in France, as had been originally planned, and to go on to Jerusalem, now completely bereft of all their children, the captain called him to the bridge midway across the Atlantic. Showing him the charts he pointed out that they were at that very moment, he reckoned, just over the spot where the other ship had gone down with his four little girls. It was then that Spafford wrote that beautiful hymn, "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," a hymn that has meant so much to so many of us.

One stanza says, "Tho Satan should buffet, tho trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul." Now what do we mean by "whatever my lot?" What is "my lot?" Well, it's anything that comes by the powers that rule my destiny. Whatever happens to me in other words--whatever befalls. But to a Christian, my lot is a divine assignment. Where would I get that idea? From Psalms 16:5, it says, "Lord you have assigned me my portion and my cup and have made my lot secure." In other words, that nothing happens to me by chance or by accident. There are no chances and no accidents to a child of God. It is assigned that which befalls, that which happens, that which comes by the powers that rule my destiny, a share, a portion, an assignment divinely allotted.

Now suppose you were allowed to draw your own lot in this life. Suppose God were to draw a smorgasbord and say, "Now here is an array of choices pick anything you like." How many of us would choose anything you like? How many of us would choose a portion of suffering? Wouldn't we think of suffering as an obstacle to happiness? Of course we would. We don't choose suffering. Nobody in his right mind is going to choose suffering unless there is an overwhelming reason to do so. Some other good, which we know is going to require suffering; but in our natural state, we would hardly ever wish to choose suffering. Because it would seem to us like an obstacle to happiness. The truth is one of those strange paradoxes of scripture that suffering is the necessary means to our happiness. Not that we see it that way while we're in the midst of the worst period of suffering, but later it's revealed to us by the Lord himself. Suffering is a pathway to God. I have certainly found it so. I wrote a book called A Path Through Suffering, and the subtitle to that is "Discovering the Relationship Between God's Mercy and Our Pain." God in his mercy allows us to suffer in order that we may learn the transfiguration of that suffering into joy.

Take the example of a little child who has been injured in an automobile accident. Her parents are frantic, fearful that she is going to die or be permanently crippled. And they found after a weeks that she's fine that in the hospital she has been cared for and treated in such a way as to heal her of whatever breaks or troubles that she had suffered. Think of the overwhelming joy of those parents that they would not have experienced if they had not been through the suffering. Well, that's a rather crude example.

For Jesus, the path of the will of God led to Jerusalem and the cross. In John 11:15, Jesus is talking to Mary and Martha who had sent word to him that the one he loved was sick, their brother Lazarus. And Jesus didn't get there in time and both Mary and Martha said the same thing to Jesus. They said, "Lord if you had been here, out brother wouldn't have died." And in John 11:15, Jesus said what seems to be rather a harsh thing to say to these two sisters. He said, "I'm glad I was not here so that you may believe."

There are many stories in scripture where people felt that Jesus had come too late. Do you remember his first miracle? He was at a wedding in Canaan of Galilee and the master of the feast was extremely embarrassed because they had run out of wine. And what happened? Jesus turned water into wine. It was necessary in order that they might believe in him that they suffer this embarrassment.

Then there's the story of a child who died. The parents were grieving. They had to go through that suffering and then Jesus came and raised that child to her feet again. Do you remember the man who lying helpless for 38 years by the pool of Bethesda? If he hadn't suffered for those 38 years, he wouldn't have had the same kind of joy and gratitude that he had when Jesus healed him. There was a time when 5,000 people were hungry and Jesus fed them. There was a great storm on the sea the disciples thought they were perishing and Jesus calmed the wind and the waves. There was a baby born blind and Jesus healed that man when he was in his forties, I think it was.

The death of Lazarus and his two sisters were grieving. These things were their lots; they happened; they were the events into which Jesus stepped. There was loss, embarrassment, grief, hunger, fear, heartbreak, "but Jesus doesn't come any more" somebody says. He doesn't step into our sorrows the way he used to. Well, it's true he's not physically present here on earth but we are given instead the Holy Spirit for a comforter. We'll be talking more about this subject of "Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul."

Lisa Barry: If you're feeling like the depths of sorrow are about to overtake you, then you might want to grab onto a book that Elisabeth has written called Keep a Quiet Heart. She's been where you are and she knows how overwhelming those feeling can be. That's why she's put down on paper some of the things that got her through the difficult times. The wonderful thing about this book is that it covers a variety of subjects and points out that in every situation our response should be the same--to seek God at all times. The cost of Keep a Quiet Heart is $14.50 and you can send that amount along with your request to:

Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, NE 68501. That's Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, NE 68501 or call toll-free 1-800-759-4JOY and, as always today's program is available on tape. That's 1-800-759-4569 or you can also find us on the Internet at gatewaytojoy.org. Gateway To Joy is a listener-supported production of Back to the Bible. I hope you'll plan to join us tomorrow when Elizabeth talks more about accepting our setbacks as divine appointments from God. That's next time on Gateway To Joy.

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