Horatio Spafford didn’t know it, but he was about to face incredible suffering. He planned a family vacation to Europe for the fall of 1873, but a business emergency kept him from traveling with his family. Intending to join his family after he attended to the situation, he sent his wife, Anna, and their four daughters ahead of him. During his family’s voyage their ship collided with another vessel. Although Anna survived, their four daughters drowned.
Inspired by this tragic event, Spafford wrote a poem, the words of which would become the lyrics to It Is Well with My Soul. Knowing the story behind the hymn sheds a whole new light on the line “when sorrows like sea billows roll.”
When you face trials, are you inclined to sing “It is well, it is well with my soul,” or do you find it difficult to sing at all? What does it take to keep such solid faith when life is nothing but shifting sands? How can you grow through suffering, rather then just get through suffering?
The Apostle Paul, in Romans chapter 8, tells us that the way to face suffering is by keeping your eye on glory.
God has a glorious purpose for your suffering
So often when we face incredible difficulties we ask God, “Why?” We wonder if we have just become a pawn in his chess match against the devil. But Paul reminds us that God has a purpose for our sufferings: eternal glory. He tells us we are children of God, “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17). And lest we wonder if the glory is worth it, Paul adds, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
God has something in store for you that is so great and so amazing that when that day comes, you will say that the hardship was worth it. It may be hard to imagine today, but these verses teach that the burdens and troubles that weigh so heavily upon you now will seem as light as a feather God reveals his eternal glory to you.
God works all things, including your suffering, for good
Not only does God have great things in store for us in the future, but he also works now through our sufferings for our good. “For we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We have no reason to fear that our trials will bring us to our demise, since God has a way of working such situations out for good. As Joseph said to his brothers who sold him into slavery, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).
What is the good that God intends for us? Although God does not promise that our circumstances will improve, he does promise that our circumstances will improve us, so that we become “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Trials are God’s way of making us more Christlike.
It’s common to try to learn something from our trials. While learning is important, God intends so much more than just to teach us a lesson. He wants to make us resemble our Savior in our attitude, desires, actions, thoughts, and words.
God empowers you for victory, even in the midst of suffering
What if your trial is lifelong? What if your temptations will never go away? What if there is no light at the end of the tunnel? Is any thought of victory hopeless?
Paul gives us a resounding no. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Notice that Paul doesn’t say “out of all these things,” or, “away from all these things,” but, “in all these things.” Right there in the middle of your suffering – no matter how intense it is (see 8:35) – you can be more than a conqueror.
How? Not through your own strength, but “through him who loved us.” God empowers us to stand firm the midst of suffering. Since it can’t crush us, and since it can’t separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:35, 39), we will be victorious, whether the trial comes to an end or not.
I wish I could tell you that the Spaffords never had another gut-wrenching trial. But tragedy hit the Spafford family another time, too. The Spaffords’ only son, also named Horatio, succumbed to scarlet fever at the tender age of 4.
I can’t guarantee you that once you get through the trial you’re in that your life will be fine and dandy the rest of the way. But I can guarantee you that God can work through it for your good and his glory.
How do I know this? Because he did it through Jesus. Our Savior faced the worst suffering anyone has ever experienced – a torturous death, and the emptiness of his Father turning away. Yet through that suffering God brought salvation to the world. If God can work the cross for good, then he can – and he promises that he will – work the crosses that you bear for good, too.
Eric McKiddie serves as Pastor for Gospel Community at the Chapel Hill Bible Church He helps pastors grow as well-rounded ministers of the gospel at his blog, Pastoralized, and through sermon coaching. You can follow him on Twitter: @ericmckiddie.