"It Is Well" - Coming Full Circle in Israel

The story of Horatio Spafford has always been an inspiration to me since I first heard it on a kids audio program called The Adventures in Odyssey - if you grew up in church you’ll probably remember these cassette tapes. Since Amanda’s death, however, Spafford's story has taken on another dimension. Here’s the Wikipedia version of the story:

The Spaffords were well known in 1860's Chicago. He was a prominent lawyer, a senior partner in a large and thriving law firm. He and his wife were also prominent supporters and close friends of evangelist Dwight L. Moody.

Spafford invested in real estate north of an expanding Chicago in the spring of 1871. When the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes in October of that same year, it also destroyed most of Spafford's sizable investment.

Two years later, in 1873, Spafford decided his family should take a holiday somewhere in Europe, and chose England knowing that his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. He was delayed because of business, so he sent his family ahead: his wife and their four children, daughters eleven-year-old Anna "Annie", nine-year-old Margaret Lee "Maggie", five-year-old Elizabeth "Bessie", and two-year-old Tanetta.

On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford's daughters. Anna Spafford survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning "Saved alone." Spafford then sailed to England, going over the location of his daughters' deaths. According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote "It Is Well with My Soul" on this journey.

Spafford’s story is an incredible testimony of someone who endured significant pain and loss. Yet through it all he chose to trust God’s sovereign hand of restoration.

If you’re a church goer, chances are you’ve heard the song, It is Well. I’ll never forget the sound of our family's unified voices singing it in Amanda’s hospital room. We also sang Bethel Worship’s version of the song at Amanda’s Celebration of Life service. In case you’ve never heard it, here are the lyrics.

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.

(Refrain:) It is well (it is well), with my soul (with my soul), It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul. (Refrain)

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! (Refrain)

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live: If Jordan above me shall roll, No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul. (Refrain)

And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul. (Refrain)

Here’s why this is so powerful to me today. While we were in Israel studying the historical and biblical significance of sites and locations, one of the themes that constantly emerged was the idea that God brings things “full circle.” Different sites have significance because God would intentionally bring his people back to that location to remind them how faithful he is. For example, we visited the “Place of the Crossing” on the Jordan River near where Jacob wrestled with God, where the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promise Land, where Elijah passed down his ministry to Elisha, and where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Full Circle.

Here’s my Full Circle story.

Our last location on our tour through Israel was 3 nights in Jerusalem. The trip as a whole was extremely powerful (I’m sure I’ll write much about this in the coming weeks), but where we stayed in Jerusalem had a particular potency.

“Have you seen the hotel we’re staying at in Jerusalem?” Shaun, one of our tour guides, asked me as we were leaving Galilee.

“No. Is it nice?”

“Bro, it’s incredible. It used to be the home a guy named Horatio Spafford built to host American missionaries to Israel. You ever heard of him? He’s the guy who wrote the song It is Well."

I couldn’t believe it. My heart leapt, my mouth went dry and tears began to well up in my eyes. It was as if the Lord reached down in that moment and said, “Davey, I always bring my children full circle to remind them how faithful I am. I got you.”

Full Circle.