I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the hymn, "It is well with my soul." But are you aware of the story behind its writing? It was written by Horatio Gates Spafford after two major traumas in his life. The first was the great Chicago fire of October 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a wealthy businessman). Shortly thereafter, while crossing the Atlantic, all four of Spafford's daughters died in a collision with another ship. Spafford's wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, "Saved alone." Several weeks later, as Spafford's own ship passed the spot where his daughters died, he penned these words:
"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!"
These words speak of his faith, his confidence in God's love, no matter what pain and grief he experiences on earth. It is well with his soul because he is assured that God has put away his sin. Thus he is assured of God's love no matter what circumstances he may face.
The Spaffords had a consistent history of acting on their faith. After the Chicago fire, they devoted countless hours to helping the survivors. In 1881, they moved to Jerusalem (taking two daughters born after the shipwreck tragedy) and helped found a group called "the American Colony"; its mission was to serve the poor. The colony later became the subject of the Nobel prize winning Jerusalem, by Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf. Horatio Spafford died of malaria in 1888.
Why is it that some Christians can handle great adversity and others fall apart at the slightest trial? It is because some folk's faith is stronger than others. The strength of your faith is determined by your knowledge of God and your application of what you know. This being true, we should devote ourselves to knowing God through a study of His Word. You can't trust Him if you don't know Him.
I believe that the reason so many Christians fall apart in the midst of adversity is because they know so little about their God. Jay Leno frequently does a "man-on-the-street" interview (which he calls Jay walking), and one night he collared some young people to ask them questions about the Bible. "Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?" He asked two college-age women. One replied, "Freedom of speech?" Mr. Leno said to the other, "Complete this sentence; Let he who is without sin..." Her response was, "Have a good time?" Mr. Leno then turned to a young man and asked, "Who, according to the Bible, was eaten by a whale?" The confident answer was, "Pinocchio."
We may laugh at these folk's ignorance of the Bible but Bible ignorance is really no laughing matter. God has given us the Bible to reveal Himself to us. Through our study of the Word, we learn of God's character and His promises to us. The more time you spend with God through His Word, the stronger your faith will be and the stronger your faith is, the better you will be able to deal with adversity.
Scripture alone teaches us the essential truths about God-- truths we must believe if we are to trust Him in the midst of the tragedies of life. They are:
God, in his goodness and love, always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom, He always knows what is best, and in His sovereignty, He has the power to bring it about.
We have looked at what the Scriptures say about God's sovereignty. We have seen that God is sovereign over every event that happens in time. We have looked at the wisdom of God. God's wisdom includes his ability to know what is best for each and every one of his creatures. Last time we looked at God's goodness. The goodness of God is that essential perfection of the divine nature which inclines Him to deal bountifully with His creatures. So, God, in his goodness, wills what is best for us. In His wisdom, He knows what is best for us, and in his sovereignty, has the power to work it out. These truths of God's character will anchor our soul in the midst of life's turmoil.
This morning we want to look at one last truth of God that will help us to trust Him in every situation. That truth is that God is perfect in love. Believer, we must understand the very powerful truth that God loves us.
Psalms 86:15 (NIV) But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
God not only abounds in loves, but He is faithful! This may be hard for us to understand because we live in a day of unfaithfulness. Basically, man cannot be trusted-- he doesn't keep his promises.
Hove you ever been betrayed-- perhaps by someone you loved and trusted a great deal? If it has ever happened to you, you will never forget it. Individual lives, companies, armies, and nations have been destroyed as a result of betrayals and failures to keep a promise.
It happens far too often. A company tells an employee, "We will always take good care of you," and then that employee is laid off. One spouse says to another, "I will stay with you till death do us part," and then leaves with someone else. A politician is elected and says, "I will never vote to raise taxes," and then co-sponsors a bill for "revenue enhancement". The highways and byways of life are littered with broken promises.
How different God is from you and me! Did you know that there has never been one single promise God ever made to anybody that he did not keep? Not one! Not one single promise God made has ever been broken.
When Solomon built that magnificent temple in honor of the Lord, he made a very interesting comment during the dedication ceremony. In 1 Kings 8:56, Solomon stated,
"Praise be to the Lord who has given rest to his people of Israel just as he promised. Not one word was failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses".
The only One in all the universe who is ALWAYS faithful and keeps every promise in full is God. This is a very important truth because everything we believe in stands upon the faithfulness of God. It is, indeed, refreshing to be able to lift our eyes above the scene of unfaithfulness to the faithful God who loves us.
Deuteronomy 7:9 (NIV) Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
Most of us are tempted in times of adversity to question God's love. Because we are hurting so bad, our emotions cause us to feel like God has forsaken us. But the Scripture teaches that God's love is just as real in times of adversity as it is in times of blessings. God's love to us is unchangeable.
If you want to be able to deal with the temptation to doubt God's love in times of adversity-- look to Calvary. The most convincing objective evidence of God's love for us is His Giving His Son to die for our sins.
1 John 4:9-10 (NKJV) In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
God showed His love by meeting our greatest need-- a need to be redeemed from an eternal separation from Him in hell. No matter how much difficulty, pain, heartache or calamity we go through in this life, it cannot compare with the catastrophe of eternal separation from God.
If we want proof of God's love for us, then we must look first at the Cross where God offered up His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Calvary is the objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God's love for us.
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
God loved us, and because of that love, He sacrificially gave His only Son to die in our place.
John 15:13 (NKJV) "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.
Calvary was the ultimate demonstration of God's love for us.
Romans 5:8 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Please notice our condition when God demonstrated His love for us-- "while we were still sinners." God loved us when we hated Him. He reached out in love and met our greatest need while we were His enemies.
Ephesians 2:1-6 (NKJV) And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
This was our condition we lived to fulfill our sinful nature, we spent our days gratifying our ambitions, our desires, and our pleasures. Because of this, we were objects of God's wrath. We have all sinned against a holy, righteous God. We have rebelled against his commands and defied His moral law. Because of this, we all deserve hell. We do not deserve God's love or mercy. We all deserve wrath, but:
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
Any time that we are tempted to question God's love for us, we need to look to Calvary. If God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us when we were His enemies, surely He loves us enough to care for us now that we are His children. In the midst of the worst adversity, I can be assured of God's love for me because of Calvary.
If we are going to trust God in adversity, we must remind ourselves of what we know of God. We must reason through the great truths of God's sovereignty, wisdom, goodness, and love as they are laid out to us in the Scripture. We must not allow our emotions to overrule our mind. Our emotions must become subservient to the truth.
Romans 8:31 (NKJV) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
"God is for us" -- This is a concise summary of the gospel. God is on our side. Think about it! Meditate upon it! God, the immutable God, has from all eternity loved you and planned out you salvation.
Numbers 23:19 (NKJV) "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
God is not like people, He won't change His mind and stop loving you. It that doesn't thrill your heart, you don't understand your sinfulness.
Romans 8:32 (NKJV) He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
"But delivered Him up for us all" -- The word "delivered" means to turn over to judgement. Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy; but the Father, for LOVE.
If God sent His Son to die for me when I was His enemy will He not meet my every need now that I am His child? We must use our minds to reason through the truths of Scripture and not allow our emotions to rule us. Let's face it, there are times when we do not feel loved by God. This is where faith comes in, we must trust Him no matter how we feel.
Paul goes on, in verse 35 and following, and gives us a list of things that cannot separate us from Christ's love. He does this because very often these types of experiences make us feel that God doesn't love us. We must always remember that the proof of God's love, His unchanging love, is in His Word, not in our experiences.
Romans 8:35-37 (NKJV) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
None of these experiences should make us think that God has forsaken us. Verse 36 is a direct quote from Psalm 44:22 to remind believers that suffering has always been the lot of the elect, and therefore, their situation is not unusual. The Greek aorist participle-- "Him who loved" -- indicates that the reference is to a particular historical act-- Calvary.
Romans 8:38-39 (NKJV) For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
"I am persuaded" -- I have come through a process of persuasion to a settled conclusion. Paul experienced everything in verse 35 and yet he is absolutely convinced of God's love.
Over and over in the Scripture, God assures His people of His unfailing love for them.
Isaiah 49:14-15 (NKJV) But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, And my Lord has forgotten me."
Isaiah speaks of God's people (called Zion) as questioning God's love. We have all done this at times. Please notice God's response to their doubts and ours:
15 "Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.
God uses one of the tightest human bonds, the nursing mother and her baby, to illustrate His love for us. But this isn't even sufficient to demonstrate God's love for us because it is possible for a mother to neglect her nursing child. But God's love to us cannot fail -- "I will not forget you," says the Lord.
In Lamentations 3, the author personifies the nation of Judah after its destruction by the Babylonian army. I would imagine that when your nation is destroyed by a foreign army, you would be feeling alienated from God. Notice what the writer says:
Lamentations 3:19-23 (NKJV) Remember my affliction and roaming, The wormwood and the gall. 20 My soul still remembers And sinks within me.
The writer has reached the bottom of the barrel emotionally and spiritually. But then, in the midst of his emotional depression, he recalls to mind God's great love.
21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.
He turns from his circumstances to the Lord. God disciplined the nation severely, but He did not cease to love it. The writer turned to the Lord by using his mind to reflect of the love, the compassion, and the faithfulness of God. We must do the same thing in our times of questioning, and recall what the Bible tells us of His unfailing love. This is why we must know what the Bible teaches us about God, so when circumstances cause our emotions to run wild, we can recall our theology and strengthen our faith.
Though we were once enemies of God, by faith in the gospel we have become His children. God is our Heavenly Father and we are His children. As our heavenly Father, God loves us, His children, with a very special love, a fatherly love.
Colossians 3:12 (NKJV) Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
As God's elect children, we are beloved.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV) The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."
Matthew Henry, commenting on this verse, said, "The great God not only loves his saints, but he loves to love them." God takes great delight in loving us because we are His very own.
Why does God love us? Is it because we are lovable people? Is it that we are just so lovable that He could not resist us? NO!!!!!! Remember, we were very unlovely sinners. God's measureless love is poured out upon us, not because of who we are or what we are, but because we are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:39 (NKJV) 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 2:6 (NKJV) and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
The love of God flows to us because we are "in Jesus Christ." It is because of our union with Christ. It is very important that we grasp this concept that God's love to us is in Christ. Just as God's love to His Son cannot change, so His love to us cannot change, because we are in union with the one He loves.
We are constantly tempted to look within ourselves to seek to find some reason why God should love us. Such searching is usually very discouraging because if we are honest, we know that there is nothing good in us for God to love. When God looks at us, he doesn't see us standing in our own goodness or merit. He sees us united to His beloved Son, clothed in His righteousness. He loves us, not because we are lovely in ourselves, but because we are in Christ. God's love to us cannot fail any more than His love to Christ can fail. Grasp that brethren! We are accepted and loved because we are in Christ.
Ephesians 1:6 (NKJV) to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.
God's unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God's love, nor does our faith create it. But the experience of that love, and the comfort it is intended to bring, is dependant upon our believing the truth about God's love as it is revealed to us in the Scriptures. Doubts about God's love will deprive us of the comfort of His love.
A farmer printed on his weather vane the words "God is love." Someone asked him if he meant to imply that the love of God was as fickle as the wind. The farmer answered: "No, I mean that whichever way the wind blows, God is love. If it blows cold from the North, or biting from the East, God is still love just as much as when the warm South or gentle West winds refresh our fields and flocks. God is always love."
We will almost always struggle with doubts about God's love during our times of adversity. If we never had to struggle, our faith would not grow. But we must engage in the struggle with our doubts; we must not let them overwhelm us. During seemingly intolerable times, we may feel like David, who said at a time of great distress:
Psalms 13:1 (NKJV) How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?
David had his doubts, he struggled with them. In fact, in the next verse he continues his struggle as he asks:
Psalms 13:2 (NKJV) How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
David felt that God had, at least for a time, forgotten him. But David, by the enabling power of God, won his struggle as he focused on the character of his God.
Psalms 13:5-6 (NIV) But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
We will all wrestle with our thoughts. We will have times when our faith is very weak. In the midst of our adversities, we must recall to mind the truths of God's character and the promises He has made to us. As we focus on God, our faith will grow strong and we will walk in victory.
When life's circumstances are slamming your face in the dirt, and pain is pouring out of every pore in your body, causing you to feel alone and forsaken by God, and in your anguish you begin to question God's love-- remember Calvary. God's love for you was clearly written in blood on the cross of Jesus Christ. The song writer, Kurt Kaiser, puts it this way:
Oh, how He loves you and me! Oh, how He loves you and me!
He gave his life, what more could He give?
Oh, how He loves you, Oh, how He loves me,
Oh, how He loves you and me!
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