“It Is Well with my Soul” | My Instrumental Arrangement

When I heard this was my then fiancé’s favorite hymn, I had it in my head to arrange it for him, but every time I sat down to do it I felt I couldn’t quite capture the mood I wanted to. It is a hymn that has meant a great deal to many over the decades, and I wanted to do the words justice, even if the words wouldn’t actually be sung in my version. A few months ago, we had the occasion to record some hymns for a church event facilitated by one of our friends. Deadlines are always immensely helpful for me in the creative process, so at last, I managed to record an arrangement I was happy with.

“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.”

In this hymn, we find someone reconciling the good and the hard, as I have written about before. Whether times are easy, or fraught with trial and difficulty, the speaker is able to say, “It is well with my soul.”

But why? You may ask. Indeed, the writer of this hymn had recently lost his children in a shipwreck. How can one possibly say, “It is well?” in such a situation?

“Though satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blessed assurance control:

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate

and has shed his own blood for my soul.”

Thus, it is the blood of Christ which gives the speaker the ability to rest. Even in the darkest shadow of grief, he has hope through Jesus, who secured eternal life for all who trust in him when he gave himself up on the cross.

“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 oh my soul!”

The speaker recognizes that he, like every one of us, was born into bondage. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot free himself from his sin nature, that is, that part of him that compels him to think, say, and do wrong things. This is a problem, when you consider that a perfect and holy God must be perfectly just. There must be an answer for evil, including all the evil that you and I have done. God’s answer is found in Jesus. He took the punishment I deserved, and praise the Lord I can agree with the speaker in saying I bear my sin no more, and praise God, so do you if you trust in Jesus.

The hymn finishes with a triumphant vision of Christ’s glorious return at the end of the age. The speaker has such security in Christ that even as that dreadful time of judgement approaches, and those who have rejected Christ draw near to destruction, he can confidently say, “It is well”, because he knows his salvation is sure in Jesus.

“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.”

It is Well, Instrumental

Note: Though I think the theology of this hymn is sound, the writer, Horatio Spafford, had some very erroneous theological beliefs, and should not be considered an example of a faithful believer. When I use the word “speaker”, I mean it in the sense of poetic analysis, rather than in reference to the author. As we have seen many times throughout history, God is a mighty redeemer and can use even the lost to produce great works to encourage and uplift his people. I think that is the case here.

Do you have a favorite hymn? Why is it your favorite? Let me know in the comments. Perhaps I’ll be inspired to arrange that one, too.

Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 1

When a loved one of mine got married, they shared with me a lot about the struggles they were experiencing in the transition. Most of them were normal growing pains that I had either gone through myself in my own transition to marriage, or heard others mention concerning their own, but some struggles were challenges unique to them and their situation. Many of them were difficult, even exceptionally so, but a month after their wedding day my friend said something that has stuck with me ever since. 

“Our marriage is really hard,” she said, “but bad and hard are not the same thing. Our marriage is hard, but it is also good, and that’s okay.”

Her statement pretty much sums up how I feel about 2020. It was hard. Like many others, I experienced far greater loneliness and isolation than ever before in my life. During our first three months of pandemic lockdown, I finally understood what King David meant when he said, “darkness is my closest friend”. Weeping became a regular part of my daily ritual. All of the melodies I found singing or playing instruments seemed to be sad ones. It was all I could do to eat the same things, walk the same routes, and write, as I was finishing a master’s degree at the time. Anything else felt far too monumental even to attempt.

Even so, oh, the Lord was so kind to me all that time. He drew me to prayer, brought me to much-needed truth in his word, and after several weeks, even brought my heart to rejoicing in the very midst of the trial. It’s not that the sadness went away, but the Lord, ever so gently, opened my eyes to the fact that it was my own selfish anger and bitterness about my situation that had driven me to the greatest depths of my despair. That April evening, he called me to repentance during a phone conversation with my, at the time, fiancé. I nearly felt betrayed by the words coming out of my mouth when the Lord finally caused me to submit to the sovereign plan he had decreed for that period in my life. 

The relief that flooded me immediately after was utterly unexpected. All the weeks before I had been fighting for all I was worth, stubbornly insisting that life MUST be different than it was, believing that I could somehow change my circumstances by pure will power, but I couldn’t. As I failed day in and day out to alter the things that felt SO UNFAIR, I grew more and more despondent. It wasn’t until that moment of submission that anything changed. I felt like I was giving in. I felt like I was losing some battle I had been determined to win, but the peace that washed over me those seconds after I spoke was not the feeling of a defeated warrior. It was the feeling of a rebellious child who had finally come back to her loving father in obedience. Those weeks were hard, some of the hardest I have ever experienced, but in some ways, they were good, if for no other reason than the one who carried me through them was the good shepherd himself.

Those weeks were characterized by several other traumas that I will not detail here, but I am grateful to say they did not last much longer past spring. After a change in housing, I spent a truly blissful summer in the Irish countryside, graced daily by food, family, work, and constant music. There was not one, but two pianos in the house where I stayed those six wonderful weeks. It was there that I began to heal from the physical and mental traumas of the springtime, and, I’m happy to say, started prepping in earnest for my upcoming wedding. 

To be continued in part II.

Thankful for a Compelling Savior

One thing our culture hates about God is that he is uncompromising.  He demands certain behaviors of us, and condemns others, and there are consequences if we do not respond.  We see that here.  The master of the house invites several people to come in and be a part of his banquet, but each refuses, citing some excuse.  Thus, the master says that none of those who were invited and denied his invitation will taste anything of the feast he has prepared.  So uncompromising? Yes.

But he is also a God who compels.

“16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.

17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.

24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:16-24)

Though some refused him, he sends out someone to compel others to attend the feast.  Someone, like Jesus himself.  Yes, God has standards, the highest ones imaginable, but God knows that we are broken, and in his great love for us he does not abandon us to our brokenness.  We are poor.  We have nothing to offer the God of the universe, and yet he does not simply leave us to suffer in our poverty.  We are blind, but we are not condemned to darkness.  We are lame, but we are not resigned to a life of immobility.  Jesus moves us through his sacrifice, which demonstrated his love for us and atoned for our sin.  He compels us through the Holy Spirit, who moves in our hearts that we might be able to hear and respond to the master’s call.

“If today you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts.”  If we feel convicted over our sin, we should not be angry that the righteous creator God has called us out.  Instead, we should recognize that such conviction is a mercy.  It’s a call to come in and enjoy the feast of grace that God has prepared for all who are willing to partake.

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When Weighty Cares Beset Your Soul — A Prayer for 2018

This is just a small bit of verse that came to me as I prayed that the Lord would use this year as he pleases.  Undoubtedly amateur in terms of poetry, but I’d thought I’d share anyway, since the sentiment is sincere, if nothing else.

 

 

When weighty cares beset your soul

Rejoice, oh heart, the Lord extol,

For in his hands each trial finds rest,

To ease the anxious, grief-burned breast.

 

And when the swords of men draw near,

Remember then his side, the spear.

He took for you the shame for sin,

And granted you new life in him.

 

And if one day the tempest rage,

Should cast you out into the waves,

Look up to see your sleeping Lord,

And know his peace means you restored.

 

For never did he like Jonah stray,

Or from his father turn away,

The righteous life we could not live,

He by grace through faith will give.

 

“Your faith,” he’ll say, “has made you well.”

So we need never taste of hell,

For though we only death deserved,

Jesus came to heal our hurt.

 

Oh let me never forget thy grace,

That cleanses me from every trace,

Of sin and every evil thing,

Which kept  me from my God and king.

 

Oh that. thy Word and thine alone

Might be for me foundation stone

And when the mighty waters come

I shall say, “Thy will be done.”