It Is Well ~ The Tragic Story Behind the Amazing Hymn ~ Horatio Spafford
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:41
“Remove everything from your desks, take out a piece of paper and pencil.” When I was a student these dreaded words announced that “test time” had come.
In Mark 4, we read that Jesus’s day, which started with teaching by the seaside (v. 1), ended with a time of testing on the sea (v. 35). The boat that had been used as a teaching platform was used to transport Jesus and a handful of His followers to the other side of the sea. During the journey (while an exhausted Jesus slept in the back of the boat), they encountered a swirling storm (v. 37). Drenched disciples woke Jesus with the words, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38). Then it happened. The One who had exhorted the crowds to “Listen!” earlier in the day (v. 3), uttered a simple, powerful command to the winds of nature—“Quiet! Be still!” (v. 39).
The wind obeyed and the wonder of fear-filled disciples was displayed with the words, “Who is this?” (v. 41). The question was a good one but it would take them a while to honestly and correctly conclude that Jesus was God’s Son. Sincere, honest, open-hearted questions and experience lead people to the same conclusion today. He is more than a teacher to listen to; He is the God to be worshiped.
Father, thank You for Your Word that helps us to see Jesus as Your Son. Please help me to listen to You and to trust that You are in control.
Our Daily Bread welcomes writer Arthur Jackson! Meet Arthur and all our authors at odb.org/all-authors.
“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Matthew 8:19
Mark’s gospel record is filled with mystery and subtlety, yet moves to a clear destination—declaring the identity of Jesus. Throughout his account, Mark provides indicators of Jesus’s identity, beginning with the opening statement of his record, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). He continues to present his case through events like Jesus’s baptism, where the heavenly voice declares, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (v. 11); and Jesus’s transfiguration when the heavenly voice confirms, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (9:7). Finally, what Mark has asserted and the Father has declared is affirmed. But, shockingly, this affirmation comes from a Roman centurion. Following the miraculous events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus, this military officer agrees, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (15:39).
Who is Jesus? The Son of God who is worthy of all praise.
To consider further the identity of Jesus, check out the Discovery Series booklet Is Jesus God?
For a sermon I wrote several years ago, I jotted down a list and titled it “The Evolution of a Passion to Obey God.” A passion to obey the Lord doesn’t typically just spring up, full-blown, when we get saved. We do enter our new life in Christ with a desire to please Him, but a determined pursuit of His will develops more slowly and over time.
In fact, when we first believe, we’re typically motivated by fear concerning the consequences of disobedience. This barely qualifies as reverence for God, because it’s more about us than Him. But as we progress in our faith and form a commitment to obey the Lord, we develop a deep love for and devotion to Christ. Wouldn’t you rather follow Him out of love than out of fear?
Progressing from one motivation to the other begins with what you might expect: a growing knowledge of the Lord. As we dig into God’s Word, we learn who He is—His heart, His character, His will. We begin to see how He has provided in the past and trust that He’ll provide in the future. People like Mary, David, and Paul weren’t satisfied with what the world had to offer, and we won’t be either once we witness God’s hand at work. We’ll recognize the wisdom of obeying our heavenly Father—not just because of the promised blessings, but because He knows what’s best and loves us.
Where are you on the spectrum between fear and devotion? It is my hope that you’ve committed to obeying God and that you’re reading His Word daily to learn how to stay faithful to those intentions. God wants your best—your passionate pursuit of His will—and is giving His best to you.
“In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)
Many critics have decried what they contend is the Bible’s inconsistency. The Old Testament is a harsh indictment of human sin and warning of coming divine judgment, they say, whereas the New Testament stresses God’s grace and love.
The fact is, however, that the Old Testament contains numerous testimonies of the love and merciful lovingkindness of God (e.g., Psalm 103). Similarly, the most striking and fearsome warnings and prophecies of judgment to come are found in the New Testament. The above text for the day is an example, with its revelation of the coming eternal separation from God of all who reject Christ and His saving gospel. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself uttered more warnings of future hell than anyone else recorded in either testament. He said, for example, that those “on the left hand” will be commanded to “depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Jude spoke of ungodly men “to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 1:13).
And, of course, the very last book of the New Testament, written by John, the disciple who stressed God’s love more than any other writer, focuses especially and in detail on the coming period of God’s judgment on a rebellious world. The climax of these warnings is Revelation 20:15: “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” God’s grace and full forgiveness are free to all who receive Christ, but certain judgment will come to all who refuse. HMM
In the book of Ecclesiastes, or The Preacher, Solomon has left us his own biography, the progress of a seeker after pleasure, the history of Solomon the prodigal, written by Solomon the preacher. He gives us in the first chapter not only the preface of the book, but the keynote of its sad contents, for it has well been styled the saddest book in all the Bible.
Thus speaks Solomon the sage, but we love better to hear the voice of Solomon the saint, for he said, “Thy love is better than wine. He brought me into his banqueting-house, and his banner over me was love.” How dark are the forbidden ways! How sweet the roads of holy fellowship!
“As much as if he said, It is all a weary go-round. This system of things is a perpetual self-repetition—quite sickening. One generation goes, another comes. The sun rises, and the sun goes down. That was what the sun did yesterday, and what I expect it will do to-morrow. The wind blows north, and the wind blows south; and this is all it has been doing for these thousand years. The rivers run into the sea, and it would be some relief to find that sea growing fuller; to perceive the clear waters wetting the dry shingle, and brimming up to the green fields, and floating the boats and fishes up into the forest: but even that inconvenient novelty is denied us; for though the rill and many a river have been tumbling many a world of water into it, this tide will not overstep its margin; the flood still bulges, but still refuses to cross its bounds. Words themselves are weariness, and it would tire us to enumerate those everlasting mutations and busy uniformities which make up this endless screw of existence. There are no novelties, no wonders, no discoveries. This universe does not yield an eye-full, or an arm-full to it’s occupant. The present only repeats the past, the future will repeat them both. The inventions of to-day are the forgotten arts of yesterday, and our children will forget our wisdom, only to have the pleasure of fishing up, as new prodigies, our obsolete truisms. There is no new thing under the sun, yet no repose. Perpetual functions and transient objects—permanent combinations, yet shifting atoms—sameness, yet incessant change, make up the monotonous medley. Woes me for this weary world!”
Solomon began by seeking the Supreme Felicity in knowledge, but the quest was vain. Had he laboured to know Christ he would have found that knowledge a fountain of delight;
1 Timothy 3:1
When Denise and I were young in the ministry, we had a young man on our staff who gifted in music and communication. This man had previously worked in the field of business, where he had done well until he was accused of taking funds from the cash register. A question had been raised about his integrity, and he was released from his job. However, I ignored every report about his lack of integrity because I was so impressed with his gifts and abilities.
I was most impressed by this man’s ability to sing and write music, as well as his natural abilities to influence others. Soon I asked him to join our team. This turned out to be one of the most painful mistakes I had made in my life up to that time. Inviting this young man to come into our inner circle was like personally inviting Judas Iscariot to betray me! It didn’t take too long until I began to see what kind of person he really was. The truth was far different from what I had first thought.
This young man talked only about himself. He looked for opportunities to put me down when others were present. He constantly exaggerated his importance in the eyes of others. I tried to overlook these faults, attributing them to his youthfulness. I hoped he would grow out of them. But as time passed, he didn’t grow out of those troublesome traits; in fact, he became worse.
I met with the young man every morning and tried to teach him principles from God’s Word. But he was a classic know-it-all! He acted as though he already knew everything, and it didn’t take too long for me to realize that I had no real spiritual authority in his life. There was no foundation between us on which to build. Furthermore, he didn’t seem to want a relationship; he was simply looking for a way to promote himself.
In terms of gifts and talents, this young man was everything a pastor could desire to have in an upcoming leader. But after a period of time, I found myself praying for a peaceable solution to our problem. I asked God to remove him and thus deliver us from a very uncomfortable situation, and eventually God did just that. Our dreadful experience with this young man was an important lesson in my early ministry of what not to do—a lesson I have not forgotten and have sought to never repeat!
As I have worked with pastors throughout the years, I have heard similar stories countless times—stories of pastors who were unwise in the way they chose leaders and eventually had to pray for a way to get a wrong person out of an important position. Just as I did when I was young in the ministry, these pastors also selected leaders according to the gifts and talents they saw rather than on the basis of the principles Paul so clearly laid out in First Timothy 3:1-7.
When Timothy’s church was growing and he needed leaders to help him with his growing congregation, he asked Paul for advice about how to select leaders. Oddly enough, when the apostle Paul wrote Timothy back, he mentioned nothing about looking for people who were gifted or talented. Instead, Paul gave Timothy a list of what I call “character requirements” for those filling leadership positions in a local church. These “character requirements” were intended to be Timothy’s guidelines for choosing the members of his leadership team.
However, don’t think that these principles apply only to the church. When applied to the sphere of business, these principles will also safeguard any businessperson from making the critical mistake of choosing a wrong person for an important position.
Paul began this text on leadership selection by saying, “This is a true saying, If any man desire the office of a bishop….” Before we go any further, I want us to stop and look at the word “bishop” in this verse, for it is a word that has taken on an incorrect religious connotation that brings confusion to readers of the New Testament.
The word “bishop” is the Greek word episkopos. It is a compound of the words epi and skopos. The word epi means over, and the word skopos means to look. The word skopos by itself means to watch, to look, to observe, or to survey. But when the word skopos has the prefix epi added to the front of it, it becomes the word episkopos, which presents the idea of a person who has oversight. In other words, because this person has been placed in charge of a particular job or responsibility, it is his duty to supervise, manage, and provide oversight of it.
In secular Greek society, this word episkopos was used to picture a ruler who was entrusted with the care of a city or country. The task of that political leader was to provide oversight of an entire geographical area. That means he assumed management of the region and all the citizens who lived there and was personally held responsible for everything that happened under his care.
But the word episkopos was also used in the world of construction to depict supervisors who had oversight of construction sites. As the supervisor at such a site, an episkopos was required to ensure that funds were spent properly, that expenditures didn’t exceed the budget, that people did their jobs correctly, and that the construction of a building was done according to code and in compliance with the desires of the architect. In other words, he was responsible for the entire project from beginning to end.
The word episkopos could be used to express the functions of:
- an overseer
- a manager
- a director
- a supervisor
- a superintendent
- an administrator
The reason it is so important to understand this is that when most people hear the word “bishop” (the Greek word episkopos), they think of a religious individual dressed in a long black gown, wearing a huge, heavy gold chain around his neck with a gold cross dangling at the end of it. This image is emphatically not what Paul had in mind when he used the word episkopos (“bishop”). Timothy didn’t need religious leaders clad in black clothing and decorated with religious emblems; he needed godly leaders who could help him lead the flock!
You see, Timothy was building a huge congregation in Ephesus. In a sense, you could say he was in the “spiritual construction business.” Because he was overseeing such a massive congregation as the church of Ephesus, Timothy needed people he could lean on to help him manage, direct, and supervise his growing congregation. He was looking for people who would take on the responsibility of entire areas of ministry, fulfilling their duties faithfully as they helped him supervise both people and projects within the church. These leaders had to be trustworthy individuals who would stick to the vision he gave them while making sure the people under their supervision properly performed their jobs and worked within the time frame and budget assigned to their project.
This is precisely what every pastor and business owner needs. As a church or business grows and expands, a pastor or business leader must have people he can rely on to do a good job and fulfill his desires. If he lacks such leaders, he will be limited in his ability to lead a large, growing organization. His arms only reach so far, and if he doesn’t have good helpers to stand at his side and assist him, he’ll never be able to oversee an organization that grows beyond his reach. He must have people who can help provide oversight, management, and supervision for the many tasks that must be performed within his church or business.
So I want to ask you today: Are you the kind of person that your pastor or employer can trust with bigger responsibilities? If he was looking for someone to step into a leadership position with greater responsibility, do you think he would think of you as a candidate for the job? What have you done to show yourself to be reliable? Why would your superior want to trust you to oversee a group of people, to manage a particular project, or to direct an entire department within the church or business?
It is just a fact that there are many gifted and talented people whom God will not use because they are not dependable. Gifts and talents are great, but they aren’t everything. Throughout history, God has bypassed many people who were mightily gifted because He knew they couldn’t be trusted with assignments given to them. Instead, He has chosen less gifted people He could count on to be faithful!
Are you a person God must bypass because you’ve been unfaithful, or does your record show that God can trust you to take on the responsibility of a leader?
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I ask You to help me become faithful and dependable. I want to be the kind of person others can rely on. I ask You to forgive me for those times when I got so lazy and complacent that I didn’t follow through on commitments and, in the end, let other people down. I thank You for the gifts and talents You have placed in my life, but please help me bring my character to such a high level that You and others will know I can be trusted.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that God’s Word and God’s Spirit are turning me into a tower of strength! When people think of me, they think of reliability. I do what I’m asked to do, and I do it with excellence. People find me faithful and trustworthy, and they want me to be a part of their team. I am exactly the kind of person who helps bring success—and as a result, both God and man are excited to have me on their team!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of a person who is so reliable that everyone relies on him or her when there is a job that needs to be done? What can you learn from the way that person works and lives?
- Can you think of a person who has failed people so many times that now no one wants to work with him or her any longer?
- What part of you is the strongest—your gifts and talents, or your character?
“‘Come, follow me,‘ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.‘” (Matthew 4:19)
There was a group called “Fishermen’s Fellowship”. They were surrounded by streams and lakes full of hungry fish. They met regularly to discuss the call to fish, the abundance of fish and the thrill of catching fish. They got excited about fishing.
Someone suggested they needed a philosophy of fishing. So they carefully defined and redefined fishing and the purpose of fishing. They developed fishing strategies and tactics.
Then they realized they had been going at it backwards. They had approached fishing from the point of the fisherman and not from the point of view of the fish. How do fish view the world? How does the fisherman appear to the fish? What do fish eat and when? These are all good things to know.
So they began research studies and attended conferences on fishing. Some traveled faraway to study different kinds of fish with different habits. Some got Ph.D.’s in Fishology. But none had yet gone fishing.
So a committee was formed to send out fishermen. As prospective fishing places outnumbered the fishermen, the committee needed to determine priorities. A priority list of fishing places was posted on bulletin boards in all the Fellowship halls.
Still no one was fishing. A survey was launched to find out why. Most did not answer the questionnaire but from those who did respond, it was discovered that some felt called to study fish, a few to furnish fishing equipment and several to go around encouraging fishermen.
What with meetings, conferences and seminars, others simply didn’t have time to fish.
Jake was a newcomer to the “Fishermen’s Fellowship”. After one stirring meeting of the “Fellowship,” Jake went fishing. He tried a few things, got the hang of it and caught a choice fish. At the next meeting he told his story, was honored for his catch and was then scheduled to speak at all the “Fellowship” chapters to tell how he did it.
Soon he began to feel restless and empty. He longed to feel the tug on the line once again. He cut the speaking, resigned from the Board and said to a friend, “Let’s go fishing.” They did-just the two of them-and they caught fish.
The members of the “Fishermen’s Fellowship” were many, the fish were plentiful, but the fishers were few.
QUESTION: When was the last time you and I did some serious fishing for men? What are we waiting for? After all, Jesus did say, “‘Come, follow me… and I will make you fishers of men.‘”