Is it possible to be joyful when your life is turned upside down? A notable story about this was penned after a traumatic event in the life of Horatio Spafford. First, there was the death of his son at the age of two. Shortly after that, the Great Chicago Fire (1871) ruined him financially as he had significant investments in properties that were damaged in the fire. That fire led to the economic downturn of 1873, when he had planned to travel with his family to Europe. In a late change of plans, he sent his family ahead because he was delayed by problems following the fire (Spafford had been a successful lawyer in Chicago). While crossing the Atlantic, the ship his family was on sank rapidly after a collision with another vessel. All four of the Spafford’s daughters died. His wife, Anna, survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …” Spafford hurried to meet his grieving wife and, when passing near where his daughters had died, he penned the words of the now great hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.
Spafford drew strength from the joy of knowing God was present with him and for him.
Many centuries before Spafford’s account, Jewish exiles in Babylon returned to Jerusalem in times of great struggle. Let me summarize the time for you. They managed to rebuild the walls of the city but hadn’t yet built houses to live in. As they discussed their plans for the future, they asked Ezra to read from a scroll of the Law of Moses. He did, and the people listened attentively to the “Book of the Law.”
When the priests explained what the words meant, the people began to weep, perhaps convicted by how far they had strayed from God’s word. That event prompted Nehemiah to cry out, “Don’t be dejected, disappointed, and sad. The joy of the Lord is your strength.” When they heard that, the people celebrated with joy because they heard the word of the Lord and understood it. [That’s my loose translation of Nehemiah 8.9-12]
The walls were finished, but Jerusalem still lay in ruins. Still, God’s word brought them great joy. Strengthened by it, they kept on working and building. My desire is that you do the same. Regardless of the difficulty you find yourself in, get your strength from the joy of knowing and abiding in Christ.
Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8.10