it is well with my soul … really?

Hi

I’m a bit perplexed.  What’s new, you ask.  You see, I’ve just listened to a new recording of the classic American folk hymn: It is well with my soul.   This version has an extra chorus (a bridge really) written by Reuben Morgan and Ben Fielding from Hillsong Church.  Their addition is consistent musically and theologically with the original.  I hasten to add that this is all for the purpose of raising funds for the official Queensland government flood-relief appeal.   This is NOT a piece of Hillsong-bagging, let me be clear! I’m in no way questioning the writers’ or Hillsongs’ intentions. I commend Morgan, Fielding and Hillsong for what they are seeking to do with this song. It’s just that I struggle to sing it right now.

Have a listen to the song (recording is from Hillsong, I’m sure the visuals are not, but it gives you the lyrics) …

This is a song that has wonderful memories for me.  I recall being in Nashville in mid 2009 for a family reunion of Dale’s U.S. family.  We went to the Grand Ole Opry – as you do.  The absolute highlight was a near-acapella rendition of the original version by Alison Krauss, backed by folk-country singers, The Whites.  It was real goosebump stuff. I’ll remember it the rest of my life.

In that context and at that time, my spirit found itself singing along. In fact, soaring!  All things considered, things were well with my soul.

Fast forward 18 months, and I’m not so sure I can say that.   Almost a month on from the Brisbane/Queensland floods, in which we and our community were so personally embroiled, can I say “It is well with my soul”?

Sorry – I can’t.  No – it’s nothing to do, as far as I’m concerned with a lack of faith.  I have a very sure sense of God’s presence, comfort and love with me.  Nothing’s changed there.  It’s just that I feel unsettled within myself.  Currently, things are not well with my soul.   Will things improve?  I have no doubt they will.  Lots of patience and understanding (already there!) from those I love and who love me will help — along with my church family and beyond.  The scriptures day in, day out remind me of God’s steadfast love. I’m happy to sing something like Great is Your Faithfulness OR The Steadfast Love of the Lord OR John Bell’s We Cannot Measure How you heal at the moment, just not It is well

I rest in the confidence that God never gives up on me — or any of us for that matter.  And if the song is about the future hope we have in Christ, well I’m in full agreement.  But can I sing that right now?  Could I have my congregation sing that song (with or without the Hillsong addition) this Sunday?  Others might think – no problems.  Currently I can’t.

Now – this is where I’d welcome your thoughts.  Have I got it wrong?  Am I being too hard on myself?  Am I so focused on lament, that I’ve lost sight of the hope that is there right now – and that’s what the writers are on about?  Am I struggling with a lyric (ie in the choruses) that is just-too-bordering on triumphalist?

Tell me.

By the way – I bought the song off iTunes.  And – who knows – down the track I may well find myself singing it both privately and within the community of faith.  Just not now.

David

For the purpose of reflection and respectful debate, I post the lyrics …

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river
Attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot
You have 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 oh my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well
It is well with my soul

You are the rock
On which I stand
By Your grace
It is well
My hope is sure
In Christ my Saviour
It is well with my soul

© 2011 Hillsong Publishing (Admin. by Hillsong Publishing (Australia))Ben Fielding | Horatio Spafford | Philip Paul Bliss | Reuben Morgan 
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18 Responses to “it is well with my soul … really?”


  1. 1 Graham Slaughter February 9, 2011 at 9:09 am

    David,
    Thank you for your honest thoughts. I hesitate to say too much as I have not been through what you and others have experienced. Just a couple of thoughts … The image behind the song you posted (Hillsong Version) is that of the cross and although an empty cross in this image, I believe Jesus may well ahve struggled at various times throughout his ministry, and although his abiding trust was in God his heavenly Father, he may well have had times when all was not well with his soul. You may not be able to sing the song today, tomorrow or even next month or next year and I don’t see that as a bad thing. It may take quite some time until in some miraculous and transforming way, God, at work in you, will enable you to sing the song again when you sense the power and beauty of the words in a whole new way. God bless. The peace of the Lord be with you.

  2. 2 David MacGregor February 9, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Thanks Graham
    I look forward to singing the song one day – all in good time. To be reminded of Jesus own likely struggles is a helpful thought.
    Blessings,
    David

  3. 3 PaulW February 9, 2011 at 10:45 am

    I wonder if they’ve separated ‘soul’ and ‘body’ a bit? It may be well with me eternally, but I can be in a bloody hard place right now, a place which needs to be heard and recognised.

    People will be suffering with post-traumatic stress reactions for some time to come. Many aren’t anywhere near back into their houses yet. Others have lost everything. I’d submit that lament is a more holistic response to situations like this.

    • 4 David MacGregor February 9, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Thanks Paul
      I like the way you’ve drawn a clear distinction between the “well with me eternally” and the “right now”.
      I appreciate your response, and totally agree with your final sentence.
      Cheers
      D

  4. 5 Lisa February 9, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I don’t know. When things are ‘not well with my soul’, it usually turns out that God wants something from me and either I don’t want to face what it is just yet, or he’s not ready to reveal just yet what he wants, just that it’s time to be prepared. Might be totally off your topic here.

  5. 6 Bruce Mullan February 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Yes, one of the problems with music generally is that there can be a power in the melody that often comes through regardless of the lyrics. As an old time music lover I often find myself singing over and over about stuff (not just hymns and choruses but also so-called “secular” songs) that is not the kind of thing I believe or even think is right and good. I think this tune is one of those powerful melodies that stirs the heart and lifts the spirit regardless of the lyrics. So what do we do with that? I think you are right David. It is too easy to be blasé or naïve about what we sing – and not just in worship. However, at times like these we do need to be much more cautious in our discernment.

  6. 7 Paul Clark February 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Hi David, I’m a bit embarrassed to ask, but you do know the story behind the song, the author lost his wife and children in boating accidents [I’m sure this is a bad summary]. I hear these words, ‘it is well with my soul’ not as triumphalism but as desperation, holding on to God and hope, a sort of lament. [See my blog about Laments burdekinuc.blogspot.com at this time.]

    Sort of sung with tears in eyes from the pain, but I’ll hold onto God with my soul, for that is all I can do. We’ve been singing “Blessed be your name” by Redman recently. It has a similar intent. ‘Though the road is filled with suffering – blessed be your name.’ It honestly names the pain, but somehow, humbly submits to God in tears.

    I think there are always songs, litanies, prayers we or someone might struggle to say/sing in worship. If so, that’s a great thing, it is a point to stop and ask myself why? Is it me or the words? I probably grow more through doing that than mindlessly singing.

    • 8 David MacGregor February 9, 2011 at 5:42 pm

      Hi Paul
      I appreciate your comments. No – I did not know the story behind the song. It’s helpful to have some background. Ta. My “triumphalism” comment was as much a ‘thinking things through’ thought as anything. Maybe the struggle is with the word “well” as much as anything. Certainly I like how “Blessed be your name” is put together, and of course written in the aftermath of 9/11.

      Once again, my blogging about this was some personal venting by me. The blog named the Nashville experience of the song as something quite special – and it always will be. It’s also an opportunity to say my piece about, as you put it, “mindlessly singing”.
      David

      • 9 Michael Brumpton February 9, 2011 at 7:00 pm

        David,
        I can’t think of a better song for Christians to sing when they’ve had a time of tragedy, and yet come to a place where they are finding peace in the Lord.

        I first heard the story of Horatio Spafford when Aliki sang it in our church. The story goes something like this:
        Spafford was a lawyer who lost most of his savings in the chicago fires. He and his family decided to holiday in England, but he got called away at the last minute. His wife and two daughters went on and he was to catch a later ship. As they crossed the Atlantic, their ship was wrecked. He eventually received a telegram from his wife “saved alone”.
        As he crossed the atlantic himself, as the ship neared the place where his two daughters drowned, he penned this song.

        Knowing this story, our congregation, and me personally, have found this a very helpful song and example of wonderful Christian faith in the midst of tragedy.

        Spafford, even in the midst of his grief, was able to sing, “It is well with my soul”. It’s a faith which centers our attention back on eternity. Life may be lousy, but my soul’s ok. I know the pain of this life is only short compared to what is to come.

        Michael Brumpton

  7. 10 David MacGregor February 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Thanks Michael. I look forward to the day when I too can sing the song. I love the song … just can’t sing it right now.
    David

  8. 11 david February 10, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Hi David,

    You make a good point, but you may have opened up a pandora’s box here. If we put a line through all the ‘worship’ songs that contain an untrue line, our songbooks will start to look like they’ve been to Jenny Craig.

    I blogged about one of my favourites (http://sycamore-fig.blogspot.com/2010/07/lying-to-god.html). It’s from “I Want To Know You” … how many of us could honestly say we’ve “pushed EVERY hindrance aside” in order to know God more?

    I also link to Jon Acuff’s blog where he has a hilarious template for making up your own original “overcommitment to God”.

    david

    • 12 David MacGregor February 10, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      Hi David
      I look forward to tapping into your blog – some interesting stuff there!!
      You’re probably right. What started as a fairly open (I think) baring my soul on a traditional classic American hymn somehow segued (at my responding to large extent) into my thoughts on “In Christ Alone” etc etc etc.
      That said – for me, if it opened up afresh the whole area of discerning and reflecting on what we choose and sing in worship, it will have been doubly worthwhile.

      Let me be clear for everyone – I actually love the song “It is well with my soul”. My circumstances simply limit my current use of the song. In God’s love, those circumstances are changing for the better.

      David

  9. 13 PaulW February 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    David’s post reminds me how I allow myself to sing things that “aren’t true” (“pushing every hindrance aside” when I haven’t, “it is well with my soul” when I’m still struggling):

    I see worship as ‘play’. We are children gathering around the Father, playing at being big kids or grown ups—just like little kids trying mum’s shoes on or wearing dad’s shirt. “One day” I may have pushed every hindrance aside (though that’s a BIG call), and I may get to the place where “peace like a river attendeth my way”. Right now, I’m worshipping God with those words because in Jesus Christ that’s my hope.

  10. 14 David MacGregor February 10, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Thanks Paul
    Perhaps I’ve been a bit too pedantic and introspective with my pondering on the word “well”. Your “play” analogy is instructive.
    Ta
    D.

  11. 15 Ken Stevens August 24, 2012 at 3:07 am

    It seems to me that If iook with my own eyes it is true that all is not well with my soul because there are areas for improvement .but if I see that my soul’s state is not dependent on my efforts but upon Gods work through Jesus Christ and the Holy spirit dwelling in me then ALL IS INDEED WELL WITH MY SOUL because I am one with Christ through his death and resurrection.
    May God richly bless you


  1. 1 Wednesday Link List « Thinking Out Loud Trackback on February 9, 2011 at 9:13 pm
  2. 2 Where is God When Trouble Strikes? Right There. « Christianity 201 Trackback on February 10, 2011 at 8:28 am
  3. 3 Where is God When Trouble Strikes? « Thinking Out Loud Trackback on December 23, 2012 at 12:38 am

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