Tag Archives: suffering

What does sin have to do with my four dead girls?

Tim Keller shares a practical example of gazing at Jesus Christ for the peace of God that surpasses all understanding:

“Horatio Spafford was an American lawyer who lost everything he had in the Chicago fire of 1871. Only two years later, he sent his wife, Anna, and their four daughters on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean to England. The ship hit another ship and began to sink. As it was sinking, Anna got the four little girls together and prayed. The ship went under the water, and they all were scattered into the waves, and all four little girls drowned. Anna was found floating unconscious in the water by a rescue ship. They took her to England, and she cabled Horatio Spafford just two words: “saved alone.”

When Spafford was on the ship on his way to England to bring his wife home, he began to write a hymn – “It is well with my soul… When peace, like a river…” Those are the words he wrote.

Here is what I want you to think about: why would a man dealing with his grief, seeking the peace of God – the peace like a river – spend the entire hymn on Jesus and His work of salvation? And why would he bring up the subject of his own sin at such a time? He wrote:

My sin, oh, though 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.

What has that got to do with his four little girls who are dead? Everything!
Do you know why? When things go wrong, one of the ways you lose your peace is that you think maybe you are being punished. But look at the cross! All the punishment fell on Jesus. Another thing you may think is that maybe God doesn’t care. But look at the cross! The Bible gives you a God that says, “I have lost a child too; but not involuntarily – voluntarily, on the cross, for your sake. So that I could bring you into my family.”

In that hymn you can watch a man thinking, thanking and loving himself into the peace of God. It worked for him under those circumstances. It worked for Paul under his circumstances (Phil 4:6-13). It will work for you.

– Timothy Keller, “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering”, p.311-2

Declare your faith for those who are faithless


Earlier today I was listening to a sermon on Psalm 150 this afternoon. About halfway through, Daniel Montgomery made a good point regarding what we’re to do in our gathered worship:

And here’s the deal – what you notice in the “what” of praise [referring to who Psalm 150 is directed to], is that it’s not just about you. When we gather we respond to the Lord in singing, but we also according to Colossians 3:16, are called to “sing to one another.” See, there’s a corporate element that so many of us are missing.

So when we’re called to declare our faith, we’re called to declare our faith for those who are faithless when we gather. So when we have that opportunity to step into the reading of Scriptures and declare our faith — some of you are like, “Well I believe that” — well why don’t you state it for people that don’t?

When we gather and we lament, and some of you are like, “I’m not feeling down, I’m pretty good right now, I don’t need to pray that prayer”. But some are really hurting. Some are in hard relationships, or physically in despair. And they need you to lament with them. That’s simply obeying the command to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Firstly it reminded me to consider whether the choices of songs, prayers and readings at our church cover the spectrum of emotion that God’s people expressed in the Scriptures (especially the Psalter): rejoicing, celebration, but also lament, grief, repentance, even anger at God’s enemies.

And then the other thing was that I’ve recently had conversations with people who found it hard to sing songs of lament or about trials, when they were feeling fine. The speaker made a good point – we could instead adopt the biblical mindset of singing laments for those that need it, read statements of faith and creeds for those that don’t believe it. To declare our faith for those who are faithless.

Scriptures of comfort and strength


Some days I’m glad that the Bible speaks so honestly about suffering.

When I feel burdened with struggles, it’s worth meditating on one (or all) of these verses.

Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

The Lord wants us to give Him these burdens – He can carry them better than we can.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, ESV)

Cast your anxieties on Jesus – He cares intimately for you and knows your needs.

And how about Psalm 31:

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.” (Psalm 31:7-9)

Rejoice in the Lord’s love. He is aware of your distress and is not ignorant of your troubled heart.

Then verse 14:

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”

And David ends the psalm:

“Love the Lord, all you his saints!
The Lord preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 31:23-24)

A real prayer for fortitude.

Other passages that speak of comfort and strength include Psalm 46, 73, 130, 1 Peter 1:3-9, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (“boasting gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me”), Romans 5:3-5…

What other passages from God’s Word give you comfort and strength?

US Holiday/WG11 Conference – Covenant life, tears, crepes and goodbyes, Giant groceries

Our learning and growing didn’t stop after the conference. We attended one of Covenant Life’s morning services, had lunch with our UK friends, and checked out music instrument and guitar stores.

Covenant life


We learnt just as much on Sunday as any of our days at WorshipGod 11. Firstly, we got to obsere first-hand how their regular Sunday services were put together.

So what happens at a Covenant Life service? There are two meeting times, either at 9:00am or 11:30am. We attended the 9am and our experience was this:

  • Before the start of the service, one of the pastors (they have quite a few) led a pre-meeting prayer time. People are encouraged to come to the front of the auditorium, and pray together with the help of a particular passage of Scripture (this morning it was Phil 2). The pastor then opens the time in prayer.
  • Next, we sing two songs led by one of the church’s music teams, all contemporary bands. This morning it was led from the piano by Ken Boer (with guitars, bass, drums, synth and two vocalists).
  • One of the pastors come up to give any important notices (most were kept on noticeboards outside and on the website) and welcome any visitors. Each visitor was given a pen, a small bulletin-brochure with key church information and a guest card tear-off, and a CD with some essential Sovereign Grace songs. A very practical gift for first-timers.
  • The offering would be taken, at which there may be more singing before someone comes up to teach from Scripture.
  • Then there are one or two songs before the service concludes.

(A list of songs used on Sunday morning is made available on the Covenant Life Music and Worship blog.


While I learnt much about service structure etc, this was definitely not a normal Sunday morning. Some of you may know that Covenant Life Church is currently involved in a painful controversy that involves one of their founding pastors, CJ Mahaney, and the wider Sovereign Grace movement.

We were moved to tears as through the meeting the pastors devoted much time during the gathering to address these issues the church is going through.

(For those who need to know, it’s complicated and involves disagreements on the course of action taken by Covenant Life church’s eldership, and Sovereign Grace Ministries’ board of directors in response to allegations against CJ Mahaney’s leadership, character and purported sins. This Sunday morning Covenant Life announced that two of their pastors had resigned in protest at how this was being handled, and other issues. You can read more here.)

I cried as I thought of how in the midst of their troubles, they still gave to us so generously by hosting this conference, modeling our generous King. During the sermon, senior pastor Josh Harris taught from Colossians 3:9-15 and reminded us not to forget the big picture: our identities, and those of brothers and sisters we disagree with, are in Christ, not in the issues we disagree on.


Please keep Covenant Life Church in your prayers.

“When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine…”
How Firm A Foundation, closing song at Covenant Life Church, August 14

Crepes and goodbyes

After the morning meeting we said more goodbyes to people we’d met at Covenant Life, and then headed over to a a nearby suburb for some tasty crepes and ice creams with Fran and Matt Richley.

It’s been wonderful to meet these two blokes, and we wish we would be able to see them one day in the future. Cheryl loves many things Welsh so it’s a strong possibility we’ll plan to head there one day if the Lord wills.

Giant groceries


We spent a relaxing afternoon and evening buying requested items for friends, before exploring the local supermaket (this one was called Giant). There are so many weird things on sale that it was an experience in itself for us!

Next: DC take 2, travelling back, final reflections

Update (26/08/2011): here’s the full series of our time in the USA.

Part 1: Fly, land, drive
Part 2: train, jam, steak
Part 3: sing, meet, glory
Part 4: rehearse, seminars, NZ connection, Thabiti
Part 5: edify, songwrite, organise, gather live
Part 6: mission-focused meetings, instrument shopping
Part 7: Covenant Life, tears, crepes and goodbyes, Giant groceries
Part 8: DC take 2, travelling back, final reflections 


– William Chong

HBC service recap: 27 February 2011

(Here’s a recap of the service and the songs we chose this past weekend at Howick Baptist Church. You can find links to the set lists of this church and many other churches each week at theworshipcommunity.com. You can also read through previous HBC service recaps here.)


On Tuesday at 12:51 p.m., a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city of Christchurch:

At least 147 people have been confirmed dead and more than 200 people have been reported as missing as of 5:56pm local time, 27 February, making the earthquake one of the deadliest natural disasters in New Zealand’s recorded history. Prime Minister John Key stated that 22 February “may well be New Zealand’s darkest day”. Nationals from more than 20 countries are among those missing. The New Zealand Government declared a national state of emergency for the first time in New Zealand’s history. (via Wikipedia 28/2/2011)

How does the church then meet together in corporate worship in light of acute devastation and sorrow our whole country has been experiencing? With the earthquake weighing heavily on everyone’s minds, many of us (myself included) all needed to draw comfort from “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3-4). I think we all needed this reminder:

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe…” (Heb 12:28)


Order of Service (27/2/2011 AM)

(worship leader: William Chong)

Prayer for Christchurch. Peter and Joe led the church in prayer for the city, for the people, for the nation.
Scripture Reading – Psalm 46, Revelation 21:1-5. The first passage talks of God our fortress in the midst of the earth giving way. The other describes the new city of God that followers of Christ can look forward to, where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more.” What hope!

1. The Solid Rock – Edward Mote and William Bradbury. “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand!”
2. All I Have Is Christ – Jordan Kauflin. Someone commented that we should have done this song closer to the message, where a “gospel blockbuster” would usually be placed. However, given it was a busy service there was a possibility that a song would need to be cut, so we sang this earlier in the service to make sure it wouldn’t be this one!! Also it can be worthwhile shifting songs around a bit so the songs aren’t used in predictable, cookie-cutter ways (e.g., opening song with lights and big drums, always singing “Speak O Lord” before a message).
3. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (instrumental) – Helen Lemmel, Michael W Smith. We preceded this song with a moment of quiet prayer. It’s traditionally used as an invitation to respond to the gospel, but the words are equally apt to minister to weary saints.
4. There Is A Hope – Stuart Townend. There is not much more you need to say after singing:

“When sufferings cease and sorrows die and every longing satisfied then joy unspeakable will flood my soul for I am truly home.”

Sermon: John Lennox. We were privileged to have Professor Lennox (Oxford University) as the guest speaker. He spoke directly about the topic of the goodness of God in light of evil in this world. You can watch/listen to the message here.

5. It Is Well With My Soul – Horatio Spafford. After hearing how loud the church sang, I think the roof will definitely need fixing this year!


I’ll write more in a separate post about some big lessons I learnt from preparing for this week’s service (including specific questions about choosing songs in light of a tragic event). For now, it’s just great to have been a part of it all!

UPDATE: Click here to read some further lessons I’m still learning in light of leading worship after an earthquake.


– William