“When peace, like a river, attendeth my soul;
When sorrows, like sea-billows roll–
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well–it is well– with my soul.'”
As I write this, all is not well with my life. I have bills looming, a car that keeps breaking down, a leaky roof, and I’m fighting to stay healthy. I worry about unhappy customers at work, my husband as he travels and faces danger on the job, about our aging and widowed mothers, and our kids and grandkids. All is not well with our nation– we have anger, division, violence, and strife; a breakdown of families, moral decay, and corruption. All is not well with our world–nations are at war, we are destroying our environment, and all the progress that was supposed to make our lives easier seems to have made life more complicated and frantic, instead.
But all is well with my soul–not because of anything I have done or anything I do– peace and assurance are mine solely through the grace of God, which he gives in abundance.
Prayer does not bring peace automatically, nor does its haphazard and occasional practice guarantee instant or lasting peace. Meditation, solitude, and other prayer-like exercises may bring a temporary calm, a respite, and a relief. Closing our eyes and laying our burdens at his feet can bring the same feeling. But prayer is more than just an exercise in making us feel better. It isn’t meant to take us away from our circumstances, or to hand them off to God while we waltz away from our burdens. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Coming to God in prayer doesn’t make burdens disappear. But it does mean that we no longer carry them alone, and that gives us rest for our souls. God is not in the business of making our lives easy, carefree, and comfortable. But he promises that as we share our lives with him, trusting that his ways are good and righteous, he will not only come alongside and share our burden, he will teach us and give us rest.
This is why the pursuit of prayer is so important. The discipline of daily and personal prayer teaches us how and where to find peace that lasts– peace that “passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7). Like the cool, refreshing water of a river soothes and gives life, so God’s grace flows into our lives as we walk and talk with him every day.