How D. L. Moody endured his most frightening crisis

The world is in lockdown, which makes it a great time to read. We may not have jobs, movies, sport, and takeout food, but we still have books. Thank you, Jesus.

I’ve been reading a biography on D.L. Moody, the great American evangelist. I have no doubt that the present crisis would not have troubled him greatly. Moody went through more than his share of trials. In the middle of the 19th century, several cholera epidemics afflicted Chicago. The bacteria were so virulent, that otherwise healthy people would die within hours of getting infected. Yet Moody would visit and pray for the sick without fear of death.

During the American Civil War, D.L. Moody preached to soldiers and POWs. He ministered on battlefields and field hospitals. He told his biographer, “I had been under fire without fear.” Surrounded by dying men, Moody saw only opportunities to preach the gospel.

In 1871, Moody lost his home, his church building, and most of his possessions in the Great Chicago Fire. The fire tore through his neighborhood so swiftly that he and his family barely had time to flee. It must’ve been a frightening experience, yet one does not get this impression from reading Moody’s account of it. Instead, he tells a funny story about how his wife insisted he rescue a portrait of himself.

Moody faced grave dangers without fear, but one crisis proved too much to bear.

In 1892, after preaching a series of meetings in London, Moody and his son were on a steamer heading to New York. Three days into a rough crossing there was a loud bang. The drive shaft had broken and the ship was taking on water. The crew raced to seal off flooded compartments, but the vessel was beyond saving. With its bow high in the air, its stern settled low in the water.

Since radios had not yet been invented, there was no way to call for help. The lifeboats were prepared, but the captain was reluctant to launch them. The seas were so heavy that the little boats would likely not survive.

“The ship was absolutely helpless,” said Moody. “The passengers could only stand still on the poor drifting, sinking ship and look into our possible watery graves.” As the ship drifted out of shipping lanes, all hopes of rescue began to fade. Even Moody became anxious.

That was an awful night, the darkest of our lives – several hundred men, women, and children waiting for the doom that seemed to be settling upon us! No one dared to sleep. The agony and suspense were too great for words. Rockets flamed into the sky, but there was no answer. Every hour seemed to increase the danger of the situation.

Compounding matters, was a recently diagnosed heart condition. Overworked and overweight, Moody had visited an eminent physician in London. The doctor detected irregularities in his heartbeat and urged him to reduce his heavy workload. “Too much stress and you could die,” said the physician. Now tossed on the violent sea, Moody stared death in the face. He was afraid.

I had thought myself superior to the fear of death, but on the sinking ship it was different. There was no cloud between my soul and my Savior. I knew my sins had been put away, and that if I died there it would only be to wake up in heaven. But as my thoughts went out to my loved ones at home and as I realized that perhaps the next hour would separate me forever from all these, I confess it almost broke me. It was the darkest hour of my life. I could not endure it.

What Moody did next changed everything. He prayed. “I think everybody prayed,” said Moody. “Sceptics and all.”

On the reeling vessel, Moody wrapped his arm around a pillar and led the passengers in prayer. “I tried to read Psalm 91, and we prayed that God would still the raging of the sea and bring us to our desired haven.”

That night he prayed for relief from his fears and relief came. Supernatural peace flooded Moody’s soul. It no longer mattered whether he lived or died. All was well. “I went to bed, fell asleep almost immediately, and never slept more soundly in all my life.” Like Jesus, Moody slept through the storm.

At three in the morning he was woken by his son. A light from another ship had been spotted. Deliverance was at hand.

Moody’s story provides us with a timely lesson. You may have come through crisis after crisis, but how are you handling this crisis? Do you feel as though your ship is sinking beneath you? Are people looking to you for comfort but you’ve got nothing? You don’t know what to do?

Follow Moody’s example and do the one thing you can do: pray. It seems a cliché, but how often do we forget to pray? How many days have I struggled and then, like a slow-learner, finally remembered to bow my head in prayer?

Someone once said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” We might amend that to say, courage is fear that has remembered to pray.

On the stricken vessel, Moody prayed from Psalm 91. That psalm must surely be the world’s most popular psalm right now. My favorite verse is this one:

He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. (Ps. 91:15)

God does not promise to keep our ships afloat, but he does promise to be with us. Which is better, when you think about it. As the old song says, “With Christ in my vessel I can smile at the storm.”

How do we pray in times of crisis? “Call upon me,” says our Deliverer. That’s it. You don’t need to follow a formula or read someone else’s prayer. Just call on the Lord any way you can using any words you like. Remind yourself that he is your refuge and fortress (Ps. 91:2).

Make Jesus your resting place, and all will be well. You will sleep in the storm.

One last thing: A few weeks before his fateful voyage, D.L. Moody preached a classic sermon entitled “Saved by Grace Alone.” It’s a masterpiece of cross-cultural evangelism. I have edited his sermon for 21st century readers and written a back story. The ebook is available for the next few days exclusively on Patreon. Check it out.

Not a patron? Now is an excellent time to join. You can get instant access to a treasure trove of resources including bonus articles, study notes, drafts of forthcoming chapters, and more. Plus you’ll become a partner in this gospel, at a time when the world desperately needs to hear the good news.

12 Comments on How D. L. Moody endured his most frightening crisis

  1. Peter Wilson // April 8, 2020 at 2:06 am // Reply

    What a man DL Moody was! His is an exciting story to read!
    Thank you Paul for your brill summary that brought back memories of reading his life story!
    He was a very bold man & at times bordered on arrogant, yet wasn’t afraid to apologise for his mistakes even if it meant apologising before the whole world!
    That is a man you can follow!
    Thank You! 👌😊

  2. Just as like the book of Job I see this, to not deny God at all, even though the emotions in me might try to say to do that/
    The peace that passes all understanding to be able to say, whether I die now or stay, I am the Lord’s

    Romans 14 73lls me this truth and it is whether or not one believes this or not.
    All that is left after Jesus’s death for all the world, where all sin got and is still taken out of the way of Father to be with us here and now forever whether we leave or not

    Thanks Paul, for this writing of facing troubles head on in standing in belief trust to God above it all

    For Jesus overcame it all for us to stand in that, Even in troubles as he did too. Never denied Father, kept it up in beleif for Father’s will to be done not his or anyone else

    Amen to Father and Son that is risen where we are given new life to be led new in,
    Not of the self any longer, as from first day in beleif the new has begun to not deny God no matter what comes up, even death.

  3. Perfect timing: so good! Thank you for this.

  4. Ambangira Edson // April 8, 2020 at 6:21 am // Reply

    Ryan Holiday says “The obstacle is the way- what stands in the way, becomes the way”. The art of turning adversity into advantage. Jesus said. Men ought to always Pray-(Luke 18:1). Thank you Dr Paul. Love you

  5. I love you brother Paul. It was your gospel message “Out of the Jungle” that preached the best news I have ever heard and that’s when I was saved in Christ there in my dismal cube deep within a windowless cellar in a secure govt building. God has used you mightily in sharing the fantastic news of His amazing grace and I will always consider you one of my best friends though we may not meet until heaven.

    I receive all Grace believers as brethren. I must tell you that, since being saved, I developed a slightly different doctrine than most grace believers. A book by CR Stam, “Things that differ” was revolutionary for me, and I know you probably don’t agree with some of its doctrine, but I would hope and pray that you wouldn’t allow that to prevent our fellowship in the shared good news of salvation by Grace alone through faith in Christ alone.

    Thank you and God bless you brother Paul for all you do in your most blessed ministry. In Him,
    Joe Conaghan

  6. I love this that you reworded- “courage is fear that has remembered to pray”, may I repost with credit to your name?

  7. This is so good. Thank you Bro. Ellis!

  8. Božo Levanat // April 12, 2020 at 6:26 pm // Reply

    Happy Easter everyone! Christ has risen!

  9. Thank you paul,am in peace after reading this during this pademic,sometimes i feel so weak and unable to pray but thanks for this great reminder,that i only need to call upon him,no formular,just pray,,your articles are so liberating,,countinue spreading the good news,,thank you,from kenya

  10. He is willing and able to save us. What power does corona or anything else have in the light of His life? His life is a good place to rest. Words and prayers some times help to get us back there. Thank you, Paul, for always being a source of encouragement.

  11. These past several weeks I’ve been wavering in my faith, wondering if I’m even right with God and prepared spiritually for what will happen, questioning whether my prayers are heard or even if I’m praying correctly. This is a good reminder to not seek comfort and assurances from man, but learn to trust and release my cares to Jesus and rest.

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