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.