Louisa Stead was born in Dover, England around 1850. From a young age, she felt compelled to mission work. She desperately wanted to serve as a missionary in China, but ill health prevented her from doing so.
At age 21, she moved to the United States, where she met her husband and, soon after, gave birth to a daughter, Lily.
One day, about four years later, the young family took a picnic basket to a nearby beach. When they heard frantic cries, they turned to see a young boy drowning in the sea. Mr. Stead unhesitatingly charged into the water to rescue the boy, but both he and the boy were overpowered by the currents and perished before the horrified eyes of Louisa and four-year-old Lily.
For the next little while, Louisa wrestled with God, wondering why he would allow such tragedy to strike. As she processed her thoughts in writing, they soon developed into the glorious lyrics with which we are so familiar:
1 ’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
just to take him at his word;
just to rest upon his promise;
just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”
2 O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
just to trust his cleansing blood;
just in simple faith to plunge me,
’neath the healing, cleansing flood.
3 Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
just from sin and self to cease;
just from Jesus simply taking
life, and rest, and joy, and peace.
4 I’m so glad I learned to trust thee,
precious Jesus, Saviour, Friend;
and I know that thou art with me,
wilt be with me to the end.
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him,
how I’ve proved him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust him more.
Not long after these events, Louisa left the United States and travelled to South Africa, where she served for fifteen years as a missionary in the Cape colonies. There, she met and married South African Robert Wodehouse. Her health forced the family back to return to the United States in 1895, where Robert took up the position of pastor in a local Methodist congregation. In 1900, they returned to Zimbabwe (then, Rhodesia) as missionaries. She died, after a long illness, on the Zimbabwean mission field. Lily, now married, continued to serve as a missionary in Zimbabwe for years to come.
As a single mother, Louisa struggled to take care of herself and Lily. She needed to learn what it means to trust Jesus and her hymn bears witness to that. The name of Jesus is mentioned no fewer than 25 times in the four stanzas of the original poem.
Psalm 33:20–22 directly addresses the need to trust God: “Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”
Someone once said, “Faith doesn’t always take you out of the problem, faith takes you through the problem. Faith doesn’t always take away the pain, faith gives you the ability to handle the pain. Faith doesn’t always take you out of the storm, faith calms you in the midst of the storm.
Trusting God in tough times is not easy, but it is the sweetest way to live. As you meditate on Psalm 33:20–22 this morning, ask God for the ability to sweetly trust him when life is bitter.