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God Moves In a Mysterious Way: A Hymn for the Depressed and Confused

I have probably never referenced a hymn more often on this blog, than this one. It is without a doubt my most loved hymn, and so I thought it deserved its own post. Here’s a brief article by Tim Challies about the author William Cowper, and you will find a link to a lengthier audio biography by John Piper here as well if you are interested.

Call it odd, but I love William Cowper as a brother, although he died centuries ago. I can’t wait to meet him in heaven and thank him for how his  hymns have impacted my life.

All I wanted to do here is go through the hymn line by line and share some thoughts to encourage people who are struggling to make sense of God’s plan for their lives. Perhaps tragedy has struck and you are left reeling, or maybe you struggle with depression and have no idea why it does not leave you. Or maybe you look around at this sin cursed earth and wonder how God’s hand is ruling over this at all. This is a song to sing from the pit, a song that moves us from doubt to faith. Maybe God would use it for you as He has so many times for me.

I waited patiently for the LORD;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.
-Psalm 40:1-3

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Sometimes God moves in a way that we cannot understand, in a way that doesn’t seem to make any sense. But out there in the turbulent seas, where you are not able to go, but can only imagine their fury, God has planted His footsteps firmly in the midst of the waves. He is in full control. He rides upon the storm like One controlling its’ every move and direction; Because He does.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

We stand as frail humans, confined by time. We have no idea what is ahead for us, or for our loved ones. Although we make our plans and imagine our futures, all can change for better or worse in an instant can’t it?

There is a secret, hidden mine of God’s wisdom and knowledge that we cannot comprehend in this life. The Lord alone knows the beginning from the end. What I love in the above lines is the acknowledgement that God is working all things out with “never failing skill,” foresight, and power. He is stacking the events of history and of your life, one on top of another, and He is building for Himself and for us a perfect and “bright design,” even when we stand blind to it.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Psalm 31:24 “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!”

It is imperative to my faith, to hope in the Lord. We have eternal hope, hope of Heaven and being with the Lord, but we need hope in our circumstances too. It makes a difference during dark and oppressive trials to look for the light. This reminds us not to lose heart and believe that God has nothing good for us, even today. Anticipate that the God who loves you has blessings in store, even when life hurts, and let your eyes search for them. Sometimes your eyes grow weary of searching, but these lines remind us not to quit.

Psalm 27:13 is another verse I quote often: “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!”

God is good when life is bad. And He will, with certainty, break the skies with blessings on your head in time, even if that happens in dying. Christians who hope in God will never be put to shame (Psalm 25:3), God will see to that.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

If you have never been here, you might be some day, and if you are, you need a song like this to sing. When everything in your body, mind, and circumstances screams out at you that God is angry with you, punishing you, and that He has turned His face away from you, then you lose sight of Him. You think of God and you see a frown.

Psalm 88:6-7 says “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.” Many believers have had times of feeling this way.

It is a horrible place to be friend. You need to sing this to yourself. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

I’ve sung this in time’s past, and thought “not fast enough Lord,” but sang it anyway. There is great faith at work here. Life might taste awful now, but one day it’s going to blossom into something beautiful. There’s an eternal weight of glory being stored up in Heaven while I’m down here being weighed down by trials- and it is going to be far weightier in glory than this was in pain (2 Corinthians 4:17). You can’t even imagine the work God is accomplishing through your pain, in this life and the next. That beauty will supersede your grief in such a magnificent way, you can know that one day you’ll say: “It was worth it.”

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

These are some hard, but kind lines, and they have put me in my place at times. Some trials in this life seem worse than worthless don’t they? They don’t seem to accomplish anything at all other than heartache. Maybe you have gone through something that has made you feel robbed of a very good and pure thing. That’s hard. You say that there is no way God could ever use this for good, because it is bad, very bad.

It’s ok to acknowledge that some seasons and events in life are bad, and sometimes the trials we are in make absolutely no sense to us. We live in a fallen world, full of sins that hurt us, poverty, disease, and death, and God never told us that we had to call those things good. We weren’t meant to be fallen creatures in a fallen world, and the result can be depression and confusion- yes even for Christians. The pain we are going through isn’t good on its own. It wasn’t part of God’s original design, and only through Him can it be redeemed and turned it into something beautiful in time.

You can run freely to God when life hurts and your mind is troubled. He already knows.  This hymn helps me to remember that, and to remember that God is good; He is in control even when life makes no sense, and one day, whether in this life or the next, He is going to make His purposes plain to us. “Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.”

I’m glad the bible doesn’t shy away from these themes, and I’m glad old hymn writers didn’t either. We need more songs today that doubting and downcast Christians can sing. Here’s a version of God Moves In a Mysterious Way that I enjoy, and I hope this has been encouraging for someone.

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Without God, Without Hope

I’m going to share three stories with you from my pre-conversion high school days.

I was at a local punk rock show, throwing my fists aimlessly and thrashing in a blur of spiked bracelets and colored mohawks. It was circulating that someone I didn’t know wanted to fight me because they heard I had a black belt in karate. I found that to be enormously entertaining, so at the break I wandered outside to find this person. When someone pointed me her direction I approached her asking “So I hear you want to fight me?” I didn’t know that she was drunk. Within seconds her and her two friends were on me, dragging me around the parking lot by my hair and kicking me. There was nothing I could do, and I was laughing.
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Does Exercising Discernment Cause Division?

Why What We Believe About God Matters

A.W. Tozer said “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What you believe about God will undoubtedly affect the way you think, act, and even feel. True knowledge about God comes from one source- the word of God applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

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The Terror of the Lord

Isaiah 2:19 “And people shall enter the caves of the rocks And the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the Lord, And from the splendor of His majesty, when He rises to terrify the earth.”

 We often hear the fear of God taught as “reverential awe,” and for Christians I think I understand why. The redeemed no longer fear judgement because we abide in God and His perfect love has cast out all fear of punishment (1John 4:16-18). But the same cannot be said of all those who are without Christ, for all who have not called on His name have the wrath of God abiding on them (John 3:36). To tell an unbeliever that the definition of fearing God is to stand in awe is a weakened and partial truth.

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A Soul Satisfying Endeavour

Evangelism doesn’t always make me feel happy- but it usually does. There have been times when the seemingly impenetrable condition of someone’s heart has left me deeply grieved. The most vulgar individual I ever met was a Pastor’s daughter. I turned around after witnessing to her and immediately burst into tears, feeling shocked, mortified, and spiritually drained. But most often, my experiences haven’t been too difficult. Continue reading

The Rich Man

He cradled the back of his head in his hands, propped up his feet and said “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.”

His investments had multiplied, assets increased, and businesses all profitably ran themselves. But what should he do with all this wealth? His children were well taken care of… there were grandchildren coming soon, he hoped. “I will secure a future for myself, my children, and my children’s children. I will say to my soul ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”    Continue reading

The Wrath of God Impersonalized

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A great disservice we have done for the hearts of men is to impersonalize the attributes of God.  God is no longer angry at people, just angry at sin.  His fury is aimed at Satan for deceiving you and placing “strongholds” on your life, more than His fury is headed for you.  It is almost as if sin (if talked about at all) has become an entity of itself, divided from the human heart.  It is talked about more as something unfortunate that happens to us, rather than something that we nurture and cherish and willingly act upon.  Uncomfortable as it may be, we need to stop impersonalizing sin and the wrath of God.

Romans 2:5 “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed.”

God will not pour out wrath on some abstract embodiment of “sin” but on sinners.  If we don’t recognize this, we will not “foul… to the fountain fly” saying “wash me Saviour or I die.”  If we don’t personalize sin as the overflow of our own hearts, and the wrath of God as headed directly at us, we will also impersonalize the cross.  We need to understand wrath, to understand the purpose of Jesus’ death, which leads us to the next point to follow in this article: We need to understand God’s wrath in order to understand His love.

The Love and Just Anger Of God

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Introduction

“The love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable.  The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized…” – D.A Carson in “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.”

In our culture the love of God is often exalted above the Holiness, Justice, and Righteousness of God.  Most Christians are comfortable enough to tell unbelievers that God loves them, but not to tell them that He hates sin.  The love of God has been so emphasized, and diminished to human standards and imaginations, that even many Christians cannot answer questions such as: “How can a loving God send anyone to Hell? “ or “If God is loving why is there so much suffering in the world?”

As much as the “love of God” is preached from pulpits, we lack foundational understanding about what the Biblical love of God truly is.  Not only this, but the lack of preaching God’s equally as great and worthy attributes, gives us an imbalanced view of God’s character and frequently causes men to distort the gospel.  The “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, so simply accept Him into your heart,” gospel, is directly related to men’s feelings that telling people about sin and Hell is unloving.  In his book “If God is Good” Randy Alcorn accurately states “If we imagine it unloving to speak of Hell, we imagine Jesus to be unloving.”

The cross is about love and justice.  When justice is left out of the message, the gospel is incomplete and powerless to save anyone. 

On the other side, there are many Christians who embrace “Reformed” theology, who like me are concerned and at times agitated by the misrepresentation of God as a God of love only, and man as a creature deserving of that love.  When a Christian discovers that popular teachings are erroneous, it is so common and natural to swing as far away from that way of thought as possible, until you end up at the total opposite extreme.  For example, a person irritated by the “sentimentalized” gospel might de-personalize God, making Him seem like a God far-off and hesitant to draw near to sinful people.  Where one man overemphasizes the love of God, he will preach almost exclusively that God is “angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11).”  While one preacher makes it so easy to come to Christ that a sinner needs no sorrow over sin nor willingness to commit their life to Him at all, another preacher overly stresses that the way is so hard and so narrow, you cannot come ‘till you have unceasingly agonized over sin and made certain that this reluctant God is actually letting you into Heaven.

It has been my experience, reading the Bible, that every attribute of God is way beyond human capacity.  He is extreme in every way.  What I mean is this: He is not extremely just and angry, but only a little bit loving and merciful.  Nor does His love overcome Him so much that He lays aside or forgets that He is also extremely just and righteous.  So here is my attempt to think Biblically and preach accurately about the love of God.  To truly do this requires a foundational understanding about the anger and justice of God.

Part 6: His Call For You

1Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

We discussed above that it is salvation that Jesus talked about as being impossible for men, but possible with God.  You may have tried in your own strength and wisdom to comprehend the Bible and even to live like a Christian and found yourself greatly discouraged and frustrated.  Such was the case with me.  You cannot rightly understand the gospel, nor respond to it, in and of your own desire or striving.  It must be spiritually understood, and this can only be granted as a gift from God.  Our lack of capability serves a glorious purpose: “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1Cor 1:29),”and “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1Cor 2:5).” Continue reading

Part 5: His Call Is For All, But Not All Will Come

John 7:37 “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

Matthew 11:28-29 “Come to me, all who labour 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.”

Romans 10:13 “For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Matthew 16:24 “If anyone would come after me…”

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