Tag Archives: faith

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.

Still Learning Through Suffering (A Life & Health Update)

God has moved in my life in mysterious ways, to teach me lessons I would not have learned by any other means. I have a wandering heart; I have an idolatrous heart. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love, here’s my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above,” is a song that I can sing and mean.

After Liza was born (you can read about that treacherous pregnancy here), I was done with suffering. I needed a chance to breathe, settle, heal, and adapt to life again with a newborn. The trials were behind me, and it was onward and upward, or so I thought. We had sleepless nights (of course) and nursing difficulties (again), but those things were expected, and I was just content to finally have my girl in my arms. That first month was hard, recovering not only from a C-section, but from the horrific pelvic separation I get during pregnancy. I remember having NO idea how I was going to care of this baby, but my resourceful husband tied a sturdy basket to my walker with soft blankets inside, and that is how I got her around our house the first month. It was difficult, but it was happy, so happy.

I don’t think Liza was more than a month old when my church split. Blogger Land isn’t the place to divulge all that, but let it suffice to say it was sudden, unexpected, and drastic. It was upheaval that I certainly wasn’t looking for at the time, and it shook me.

I was tired then, really tired, but who isn’t tired with a newborn who has her days and nights mixed up? But then one night, when Liza was 2 months old, I fainted and my husband couldn’t wake me up. He called 911 and I woke up by the time they arrived, but fainted again when I got to the hospital. My hemoglobin had crashed dangerously low, and I needed a blood transfusion.

I continued to be tired, and honestly, I have been tired ever since, and have especially struggled to raise my iron levels.

Somewhere in the mix of this, I realized Liza was not meeting her milestones. At three months old she still couldn’t raise her head off my chest at all, and wasn’t able to turn her head to look to the side well either. I didn’t handle that realization well at first. Why couldn’t I move past these long years of difficulty? Why would God put me through all these difficulties, and then place me in a situation where I worried daily for the baby I had waited so long for? I felt like all my happy moments were being tainted by the foreboding that hovered in the back of my mind, and I was driving myself crazy over it.

But you know what? God taught me about surrendering while I waited for that little peach to lift her head. He worked in my heart to accept whatever His hand had in store, and not to worry or be afraid. He took that worry from me, and when she was four months she finally lifted her head. And guess what? At 15 months old, she has started walking. She is doing great, and I have had extra joy at all of her milestones.

I turned 30 last September, and wrote about some of the lessons I learned in my twenties here. What I didn’t say, is that I really hoped, and even believed, that somehow the dawn of my thirties could mean the start of easier happiness. I don’t know if that expression makes any sense to you, but it does to me. Maybe my health issues could stay behind me. Maybe I could succeed in some of my goals. Travel somewhere. Further my education. Publish a book. Run around freely with my kids. Hike mountains with my husband.

Man I hate when the things I hope for in this life turn to disappointment. But I’m still just 30 right? There’s a lot of space between here and 40. Hoping can be such a difficult and painful endeavor.

Well, I think we have found the reason for my ceaseless exhaustion. I had a scope done through my throat and into my stomach before Christmas, which showed blood in the stomach and a large tumor which can be seen pressing into my stomach, changing the shape- kind of like how a fist pressing into a balloon would appear on the inside. The doctor said it has likely been developing for years, and it will need to come out. Continue reading

The Desolation of Smug

Trials have a way of killing smugness. I suppose some little wave crashes upon a boulder and he doesn’t feel it much. But there are waves that beat upon a stone without relent, and sometimes he thinks “I’m surely going to crash into this sea like so many tiny pebbles do.”

It’s the long relentless trials, often repeated, in which desperate men cry out for deliverance with parched throats and eyes that dim of scanning the horizon (Psalm 69:3)- these are the trials which put a knife to smugness.

To be smug is to “be contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.” You can see it in the life of people who store up their treasures and say to themselves “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:20).” We see it in those who simply live without acknowledging God or His ways, fill up their measure of sin, and tell themselves “He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us (Jeremiah 5:12).”

It’s easy to identify smugness in unbelievers isn’t it? And we might have some patience for that, since after all, they don’t know God. But there are some sins, or struggles the smug believer thinks he or she would never be tried with. The things “good” and “real” Christians just don’t do, or even think of doing. Good Christians don’t get divorced. They don’t curse, or hit things, or hit others. They don’t hurt themselves or have “mental breakdowns.” Good Christians aren’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs to dampen the pain and difficulties of life. They don’t get bitter. They don’t experience large scale moral failures. The “true” Christian doesn’t question God’s purposes and never thinks- “perhaps a different path would have led to a happier, easier life.” That “real” Christian never has doubts about His God or His faith.

The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.

The problem is not that he despises the thought of ever sinning or struggling in such ways, but rather that his trust is in himself, and his attitude towards failing believers is one of quick readiness to judge and deem them cut off. But trials are not so easy and glamorous a tool of refining believers as sometimes they are made to sound. People talk about their victories but we often don’t hear how trials will prove you ugly before they start to make you pure. Consider this excerpt from a poem I have written reflecting on this topic:

“Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?
To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?
Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?”

When a Christian goes into the boiling pot and stays in it for a long time, God will undoubtedly grow and refine that Christian. I look back on this long trial with chronic pain and I see a hundred idols slain. But it is not as if they crumbled down themselves. They’ve been slain through tears, constant battle, and much travail in prayer. The longer I go through the trials, the more I see that there is no temptation uncommon to men (1Corinthians 10:13), and there is no temptation or sinful thought too sinful for myself. I see those idols slain, but I know their root lies in my own heart and when my eyes go off my God how quickly they resurrect. I see that this battle isn’t won until I finally find myself safe in the arms of God. I will overcome and conquer one doubt or one sinful wish, but it will rear its head again. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as killing a sin (including smugness!) once and for all. When you’re living in a trial it is constant war and you must kill the flesh daily or quickly lurch towards destruction.

If it were not for God you’d find my faith somewhere dashed upon a rock. I’m certain of it. Trials have had their way of desolating smugness in me, but there is (thank God!) a higher rock than I (Psalm 61:2). Smugness and security are not the same thing. Eternal security- the promise of God that He who began a work of salvation in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)- is my hope and joy. It is my confidence in the day of trouble.

My confidence is a person. My trust is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll echo these words from hymnist John Berridge:

“Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed…
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash the ship-
It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.”

About the smug heart, I have written previously:

Did you think endurance
Meant to never fall?
So with steady steps
To conquer all?
So worthily you might
Win the crown?
And say at last
“Was me who won
By never falling down”?
The valiant and strong
Shall win the prize!
All Heaven will esteem me
With their eyes!

Do you see how that attitude differs from the Christian who has seen they are a ship who left to their own will drift off in the turbulent seas and be dashed? Oh, but even if he drift for a time, even if the winds, and waves, and fiends assail him, and he approaches his shore as one almost sunk- be it certain, Christ will bring him safe on shore. He is not lost.

That is the hope I’m clinging to, and am learning to embrace with godly fear- fear that takes seriously the warnings in scripture that urge us not to fall away, while clinging to the only Savior who can sustain our hope, our faith, and our strength. Eternal security is not a doctrine that leads to sin, unless we have careless hearts which cast ourselves on a doctrine rather than a person (Christ), with an attitude of smugness. That is dangerous, and a real threat. But when shattered hearts lean into the Everlasting Arms, resting safe and secure from all alarms, that indeed, is a beautiful thing. God who sees the heart knows the difference.

I end with a portion of scripture that seems fitting:

1Corinthians 10:12-14 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go: A Hymn For The Weary and Discouraged

One of the reasons I love this hymn, written in 1882 by George Matthison, is for its rich poetic content. If you like, here is the story surrounding the hymn. The lyrics deserve to be read slowly, and you will find Chris Rice’s version of the song below.

“O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.”

A verse that comes to my mind is Psalm 119:25 “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word.” The composer is a weary soul, a flickering torch, in pain, in rain, laying down in the dust, feeling as though this life’s glory is dead. But he knows what he needs. And he knows that what he needs will not be found within himself. He knows there is another source. Continue reading

Nevertheless: Your Failure and God’s Faithfulness

Psalm 73:21-16 “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

During our engagement my husband and I endured a messy and painful departure from our church. Conflict seemed to be on every side, but we happily found a new church to call home, and were largely consumed by the thrill of anticipating our coming marriage. It was a difficult season, but the purposes of God seemed clear, and His faithfulness to us was apparent.

One year into our marriage I found myself in a very different place. My career put me in a physically threatening environment, and I was overrun with anxiety. Others seemed to handle it with relative ease, while I was feeling affected by it even on my days off. Then there was the pain- constant and especially bad whenever I tried to sit still or lie in bed. It began from out of nowhere on our honeymoon, and continued to worsen relentlessly without explanation. I had developed intense insomnia, to the degree that several nights of the week I did not sleep at all. At one point I had gone 72 hours without a minute’s rest, and bear in mind, that meant not a one minute break from the pain. All this despite the prescription sleeping pills and painkillers, that I was frustratingly becoming addicted to. Continue reading

The Death of Christ: Our Example

2 Peter 2:20-21 “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

How often have you considered that the manner in which Jesus Christ suffered and died has been recorded that you might follow His example? The cross is the apex of everything. It is humility pressed to the farthest extreme. Selflessness poured out in blood. Forgiveness in the face of false accusations, ridicule, and torture. Trust in God even when His presence is not felt, even when it feels He has turned His back. Resistance against all temptations to escape the Father’s will when it is tremendously costly. It is love, with every stumble beneath the weight of a cross, with every pounding of the nails, with all that He fulfilled like a lamb lead to the slaughter who did not open up His mouth(Isaiah 53:7). It is the pinnacle of obedience and faith; You will not find a better example. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6).” Where do we turn when we feel like the cost is too high? When we want to give up? We look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).” We “consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that (we) may not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:3).” Continue reading

Created for Good Works

 

Probing Questions

Imagine for one moment that everyone who knows you was going to judge whether or not you are a Christian. But instead of basing this on your profession of faith, church attendance, or theology, they are going to base their analysis on your deeds.

Not on how kind you are, and not by the sins you refrain from either. They are going to judge you based on outward actions of faith, motivated by love and mercy.

How would you do?

Continue reading

Wishing

Many times I have found myself wishing for a stronger desire for God. I wish I had a stronger desire to fellowship with Him, to serve Him, worship Him, and to read and obey His Word.

 I use the word “wish” because I’ve realized that sometimes that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Wishing. And in case you didn’t know, wishing really doesn’t get you anywhere. Continue reading

Can Unbelievers Please God?

There are scriptures that proclaim the love that God has for human beings so lavishly that it almost feels wrong.  Once a person understands what they were in their natural state before God it seems unthinkable that God would set His affection so highly on such fallen creatures.  We will get into these stunning scriptures soon, but first I want to ask:  Who does God delight in?  Who does He take pleasure in? Continue reading

Prayer Answered by Crosses

I read this poem probably five years ago and have come back to it many times.  It’s easy to see the loving care of God when He answers our prayers the way we want them to be answered.  Sometimes we pray “Your will be done” but in our hearts we really mean “but please, please, please do this the way I want.” When things don’t turn out that way we feel like God didn’t hear us.  When times are extremely difficult we may be tempted to ask “Doesn’t He love me?”

This poem helped show me what it means to pray with the Glory of God as the highest aim in mind.  “Lord, whatever it takes- glorify yourself in me.  Ultimately Lord, do what it takes to receive the most glory from this situation.”  Oftentimes that process means God opens our eyes to our own sinfulness and uses trials to reveal areas where we need to grow in faith, love, hope and trust in the Lord.

Prayer Answered by Crosses
By John Newton

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.

‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray;
And he, I trust, has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that, in some favoured hour,
At once he’d answer my request,
And by his love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea, more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this? I trembling cried;
Wilt thou pursue this worm to death?
This is the way, the Lord replied
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I now employ
From self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.

Note: This post is 4 years old. God has continued to use this poem in my life and to my great delight I discovered that Indelible Grace has a wonderful rendition of this, which I wanted to share below. There are so many things I could say in reflection on this song, but truly, it speaks for itself.