I heard hymns for the first time at the age of eleven. Up until then, I didn’t have any spiritual influences in my life. My parents were unbelievers and never went to church. Then God graciously saved my mother, and she began to take my brother and me to church as often as she could. I found this newfound zeal to take us to church odd and a bit annoying. Looking back now I am very grateful for my mom’s persistence. God blessed her faithfulness in getting me under the preaching of the gospel and graciously saved me when I was thirteen. The songs and hymns we sang at church took on a completely new meaning! I remember the words speaking very distinctly to my soul, but many of the truths they taught were not yet real to me. I was astounded that so many hymn writers spoke of hardship, grief, and sorrow. At that stage of my life such things were pretty foreign to me.
But as we all learn as the years pass, life is full of troubles. We wouldn’t classify them all as “hardship, grief, and sorrow,” of course. But even when everyday cares wear us down, our souls are grateful for the encouragement found in a favorite hymn. And when truly difficult things rock our lives, we appreciate more than ever the hymns that were written by those who knew what it was to suffer.
I love many hymns, but one that continues to speak deeply to me, especially in the last several years, is “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Written by William Cowper, an Englishman who wrestled with life-long depression, it paints a beautiful picture of the faith that sustained him.
The first two stanzas speak especially of God’s sovereignty:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sov’reign will.
I cannot know all the “whys” of the events in my life, even though my flesh wants to. What I do know is that our God is King over all, working His perfect, sovereign will with impeccable and beautiful design. The hymn continues:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
When I am fearful because I don’t have control or because I’m dreading the future, the hymn advises me to meditate on the truth that my loving Father delights to show mercy and to surprise His people with overwhelming grace and blessings. When the way ahead is dark and I am tempted to let my thoughts run away with me, the hymn reminds me to trust the Lord.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
Instead of believing my plans are better than the Lord’s, I find joy and peace in submitting to my God, whose plan is perfect. Like Cowper, I have a precious, good, and wise Father who bears up with my lack of faith and my questioning spirit and who graciously shows me over and over that He can be trusted.
I am so grateful that God’s mysterious ways are always good ways! Though I have certainly tasted the bitterness of the trials He sends my way, I now know—more than I ever have before—the sweetness of His grace.
Mrs. Kim Wagner is the wife of Rev. John Wagner, minister of Covenant FPC, Columbia, SC.