God Moves in a Mysterious Way

A friend of mine shared her recent journey and struggle in discerning what God is doing in the midst of a challenging work situation.  She doesn’t understand why he hasn’t moved her on to something else yet, but He hasn’t.
Waiting for the Breakthrough
It’s been quite difficult accepting this and she anticipates a hard few months as there is much work to be done and her heart is not currently in what lies ahead.  While grateful for a job and for serving with so many gifted people, she prays that her heart is right, that God uses her for His purposes, and that she learns what she needs to.
As I thought about and prayed for her in the place she finds herself, the Holy Spirit continued to bring to mind the first verse of a hymn I learned at Wheaton College when I joined Women’s Chorale: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” by William Cowper.
Women’s Chorale circa 1984
There’s a choral version of it here you may want to play as you continue to read:
We sang the first verse again and again while our director, Dr. Mary Hopper, placed each of us in just the right spot for the best blending of our voices:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

She’d listen and then ask one of us to move next to another. We’d continue singing the first verse–not stopping–and she’d move a soprano from the back down one row:

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

Then a 1st Alto to the left two people:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
…and again, until we were in our right places next to the voices where ours would resonate most beautifully and we were singing together the most glorious sound.
I hadn’t remembered the lines from the other stanzas. Reading them today for the first time in decades, I’m stunned by their truth and hopeful encouragement. I’m also taken by the exercise of Dr. Hopper–who was demonstrating, perhaps without realizing so–this moving and shifting while we kept singing…wondering what she was doing, why it was taking so long, if the slight adjustments really were making that much difference, and when she’d be finished.
But she knew what she was doing, why it was necessary, and what beauty would emerge.
So, I offered my dear friend to “fresh courage take…” and all of these beautiful lines:
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.
~
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.
~
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
~
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
William Cowper
I don’t know if this is true, but this is re­port­ed­ly the last hymn Cow­per ev­er wrote, with a fas­cin­at­ing (though un­sub­stan­ti­at­ed) story be­hind it. Cow­per oft­en strug­gled with de­press­ion and doubt. One night he de­cid­ed to end his life by drown­ing him­self. He called a cab and told the driv­er to take him to the Thames Riv­er. How­ev­er, thick fog came down and pre­vent­ed them from find­ing the riv­er (ano­ther ver­sion of the story has the driv­er get­ting lost de­liber­ate­ly). After driv­ing around lost for a while, the cab­by fin­al­ly stopped and let Cow­per out. To Cowper’s sur­prise, he found him­self on his own door­step: God had sent the fog to keep him from kill­ing him­self. Even in our black­est mo­ments, God watch­es over us.
~~
After reading this poem my friend shared she read the lyrics to the song over and over, trying to decide which verse is her favorite, and can’t.  She wrote, “They are all so rich and encouraging.  And the story of how your director would patiently place each person right where she wanted her is an amazing picture of what, I believe, God is doing with so many of us, these days.  I’m anxious to see what will come of it all…even though we may not know this side of heaven.”
A week or two later, Dr. Hopper was in town for a meeting. It had been years since I’d seen her, though we’ve kept in touch. My boys and I made the drive downtown to visit (and for them to meet her for the first time). It was a treat catching up and recounting old stories. I mentioned this hymn and how it had ministered to me 25+ years ago and as recently as last week. As I told her the story of my friend, what I experienced in Women’s Chorale, and what God is still teaching me through these remarkable words…I couldn’t continue. Her eyes…and my own…were filled to the brim.
It was another holy moment…shared with a dear friend; a recognition of God at work, mysterious, powerful, kind. Ye fearful saint–if you find yourself wondering/grasping for a glimpse of the Divine–fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.
~
Amen.

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