How are you, friends? I’ve been slowly working my way through summer reading goals only because there’s a select group of books worth the extra time. I’m not great at recall, so note taking is my best friend and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!
If you’re anything like me, you find encouragement in the lives and stories of people who, even as they weather life’s storms, can say without duplicity: “You’re a good, good Father”. These are the Jobs of the world, seeking shelter in the never-changing faithfulness of God, knowing we don’t just set our sights on a desired outcome but rather on the promise that He is working everything for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). Being convinced He uses all things, testing and blessing, as the mold by which we are “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29), these men and women are confident that through thick and thin, He will be faithful to complete His good work in them as they abide in Him. (Phil. 1:6). More than platitudes, this is the rock solid hope for every child of God. Each of us is meant to follow in the footsteps of Job, unfaltering in trust and even worshipful in suffering (Job 1:21).
But, let’s be honest — it’s not always easy to embrace this upside-down thinking, especially when it’s so very different from what we’re told “living our best life” should look like. It is a mystery of grace.
“We take comfort,
however, that mystery
is not a synonym
Turns out, these ordinary people show us with extraordinary example what it genuinely means to live, regardless of everything implied by comparison in those little squares on IG! This beautiful life, showered in goodness and often visited by hard stuff, is far too layered and abstruse to ever really fit on our itty-bitty screens .
And so, meet William Cowper. But before you start reading and decide mid-way to stop because his story seems heavy, I want to say the purpose of this post is ultimately to introduce you (or re-introduce as may be the case) to poetic truth at its best! So, keep reading — I think you’ll be glad you did.
Born in England in 1731, Cowper and his younger brother John were only two of seven children who survived past infancy. When he was six years old, his mother, Ann, died during childbirth. A devastated and heartbroken William, whose later poetry showed just how deeply he mourned his mother’s death, went on to spend his childhood in boarding schools where he was relentlessly bullied. Later, this melancholy young man, pressured to pursue studies in law to which he was (in his own words) “never really inclined”, found himself at the start of a lifelong battle with acute, and at times, life-threatening depression. For many, that may have been the end of the story. Not so for Cowper.
It was during an extended treatment in St. Albans in 1764 for a particularly severe bout with depression that Cowper found new life in Christ. The following year he moved to Olney where he met clergyman John Newton. Newton would prove to be one of his closest life-long friends. During a particularly deep and protracted low point, and in an attempt to lift his spirits, Newton suggested they co-write a book of hymns. After all, poetry was Cowper’s true calling. And oh, did they ever write! Their collaborative work, Olney Hymns, first published in 1779, included Newton’s “Amazing Grace” and Cowper’s “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”.
Although his story continued to unfold without the cloud ever lifting, through it all he poured himself into writing; such prolific works that provide glimpses into a walk of hope and trust. I wonder what an @willcowper IG account might have looked like. After all, they say “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Lucky for us we’re left with his thousands of words instead.
To me, Cowper’s hymn “God Moves In a Mysterious Way” is unmatched in it’s poetic truth. As you read it, you’re certain to see the striking picture he paints of life’s valleys as they are yoked to loving providence. His journey taught him that testing always operates in tandem with Divine wisdom. Knowing a little more about the man behind the hymn only makes it more beautiful — he wrote from a deep understanding of the higher purpose of suffering and the faithfulness of God’s sustaining love in it all. William Cowper knew more than most about both.
God Moves in a Mysterious Way
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 sovereign 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 flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.