William Cowper struggled mightily with depression, which led to several suicide attempts. However, he has left us with some wonderful hymns. One that is often quoted in books I read is “God Works in Mysterious Ways”, and this verse:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
Tim Challies writes of the hymn that it is “a combination of assertions about God’s goodness, sovereignty and wisdom along with commands to take courage and trust in him. Cowper’s use of the metaphors of storms, mines, smiles, and flowers illustrate this meaning in a timeless way. The hymn is a beautiful expression of the kind of faith that sustained Cowper through long periods of darkness and despair.”
I thought of this hymn recently after a visit with some dear friends from church, whom we had gone to visit to encourage. She has been battling stage 4 colon cancer for almost three years, longer now than the prognosis for life she had been given by the doctors. And about the time she was diagnosed with cancer, he had a heart attack and resulting surgery. I tell you that we had gone to encourage them, but if truth be told, it was them that encouraged us, through their courage, faith, trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness.
This has happened before. Many years ago as Hospice volunteers, we would go to a local hospital once a week to serve the patients in Hospice care and their families. Inevitably, we would be surprised at how we were encouraged, especially by the family members as they sat with their loved ones during the last weeks of their lives. Yes, God does work in mysterious ways.
Recently, as we visited with our friends we heard stories of God’s bountiful provision. We heard of the love and generosity of her sister, who has provided a place for them to live, and of a gracious gift from the OSF Sisters of Charity who covered their medical expenses for a year when they didn’t have insurance, because he couldn’t work after his heart attack and surgery.
He talked about how much Psalm 118 meant to him at this time. In God’s providence, as I am reading through the Scriptures, that was my text for the following morning. Verse one reads:
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
For his steadfast love endures forever!
Our friends are hopeful, but realistic. They seemed at peace, even though she fears the pain that she worries will come toward the end. They pray the prayer that never fails – Thy will be done.
I was particularly impressed with the trust and peace that they communicated to us, and also the concern they have for others. For example, he regularly sends texts of encouragement to another dear friend in our church whose wife is dealing with cancer. This reminds me of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
As I walked away from their front door I was hit by how God does work in mysterious ways. Here, I had come to encourage them, and their strong faith in the Lord encouraged me. He had done it again.