William Cowper’s poem based on Psalm 77


I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.  In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. Psalm 77:1-3

~From Coty Pinckney, “When God Doesn’t Answer, A Sermon on Psalm 77”

The night was dark and foggy. A man walked in the darkness from his house to the cobble-stone street, his step determined and relentless, but his face — had anyone been able to see it in the dark — was tear-stained and weary. As he reached the street, he peered both ways, looking for the tell-tale lantern of a horse-drawn, London cab. The man muttered: “Nothing! Am I too late? But no! I must end all tonight! And the river it must be!” Then, in the distance, he espied a hazy light, slowly enlarging. Almost whispering, the man said bitterly: “God, you provided me no solace, but here you provide the cab to take me to my death!” “Where to?” asked the cabbie, when he stopped. “London Bridge,” the man replied, curtly. “A cold night it is, sir — what sort of business have you at the Bridge at this hour?” But the man said nothing.

The cabbie ended his attempt at conversation, and set off toward that well-known destination. But the fog became thicker and thicker, so that the cabbie could not see even his horse’s nose. What should have been a 20 minute ride lasted an hour, and still there was no sign of the river or the 600 year-old bridge. The cabbie peered into the fog, desperately looking for some familiar sign. Suddenly, the fog lifted. The passenger, startled from his morose stare, looked to his right and saw, to his amazement, his own home. The cab, lost in the fog, had circled back to the very place he began the journey.

“My God! You have answered me!” the passenger cried out. Later that night, by his own hearth, this man, William Cowper, one of the greatest of England’s 18th century poets, meditated on Psalm 77. [We read this Psalm today.]

That same night, William Cowper penned this great poem, which we sang earlier today, more than two centuries later:

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.

These emotions, these feelings of being abandoned by God, of God not answering our prayers, will come. If you haven’t experienced them, I can promise you that you will at some point in your life, probably at multiple points in your life. God tells us in Isaiah 55, “My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts,” and it is for that very reason that we cannot fathom, we cannot understand the way God works, the mysterious way in which God works in our lives. Because God is so far above us, so much greater than us, he is mysterious to us. Was God there for this Psalmist? Yes! All night long while he was crying out, God was there, God was there! But for his own sovereign purposes, God chose not to remove that sense of fear, that emotion from the Psalmist. Perhaps the Psalmist needed to learn to trust God when the circumstances didn’t warrant that trust.

God’s way is frequently through the sea, through the difficulties that refine us, that cause us to trust him. We see that in many Bible characters: in David, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, Paul, Elijah, in Jesus himself.

How will you respond the next time? The Christian who has learned to trust God in all circumstances will not be led astray by a promise of health, of wealth, and security once you go through some religious experience. Our relationship to God like our relationships to our husbands and wives, is not one of going through a ceremony and then living happily ever after. But like marriage our relationship to God will have its ups and downs, it will have its low points and its high points. God is always there, despite our feelings; that’s what we can depend on. We need to hold onto his past deeds. But the emotions will come — sometimes caused by what we ate for dinner, sometimes caused by the personal tragedies that accompany life in this world. The emotions will come. This Psalm is telling us that we need not be governed by those emotions. When we are faced with this, we need to recollect the solid rock of God’s faithfulness, and to know that even when we don’t sense his presence, even when we don’t feel his love, he is there.

Let us pray:

God, great is your faithfulness. Help us to say that and believe it when we don’t feel it. Thank you that we can trust you when the circumstances around us don’t warrant that trust, at least to our eyes. Help us to know that you are the God who is in control of everything that we might fear. You will redeem our mistakes, you will redeem the mistakes of others that lead to our being hurt, you will redeem the circumstances that are caused by life in this broken world. Lord, help us to trust you even when we don’t feel like it. Help us to have the courage to ask the tough questions, but always to remember your faithfulness as recorded in your word, as recorded in the history of your church, as recorded in our own lives. Help us, Lord, to remember your faithfulness, to bring it to mind, to depend upon that when our emotions begin to get the best of us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

~Coty Pinckney, “When God Doesn’t Answer, A Sermon on Psalm 77”

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