God Moves in a Mysterious Way

Full Text

1 God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea
and rides upon the storm.

2 Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
he treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

3 You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

4 His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

5 Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain.
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.

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Scripture References

Thematically related:

Further Reflections on Scripture References

The first line indicates the focus of the entire text: God's ways may well be mysterious to us, but God does act! He "works his sovereign will" (st. 2), and someday "he will make it plain" (st. 5). In the meantime, even in periods of profound doubt and despair, we may trust God's wisdom.


Psalter Hymnal Handbook 

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

This beloved hymn has been the source of encouragement to many believers in their times of trial and pain, for it enables them to express in song what they have learned from the confessions. First, God will always be with his people. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 9, Question and Answer 26 professes that God will “turn to my good whatever adversity he sends upon me in this sad world.”


Secondly, nothing happens outside of God’s will. Lord’s Day 10, Question and Answer 27 professes that “all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.” Belgic Confession, Article 13 teaches that “this doctrine (of God’s Providence) gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing happens to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly father.”


Finally, nothing can separate God’s people from his gracious love. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10, Question and Answer 28 professes that we can have “good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love.”



God Moves in a Mysterious Way

Words of Praise

In you, infinite God, we live and move and have our being.
You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
We praise and adore you, everlasting God.
But we are creatures of dust who return to dust.
In the morning you wake us up into the thunder of life.
In the evening you sweep us away in the sleep of death.
We are only mortals, mere transients in the world.
Our days quickly pass, and we fly away.
We bow before you, everlasting God.
Our times are in your hands, because
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
So teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
We need your guidance, everlasting God.
You could condemn us with just cause.
Because of our sin, you could consume us with your anger,
yet you surround us with compassion.
Your unfailing love is all we need.
We thank you, everlasting God.
May we sing for joy all our days.
Bless our work and our lives
so that they may testify to your glory.
We worship you, everlasting God,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
—based on Psalm 90
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two


A prayer especially mindful of children
Loving Father, we confess that
sometimes we think we can do things all by ourselves
and sometimes we are worried about things.
We forget that you give us everything we have
and that you make us who we are.
Please forgive us for thinking about ourselves first.
Please forgive us for not trusting you to take care of us.
Thank you for always loving us
even when we forget that we need you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Additional Prayers

A Prayer of Acclamation
Great God, sometimes you speak but sometimes you fall silent.
Your ways are deep, O God.
Sometimes you prevent evil but sometimes you permit it.
Your ways are deep, O God.
You chose a difficult people to bless the nations of the earth.
Your ways are deep, O God.
In Jesus Christ you entered our world to save it.
Your ways are deep, O God, and sweet at the end. Amen.
— Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

Tune Information

E♭ Major


Song Combination

Consider using Lift Up Your Hearts #23 “Children of the Heavenly Father,” #24 “Affirmation: God as Creator and Provider” and #25 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” together in a medley.
  • Begin by singing #23 “Children of the Heavenly Father”—use an appropriate accompaniment for the words of this delicate prayer with instruments such as piano, guitar, flute, soft organ, etc.
  • The piano can continue to play softly in the background as #24 “Affirmation: God as Creator and Provider” is read, transition to the key of E♭ and play #25 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” softly as the Affirmation is finished. Lead into the singing of #25 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” with a stronger accompaniment (louder organ, stronger piano, or whatever is available and being used). 
— Diane Dykgraaf

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

Hymn Story/Background

Erik Routley compared this text to a Rembrandt painting, saying it had a dark background with a strong streak of light falling across it. That is an apt analogy. Cowper wrote "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" in 1773 prior to the onset of one of his severely depressive states, which later that year led him to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. The text was published in Newton's Twenty-six Letters on Religious Subjects; to which are added Hymns (1774). It was also included in Olney Hymns with the heading "light shining out of darkness" and accompanied by a reference to John 13:7 in which Jesus says, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
DUNDEE first appeared in the 1615 edition of the Scottish Psalter published in Edinburgh by Andro Hart. Called a "French" tune (thus it also goes by the name of FRENCH), DUNDEE was one of that hymnal's twelve "common tunes"; that is, it was not associated with a specific psalm.  The tune is in isorhythmic form (all equal rhythms) and has a harmonization that was published in Thomas Ravenscroft's Whole Booke of Psalmes (1621). The tune's name comes from the city of Dundee, known as the "Scottish Geneva" during the era of the Scottish Reformation.
DUNDEE fits the meditative character of the text; its smooth lines invite part singing.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

William Cowper (b. Berkampstead, Hertfordshire, England, 1731; d. East Dereham, Norfolk, England, 1800) is regarded as one of the best early Romantic poets. To biographers he is also known as "mad Cowper." His literary talents produced some of the finest English hymn texts, but his chronic depression accounts for the somber tone of many of those texts. Educated to become an attorney, Cowper was called to the bar in 1754 but never practiced law. In 1763 he had the opportunity to become a clerk for the House of Lords, but the dread of the required public examination triggered his tendency to depression, and he attempted suicide. His subsequent hospitalization and friendship with Morley and Mary Unwin provided emotional stability, but the periods of severe depression returned. His depression was deepened by a religious bent, which often stressed the wrath of God, and at times Cowper felt that God had predestined him to damnation.
For the last two decades of his life Cowper lived in Olney, where John Newton became his pastor. There he assisted Newton in his pastoral duties, and the two collaborated on the important hymn collection Olney Hymns (1779), to which Cowper contributed sixty-eight hymn texts. In addition to this hymn, “O For a Closer Walk with God” and “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” are also often included in modern hymnals.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Little is known about Thomas Ravenscroft’s (b. circa Sussex, England, 1592; d. circa London, England, 1635) early life. It is believed he sang in the choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and probably received his bachelor’s degree in 1605 from Cambridge. Ravenscroft is principally known for his collections of folk music: Pammelia (1609), Deuteromelia or The Seconde Part of Musicks Melodie (1609), which includes the famous children’s song “Three Blind Mice,” and Melismata (1611). He also pulished a metrical psalter (The Whole Booke of Psalmes) in 1621. He composed eleven anthems, three motets, and four fantasias. He also wrote two treatises on music theory: A Briefe Discourse of the True (but Neglected) Use of Charact’ring the Degrees (London, 1614), and A Treatise of Musick. 
— Laura de Jong
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