I was going through a difficult trial in my every day life stresses, when I got the call on a Sunday afternoon that my brother was killed in a tragic automobile accident. It was such an unexpected blow; I still remember the wailing that erupted from the core of my being. All my previous difficulties seemed so trivial compared to this. As I was driving to the funeral home, I began to listen to a CD, “My Utmost for His Highest”, based on the writings of Oswald Chambers, that I recently received. One of the songs was entitled: “Sometimes He Comes in the Clouds” (sung by Steven Curtis Chapman). The chorus went like this: “Sometimes He comes in the clouds. Sometimes His face cannot be found. Sometimes the sky is dark and gray. But some things can only be known and sometimes our faith can only grow when we can’t see, so, sometimes He comes in the clouds.”
Somehow that song ministered to me and helped me get through the indescribable pain and loss I was experiencing and all the unanswered questions of “Why God?” I knew that somehow my faith would grow through this painful time.
Although I knew those familiar passages, about the coming of the Lord, I had pictured Him returning with white, fluffy clouds against a beautiful blue-sky backdrop and the sun gloriously shining. This may all still be true, I do look forward to the day of the Lord’s return.
Nevertheless, the clouds in the song I mentioned before and often the clouds that come in my life, are storm clouds… dark, thick and black as smoke. Where is God in all those kinds of clouds? These are the times in my life I feel God has abandoned me. The rain pounds (stress, pain, loss, discouragement, failures), the lightning flashes (angry outbursts, persecution, gossip, enemy attacks), the thunder crashes (fear, failed dreams, set backs, broken relationships), and sometimes the storms sends hail the size of Golf balls (death, divorce, tragedy, loss of health) to pound me down. These are the times that cute, little, catch phrases are thrown around to try to bring comfort. Sayings like, “behind every cloud there is a rainbow” or “the sun is still shining above the clouds, even though you can’t see it”. For many years, I clung to those phrases for a single ray of hope. They did help but not really ministering to me at my deepest point of need as I patiently endured the storm and waited until the clouds finally blew away.
I know some of us have heard the phrase, “sometimes the Lord calms the storm, but sometimes He calms His child in the midst of the storm”. However, I still looked at the clouds as some sinister presence or something trying to destroy me and only by the grace of God would I get through it somehow. My outlook about clouds and storms changed when I discovered that sometimes God comes in the midst of the clouds that he even brings the clouds. This means I do not have to wait until the end to see the sun, but that I have the SON with me in the midst of my storm.
“Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” (Psalm 97: 2) No matter what clouds or darkness surrounds me I am comforted that God’s righteousness and justice will prevail. “He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under His feet.” (2 Samuel 22:10) No matter what clouds come in my life, the Lord has it under His feet; He is Lord over all; He has it under control. “See the LORD rides on a swift cloud”. (Isaiah 19:1I) “He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.” (Psalm 104:3b) “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.” (Deuteronomy 33:26) If God can ride the clouds no matter how swift, I can be assured of His ever present help in my time of need and ride them out to as long as I hold onto His saving hand. “His way is in the whirlwind and the storm and clouds are the dust of his feet.” (Nahum 1:3) I know that His ways are higher than mine, and that He can use the storms to perfect His plan for me, and these temporary circumstances and afflictions are but a speck of dust compared to the treasures of all eternity that He has stored up for me.
Then, I received the news that my 56-year-old mother had lung cancer. The storm clouds came in big, heavy and dark. After months of radiation and chemotherapy, leaving her body weak, she contracted pneumonia. She was released from the hospital at the end of March, to go home and die, thinking she only had a few days to a couple of weeks left. The cancer and the treatments left her with incredible nausea, so that even the slightest smell, the least bit of cough, she would get sick or have the dry heaves. She was unable to eat anything and eventually subsisted on water. She was in pain, barely able to breathe even with oxygen. She would rally a bit for a week or two, and then she would plummet again and be at death’s door.
During this time, I cried out to God, “either heal my mother or let her die”. No answer would come. I would cry out to God, “then at least alleviate her suffering, make her stop vomiting.” No answer would come. We had all kinds of ministers, priests and chaplains from many denominations come and pray over her. My sister and I would fast and have all night prayer vigils, we took mom to healing prayer meetings, we anointed her with oil, and all the other “formulas” that we could think of. Perhaps we were praying wrong, perhaps we had sin in our life; perhaps this is a demon, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Where was God in all of this?
Oswald Chambers said, “Clouds are those sorrows or sufferings or providences, within or without our personal lives, which seem to dispute the rule of God. It is by those very clouds that the Spirit of God is teaching us how to walk by faith. If there were no clouds, we should have no faith. The clouds are a sign that He is there. What a revelation it is to know that sorrow, bereavement, and suffering are the clouds that come along with God! Unless we can look the darkest, blackest fact full in the face without damaging God’s character, we do not yet know Him. Is there anyone ‘save Jesus only’ in your cloud? If so, it will get darker; you must get to the place where there is ‘no one any more save Jesus only.’” (My Utmost for His Highest)
I remember talking with someone who was not a Christian. She asked question, “I don’t understand how God could let your mother suffer as she is, when she has served Him and loved Him so much?” I remember sharing with her a truth that I am only beginning to understand. It is easy to believe in God, when things are going our way, however, real faith believes in God when things are hard. It is hard to believe God is a god of love, when you see someone suffer. It is hard to believe in the character of God, His love, peace, joy and hope, when life is showing you the exact opposite. Faith believes when you cannot see or understand. It is there, in the midst of the cloud that God meets you. It is like jumping off a cliff and finding the Lord there to catch you.
I need to learn to embrace suffering and accept it as a gift, an instrument to cause me to grow. The Orthodox Christians have a saying that when you are suffering God is visiting you. The Russian Christians would often go and ask for prayer from the one who is suffering, because they believed that person was closer to God in those times of sickness and trials. The clouds are not there to block my view of God, but to block my view of everything else but God. It is in the clouds that I can have intimacy with the Almighty. I can hear His voice and be in His presence.
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear Me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.’ …On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up.” (Exodus 19:9,16-20)
It is hard to imagine that God could be in the midst of thunder, lightning, and thick dark clouds. However, clouds are a symbol of God’s Holy presence. Some people trembled with fear, but Moses was invited to go up into the cloud. To be invited into the cloud with God, is a privilege that is given only those who are found worthy. When Moses was invited up to the mountain within the cloud, it was by invitation only. The rest of the people of Israel were told not even to come close to the mountain or touch it, lest they be destroyed. Later, the tabernacle was built. The presence of God would come down in the form of a cloud into the Holy of Holies. Even there, the high priest could not approach unless the sacrifice had been made, and God had given approval. “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.” (Leviticus 16:2) When Solomon dedicated the temple scriptures say, “When the priest withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. Moreover, the priest could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled His temple. Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that He would dwell in a dark cloud…” (I Kings 8:10-12). To enter the cloud of God’s presence is by invitation and only those that God says are holy can enter in.
The cloud of His presence was displayed when “Jesus took Peter, James and John, with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning… while he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; Listen to Him!” (Luke 9:28-29,34-35)
Because of Jesus, we can now enter the cloud without fear, enter into His presence and hear the voice of the Lord, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
In the midst of the clouds, we can now hear the voice of the Lord; we can now have guidance and direction for our lives. We can receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Another assurance that clouds are actually a symbol of God’s guidance is found in Exodus 13:21-22. “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”
Who would have thought, clouds and fire could be the instruments that God would use to guide our lives and provide direction in the daytime or the nighttime? “Beloved do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (I Peter 4:12-13) In Daniel chapter 3, remember the 3 Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they were thrown in a fiery furnace so hot that the blaze killed the soldiers who threw them in. Yet, when Nebuchadnezzar looked in, he said in amazement, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire? Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like the Son of God.” You see Jesus was with them in the midst of the fire.
He is with us in the midst of our clouds, in the midst of the fires, in the floods, all things. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-4)
Walk into the clouds, the fires, and the rivers and let them be instruments for you to hear the voice of God and come to know Him more intimately than ever before. “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:20,21)
The amazing thing about many of the heroes of the faith is that they had no idea how the outcome would turn out in the midst of their trials. Abraham had no idea what God would do when he sacrificed Isaac, he just clung to the promise of God. Daniel had no idea that the lions’ mouths would be shut, he clung to his faith in God. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had no assurance that they would not be destroyed. But may I, and all of us who trust in the Lord, be able to say with their same conviction, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
I could not promise my mother would be healed. I cannot promise that God will deliver neither me nor anyone else from pain or suffering. I can cling to the promise of God’s word that He will never leave nor forsake us; and nothing will ever separate us from the love of God. “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27-28) When the Lord comes in the clouds, His redemption is near.
When the clouds come continue to serve the Lord, to trust in the Lord. Let us be like Moses and enter the clouds. Let the clouds teach you and be your time of hearing the voice of the Lord. Let us approach the Almighty Holy God. His Holy Fire will cleanse and purify us, His clouds will teach us, and His presence will embrace us.
“The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.” (Nahum 1:7)