Living In The Cloud
“The wind filled the sails pushing the small boat hard against the waves. Standing forward deck the sailor sought to hold tight the jib line keeping the boat from veering off course. The water swelled and waves beat against the hull sending water splashing against his face, but the sailor kept the rudder true and the boat on course.”
I have come to believe that there are two kinds of people, Sail Boat people and Speed Boat people. I am a speed boat person. A few years ago a friend of mine invited me to go sailing with him across Lake Michigan, from Manitowoc to Ludington. At the time I thought this would a great deal of fun. As the weather reports came in the forecast gave an advisory to small crafts, swells being five feet. “Great”, I thought. This was going to be exciting —the perfect storm! My friend didn’t think it was a good idea to cross the lake with such high swells, with an inexperienced crew. But we could go up the coast to Green Bay. It wasn’t what I was expecting, yet, I was assured it would be just as fun—and off we went.
Now I don’t know a lot about sailing but I was pretty sure it included big white sheets that caught wind and moved a boat through the water. Its not that we didn’t have any wind, our problem was that the wind wasn’t blowing in the right direction. For this reason we were forced to use the small out board motor, either that or not go at all. This was no speed boat motor either and it was loud and smelled of exhaust. The fumes swirled in my head, or was that the monotonous bobbing of the boat on the waves. Either way I felt best if I were laying down and sleeping—of which I did for a good portion of the trip.
The most exciting part of our excursion was the last day returning to Manitowoc. We were sailing blind. A dense fog had rolled in and the visibility couldn’t have been more than six feet in front of us. It was my duty to sit on the bow of the boat and watch for anything that might come across our path. Off in the distance we could hear the fog horns of various light houses. We couldn’t see the light but we knew by their bellows that they were not far away.
It was a very eerie feeling as we slowly trolled our way through the clouds. At one point we ventured onto a buoy with a rope tied to it trailing far beneath the surface of the water. We came along side of it and attempted to pull it in so that unsuspecting motorist wouldn’t get it caught in their propellers, but it wouldn’t budge. The harder I pulled the more our boat sank into the water. There was something at its end that would not give way to the strength of my arms. It probably wasn’t anything but it did allow me to tell a story of sunken ships and lost treasure. We notified the coast guard so that they would be aware of its presence and then we headed on into the fog.
I don’t know if you have ever been in a very thick fog. It doesn’t matter how hard you strain to see you are unable to penetrate its unyielding mass. And that’s the enigma. We could move through it with ease, yet, we couldn’t see any further than six feet. It made you wary. Every move was slow because you didn’t know what could be just beyond your field of vision. Every sound became important for it could be a clue to what was just ahead. You strain your vision, your ears, and every muscle is tense with expectation. And even for speed boat people, like me, the slow movement of the boat became a necessity to insure our safety.
Finally the fog yielded to our eyes the silhouette of the Manitowoc Light House. The skill of our pilot, the sturdiness of our boat, and the smile of God brought us safely into the harbor and we were able to relax as we slowly docked and disembarked.
Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself, Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:31. This is what it means to live within the cloud. We don’t know what tomorrow holds for us. We can barely see beyond the moment even in the day that we have. This doesn’t sit well with us because we are so used to planning our future. We like to know what will happen. We want to see our stocks grow to financial security. We want our plans for our children’s future to be secure. We want, as best we can, to schedule our week and know exactly what we will be doing. We don’t like surprises. Of course Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t plan for the future. He is saying that it shouldn’t consume us, create anxiety in us, to worry. The reason we are not to do this is because we can’t change the future, we can only live in the present. The future is in the cloud. We really do not know what it holds, and when we act as if we do, we are being presumptuous. James puts it this way,
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. In stead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” James 4:13 and 14.
James not only says that we live within the cloud but we are part of the cloud. We are transient beings; we are here today and gone tomorrow. Not a very settling thought. My oldest son was home from college the other day with five of his friends. Six young men piled into a pickup truck on a icy and snowy day and drove for six hours to get to our house. They had a great time. At the end of the weekend they crammed back into the pickup and drove back to school in icy snowy weather. I couldn’t help think about the possible ramifications. You always hear of accidents and people being killed. I began to think about how I would grieve if my son would die. I asked my wife how she would grieve. I wasn’t obsessing over it, I just wanted to be prepared for the worse, why, because I know the future is a cloud and out of my control
Remember the parable Jesus told of the farmer who had a bumper crop? He was so proud of his accomplishments. He bragged as to how his future was going to turn out. In fact he tore down his old barns and built bigger barns to house all that he had harvested. But his pride; his arrogance was premature. He didn’t know what the future would hold. He boasted, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” Luke 12:18. He thought he could see through the cloud. He looked hard but what he saw was only what his imagination wanted, not its reality. “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you, and now who will own what you have prepared?” Luke 12:20.
All these passages are talking about our priorities, what makes us wise, and what makes us rich. When you can’t see through the cloud you better know what’s beyond the cloud, because if you don’t you will run ashore. In the midst of the thick fog it wasn’t my station at the point of the bow that brought us safely into the harbor. My role was important but all I did was keep us from running into objects. It was the skill of the pilot and the equipment that he used to steer us in the right direction. He had a map and compass and a GPS system. He knew where the shore line was, about how far we were from it and the direction we needed to go to get there. The fog kept us from moving faster than we wanted to, but our destination was clear and as long as we kept our eyes on the map and compass we would make it safely into the harbor.
There are three things that the previous passages teach to keep us from making it safely home. The first is worry. Worry paralyzes us from taking action in the presence because we are so focused on what might happen in the future. We become anxious, restless, and uneasy. We can’t focus on little tasks let along important responsibilities. The second is false security. We all desire security, but what really makes us secure? Many think security comes through the accumulation of wealth. Others see it as the exertion of power. And still others find security in the number of relationships they can acquire. Yet, none of these things are really in our ability to control. Because of the fact that we are only vapors and could be gone tomorrow negates all of our attempts to feel secure in a very uncertain future. Thirdly our pride. Since the garden we have been striving to be independent of God. We want to think that we can do it on our own. Our culture breeds in us a spirit of individuality and the obligation to pull oneself up by the bootstraps. However, when it comes to living within the cloud, we find quickly that our own efforts fall short in our attempt to peer through the fog. We need God.
The fog keeps us from knowing the future, to which, then, we must learn to be content with the present, and in doing so to strive to know God. For it is in Him that we truly find contentment and all that we hope for, yet, as we approach God we are once again faced with another cloud. A small book, The Cloud of Unknowing, was written in 1370 by an unknown mystic monk. He writes, “All beings with the gift of reason, angels, and ourselves, have in each of them one main faculty, that of knowing, and another, that of loving. By the first, that of knowing, God who made the angels and us remains ever unknowable…then, if you are fortunate, God may sometimes send out a beam of spiritual light, piercing the cloud of unknowing that stands between you and him, and show you some of his secrets…” Isn’t that they way you feel?
You have this great desire to know God. In fact the Apostle Paul directs us to have that desire above all else. “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:8. It is our greatest goal as believers to seek out and know Jesus, for in knowing Him we know and understand the father. “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father, also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” John 14:7. To know Jesus is to know the Father. Yet, there is this cloud that seems to be impenetrable. We strain to see through it, to see the face of our savior, but our eyes see not and we hope that in some way we will receive a ‘beam of spiritual light’ that will enlighten us to the presence of God in our lives. We live within the cloud.
“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:7. Our home is not in the cloud, but rather with the Lord. Our preference would be to leave this life, with all its uncertainties and pain, and be with Jesus. Yet, we are to be of courage, there is a purpose for our being here and we are to live by faith that God will accomplish His purpose in us. We do not walk in the cloud with physical eyes. We are led by our faith. It’s not a blind faith, but rather a faith that is founded on the secure promises of God in Christ. Hebrews says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. We know that God keeps His promises, therefore we can be assured that what He has told us will come true, and even though we haven’t seen what we will be we hold to it with conviction, knowing that God would not lead us a stray. There are those who will doubt. They will say it is fanciful dreams; wishful thinking; false hope for those who can not cope in this life. They will look at the world around them and declare God dead or impotent. They can’t see beyond the cloud and have to believe that the cloud is all there is. We know differently. We know that the cloud isn’t our true home, therefore we walk through the cloud by faith; faith in God’s Word, faith in God’s promises faith in God Himself.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” Because sin has separated us from God we live within the cloud. As believers our hearts are in tune with this fact. The difference between us and unbelievers is that we now have the Spirit of God in us who enlightens us to the things of God. We know we are within a cloud, but we now have the tools to get us safely to the harbor. One day we will stand before the one who knows us fully and then we will fully know. We won’t know the totality of the person of God, but we will know the full scope of His plan. Until that day we are left to live within the cloud, but no longer to wander aimlessly but to travel purposefully through it. Paul acknowledges that he has not attained to the knowledge of God he longs for but pursues it with his whole heart, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become complete, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus,.” Philippians 3:12.
For which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. We were brought into the family of God for a purpose, and that purpose is to know and be like Jesus! But isn’t that the frustration? Our heart yearns for something that seems so difficult to achieve. My mystic monk writes once again, “Be blind for a time and cut out desire for knowledge, which will be more of a hindrance than a help to you. It is enough for you to feel yourself moved by something you cannot know; all you can know is that in this movement you have no particular thought for anything below God, and that your will is directed solely Godward…” Like the early mystics we realize that knowing God isn’t as easy as learning facts. Knowing God is deeper. There is a mystical union of spirits, ours and Gods. “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” Romans 8:16. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26.
Yet, unlike the early mystics we are not to cast away knowledge. For without knowledge the moving of the spirit in us can be deceiving. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God…” 1 John 4:1. We will be talking about the heart latter, but suffice it to say it is easily deceived. Therefore, we test our experience with both the written and living Word. The knowledge of God in Christ grounds us and gives our experience meaning. These are the maps and compasses that direct us in the fog. The written word is one of the tools in our toolbox that guides us safely in our quest for completion.
One of the most intriguing events in Jesus’ life was the healing of a blind man. Mark records in 8:22, “And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on him, He asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.’ Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly.”
All this man wanted was to see. He had heard about Jesus; how he had restored the sight of others. There was power in this man and he wanted some of that power directed toward him. As Jesus regularly did he took compassion on this man and healed him. But it was different this time. This time it didn’t seem to work. Jesus spit in his eye, laid his hands on him, but the man could only partially see. Now if you were the blind man and had been so all your life the partial healing would have been wonderful. He described the sensation that he had to Jesus and I am sure those around were mixed with a bit of wonder and astonishment. The partial healing was a miracle in its self (wonder) but uncharacteristically incomplete (astonishment).
That’s how I feel at times. I marvel at the saving power of God in my life. I realize that my sins are forgiven, that I am no longer guilty before God, that I am heading for a future that exists in His presence, I realize that and stand in awe and wonder. Yet, I am at times astonished. Why is it that I struggle with this sin that I have died to? Why do the people around me suffer injustice when Justice has been met out on Jesus? Why can I not know God the way I want to since the mystery of God has been revealed to us in Christ? Why? “For now I see in part…”
The story of the blind man continues, “Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly.” I can see it, the man’s mouth drops, his eyes as big as saucers, his feet begin to move slowly in a circular motion filling his eyes with as much as they would let in. Then there was a loud cry of jubilation. “I can see, I can see, I can see!” His joy overflowed to the crowd as they joined in the chorus. The wonder growing and their astonishment disappearing. There was no more darkness, no more blindness, no more cloud, he ‘began to see everything clearly.” “…but then I will know fully.”
Jesus didn’t have a temporary laps of power. He wanted his audience to understand a truth—we live within a cloud; a cloud that obscures the heavenly city; a cloud that obscures the face of Christ; a cloud that obscures the presence of the Spirit in our lives. If we are not careful, if we do not utilize the tools that God has given us, if we do not allow the Spirit to work in our hearts, we will be like Ulysses of old who fell prey to the sirens sound and found himself ship wrecked.
In order for us to move through the cloud in safety we need to be watchful, keeping alert, and doing what is necessary to prevent our own ship wreck. Peter tells us, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect (complete) confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
“We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Colossians 1:28
As we move through the cloud our journey isn’t without purpose. We know that our destination is the kingdom of God. Our lives are a preparation for entrance into the kingdom. It is in this existence that we learn to love God with our whole hearts. It is a process that begins at our new birth and concludes when we step through the cloud into the presence of our heavenly Father.
Paul says that his sole purpose is to bring people to this completion. He does it through proclaiming, admonishing, and teaching. It is the declaration of the Word of God, imparted to us, coming to reside in us that directs us to our goal. To proclaim is to openly and plainly dispense the word. It is the prophet who stands in the square and declares his message; the town crier who reads aloud the proclamation of the king; the missionary who will tell anyone who will listen of the good news. It isn’t just the volume but the intent. The intent is to proclaim in such a way that people will understand clearly the message.
Paul also wants to admonish, which is to warn and exhort. There is a real danger in the cloud. Some will not make it through without being shipped wrecked. They will not listen to the Word of God given plainly. They need to be warned of the impending danger; danger both now to those who refuse the Word of God and danger in the future. There is judgment for those who do not believe. In a culture that wants to feel good above all else those who admonish are chastised or ignored. They are viewed with disdain because they proclaim a God that doesn’t make them feel good.
I was sitting with a young man who was wanting to get married. I took him through the Scriptures and talked with him about the sanctity of marriage and the picture that it portrays of God. He had been married three times, two of the divorces had no biblical justification. As we looked at the passages it became clear that God’s Word stipulated that in such a case he was to be reconciled or remain single. This was difficult because there was a young lady involved and they were talking about getting married. I told him I would not be able to perform their ceremony and that he should remain single and focus on his children (of which he had custody). He wrestled with this, he was angry, confused, but he wanted to do God’s will and as he read over the passages of Scripture came to the conclusion the he was to remain single. This is when the pressure began. His finance’ couldn’t believe it. How could he be so deceived? How could he believe in a God that is so judgmental and unforgiving? The hard truths of Scripture are judgmental to those who do not want to follow the ways of God, who struggle with truly becoming complete in Him. But to those who understand God’s love and forgiveness the boundaries God set are not judgmental but freeing. This young man couldn’t understand his fiancé’s reaction. He didn’t feel judged at all, but forgiven. It is important for us to admonish with the hard truths. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend. But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6. People who tell you only what you want to hear are not friends at all. Real friends admonish you with love so that you may become complete in Christ.
Thirdly Paul says that he teaches. Teaching is the methodical, purposeful instruction of the Word. Teaching affords the teacher and student the opportunity to interact, to question, to explore the meanings and application of different texts. As much as we would like to think that the Scripture is always clear on issues of life there are obscure passages that can confuse issues and application. Honest exchange between people sharpens us as we grow towards completion. It is important, therefore, for us to be involved in teaching situations, either as teachers or students. And we should never think that we have reached the point in our lives that we no longer need to be in such a place. Paul said that he had not yet reached competition, but he pressed on. If anyone thinks he doesn’t need to be taught any longer than he better be a teacher. Teachers find out quickly how little they really know as they are confronted with the penetrating questions of their students. The cloud that we move through in life is dense enough. We need the clear teaching of the Word so that we will be able to navigate through the cloud.
The goal of proclaiming, admonishing, and teaching is to bring everyone complete in Christ. The word complete means “that which has reached its end”. Our end is when we have been transformed into the image of Christ. We know by experience how difficult that is. Each time we think we have made progress we find ourselves failing. Our failure, however, shouldn’t cause us to loose heart. Instead we are to press on. Paul says in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “…Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter (completer) of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1,2. When we feel as if we can’t run the race any more we are to raise our heads and look to the one who is working in us to accomplish His good pleasure. Colossians 2:19 tells us, “…the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” Coming to completion is a work that God is doing in us, it isn’t something that we have to accomplish on our own.
In the late ‘90’s I took some teens backpacking into the Grand Canyon. The trip down was hard enough, but the return hike was excruciating. We had to climb what is called the ‘devil’s corkscrew’. The switch backs were steep. Making a long story short I thought I was going die, but there was no turning back. I had two choices; give up or continue on. And though there were times I wanted to chuck it all giving up wasn’t an option. One of the things that kept me going was to keep my eye on the goal. Each switchback brought it closer. I also made small goals and kept my eye on that until I had reached it and then pushed forward to the next. Eventually every successful step brought me to the completion of the trip, reaching my desired end.
And so it is with every believer. We, however, have only one choice, making it to the end. God has given us the resources to make it. The obstacles along the way will make it difficult, but our ability to overcome the obstacles will be directly proportionate to our obedience to God’s revealed will.
We live within the cloud. Our way isn’t clear, but the destination is sure. Our goal is to become complete in Christ and our efforts are to be focused to that end. But there is a struggle that wages within us and it is deeply rooted in our hearts. Unless we understand this dilemma not only will the way be clouded, but we will constantly grow weary.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24.