Watching the Clouds
Where do you look for signs of God’s guidance?
A Methodist minister named Harley Camden, the main character in my novel City of Peace (Köehler Books, 2019), suffers the deaths of his wife and daughter in a European terrorist attack. Spiraling downward into grief and anger, he is sent by his bishop to the riverside town of Occoquan, Virginia, to heal and recover. Soon after arriving, he is taken out on a powerboat by one of his parishioners.
Harley is surprised by how good it feels to be on the river. A strong breeze creates whitecaps, but the boat handles the waves well. “Should have warned you that there was a small craft advisory,” shouts his church member, smiling. “But don’t worry. Weather Service guys are always cautious.”
As the wind whips around him, Harley suddenly realizes yes — this is why the Holy Spirit is described as a mighty wind. Feeling the spray of the water, he gets it — this is the cleansing water of baptism. Wind and water are spiritual, no doubt about it.
Later, he also discovers that the river can be a place of danger. Thunderstorms bring high winds, pelting rain and deadly lightening. A storm can arise quickly and put boaters at risk, if they do not keep their eyes on the clouds.
The people of Israel watched the cloud that was a sign of God’s presence. In the wilderness of Sinai, the cloud covered “the covenant tent” of worship (Numbers 9:15). “The cloud covered it by day, appearing with lightning at night” (verse 16). Through the Bible, clouds mark the presence of God, from the thick cloud from which God gave the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) to the bright cloud from which God spoke about Jesus, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. … Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5).
In the wilderness, the Israelites kept their eye on the cloud, only moving when it moved. “Whether it was two days, or a month, or a long time, the Israelites would camp so long as the cloud lingered on the dwelling” (Numbers 9:22). The movement of the cloud was God’s direction to them.
I find it hard to wait. When I order fast food, I want it to arrive immediately. When I buy an item online, I expect it to be delivered in a few days. When I have an idea at work, I want to jump in and get it done. Watching and waiting for signs of God’s guidance is not my first instinct.
But like a boater on a river, I know I need to keep an eye on the clouds. The guidance of Scripture, combined with conversations I have with faithful friends, helps me to understand where God is leading me. By waiting for guidance, I can avoid selfish actions that will hurt myself and others. Like the people of Israel, I need to go “according to the Lord’s command” (verse 23), instead of according to my own desires.
Prayer: Give me guidance, Lord, and help me to follow where you lead. Amen.