One of my favorite high school teachers was the late Mr. Robert Burke. His influence on my life went far beyond that of being my ninth grade Biology teacher. He showed genuine interest in my abilities and ambitions. He set high academic standards and expected me to reach them. He pointed out errors on my exams with a smile. He served as faculty advisor to the Bible Club of which I was President in my junior year. In the final days of my senior year, I handed him my yearbook asking for his autograph. When I saw he wrote more than his name, I eagerly looked to see what wonderful words of commendation he had penned. To my consternation, I read: May there be just enough clouds in your life to create a beautiful sunset.
Up to that point, I viewed clouds and storms as companions, and I certainly didn’t want any storms in my life. For some time after this incident, I interpreted the message negatively and allowed his words to “cloud” our relationship. In the years that followed, I had many opportunities to meditate on the phrase “enough clouds in your life”. Then one day as I was reading the Bible, I came across Nahum 1:3c: …the clouds are the dust of God’s feet. Hallelujah! Wherever there are clouds, GOD IS PRESENT! Furthermore, I read in Scripture:
- The Lord makes the clouds His chariot and rides on the wings of the wind (Ps. 104:3).
- Sing to God, sing praise to His name, extol Him who rides on the clouds—His name is the Lord…(Ps. 68:4).
- See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud…(Is. 19:1).
We have many examples of God’s Presence in the clouds. When He called Moses to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt, the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud to lead them on the way (Ex.13:21). On a clear day, you can see forever and go where you want; but on a cloudy day you must walk by faith knowing that God is present to lead you in the way He wants you to go.
- And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you and believe you forever…(Ex.19:9).
- And the glory of the Lord abode on Mt. Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and the seventh day He called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud…and Moses went into the midst of the cloud, up to the Mountain (Ex.24:16,18).
- And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door; and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door (Ex.33:9-10).
In the Old Testament, there are many references to the Presence of the Lord in the cloud: leading the children of Israel, guarding and protecting them, and giving them words of direction. In 1 Cor. 10:1-2, Paul referred to this when he wrote: For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud [under God’s leadership and guidance—see also Exodus 13:21-22; Numbers 9:15-23; 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:33; Psalm 78:14] and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea [His guidance did not fail them—He successfully led them through the sea—Exodus 14:22,29] (NIV).
Given this background, we should not be surprised to read that When Jesus was baptized, He went up at once out of the water, and behold, the heavens were opened, and he [John] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on [Jesus]; and lo, a voice out from heaven said, This is my beloved Son, in Whom I delight (Matt 3:17).
Some time later, Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him up to the Mountain, and While [Peter] yet spoke, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him (Matt. 17:5; Luke 9:34-35). This was God’s last speech from the clouds. After this incident, He spoke through His Son, and now He speaks by His Spirit through His Word.
One summer Sunday evening when I was 16 years old, my family was visiting with my grandparents on their estate in the open fields of Black Betsy. I heard someone gasp and say, “Look! There in the clouds!” We all ran to the back porch and looked up to see “Jesus coming in the clouds.” The body shape we saw was a perfect duplicate of the artist’s rendition of “Jesus”. He appeared to be walking straight toward us. We were all quite paralyzed by the sight. It seemed as if the Scripture were literally coming true at that moment:
- Lo, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him…(Rev. 1:7).
- He [Jesus] was taken up in a cloud before their very eyes…this same Jesus…will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven (Acts 1:9)
- And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:26).
- At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matt. 24:30).
- Yes, it is as you say, Jesus replied, But I say to all of you: in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26:64).
- After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17).
I thought my heart would burst within me. This was an intense moment of self-examination—no time for theological interpretation of Scripture. Even after the clouds separated and we realized this was not “THE END,” the moment of reckoning had its impact. It was a day never to be forgotten. God was out walking and we saw evidence in the clouds.
DISCERNING THE CLOUDS
When the trials of life press in on you, look up! Do you see clouds? Remember that the Lord walks on them, rides on them, and raises them when He pleases. He stirs them up, and He causes them to disperse.
There are two Greek words used in the New Testament that are translated “clouds”.
(1) Nephos denotes a cloudy shapeless mass covering the heavens, hence, metaphorically it is used to refer to a dense multitude, a throng, as in Hebrews 12:1: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
(2) Nephele is a definitely shaped cloud, or masses of clouds possessing definite form. It is used (a) of the physical element of the “cloud” on the mount of transfiguration in Matt. 17:5, and (b) of the cloud which covered Israel in the Red Sea, 1 Cor. 10:1-2; (c) of clouds seen in the visions in the book of Revelation, Rev.1:7; 10:1; 11:12; 14:14-16; and (d) metaphorically in Jude 12, and in 2 Pet. 2:17, of the evil workers there mentioned (Vines Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words).
- These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind…(Jude 12)
- These men are springs without water and clouds [mists] driven by a storm…(gone before a drop of water falls) (2 Peter 2:17).
Some clouds that come bring neither beauty of sunset or sunrise, nor lovely blue skies. They bring neither rain or sleet, or snow; they are merely empty formless clouds called “fog”; they lay close to the ground and obstruct our view. In themselves, they are harmless, yet because of their presence many highway accidents occur. Often these are chain accidents—one loses his way and bumps into another, and so on. How much this scene relates metaphorically to spiritual “fog” as well. Sometimes this “fog” comes into our lives in the guise of people who lay close to us. They appear to be active and full of the Holy Spirit and living water, but soon we realize they are EMPTY—professing a form of godliness but denying the power of God to change lives. Their very presence has clouded our vision and our hope causing us to lose our grasp on spiritual reality. The sooner we realize the deception, the faster we’ll move out of the “fog” and back under the clouds that rise high above us.
Some clouds bring much needed precipitation into our lives. It’s the rain that brings life to the plants, trees, flowers, grass, and gardens. It’s the rain of the Spirit—fresh from on high—that brings growth to our Christian lives. Without it, we are parched and dry; drought takes its toll:
Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God (Heb. 6:7).
As we have seen by example in Scripture, not all clouds are the same. They have different shapes and different purposes. Cloudman’s Mini Cloud Atlas gives 12 Basic Cloud Classifications in four families. There is the HEAP Family consisting of Cumulus Congestus, Swelling Cumulus, and Cumulus of Fairweather. There is the LAYER Family consisting of Cirrstratus, Altostratus, and Stratus. There is the HEAP/LAYER Family, consisting of Cirrocumulus, Altocumulus, and Stratocumulus. And finally, there is the PRECIPITATION FAMILY consisting of Cirrus, Cumulonimbus, and Nimbostratus. Each set of clouds has a description and a function. (To read more about these, go to http://www.cloudman.com). In addition to these categories, there are simply HIGH clouds, MEDIUM clouds, and LOW clouds.
All shapes. All sizes. Many descriptions. Many purposes. It is a relatively low percentage of clouds that brings storms, yet often we see clouds as carriers of negativity. Let’s get a fresh, new image of clouds. Look at them. Analyze them. How lovely is the sky with the little cloud puffs scattered about, or with the layers of clouds forming an ascending stairway to heaven, or with the heaps of clouds that appear to have golden light or silver linings. How welcome are the clouds that dump the precipitation on a dry and thirsty ground. Even after storm clouds have come and gone, there is the refreshing, cleansing smell of “life after the storm”.
Now transfer this picture to situations that come into your everyday life. We all need some clouds in our life. We Michiganders understand this. In the winter, a cloudless sky means the nighttime temperatures will dip low. In the summer, a cloudless sky means there will be no nighttime relief from the sweltering temperatures. Thus, we welcome the clouds! Have you ever thought how boring, barren, and colorless your life would be without the challenge and/or gift of “cloudy” circumstances? We often think life would be perfect if we didn’t have to deal with the interruptions, solve the problems, resolve the conflicts, and receive the blessings. Yet these make up the very spice of life that brings the beautiful sunrise, or sunset, as well as awesome daytime and nighttime scenery.
CLOUDS: GOD’S CHARIOT OR THE DUST OF HIS FEET
As one comes to the end of this earthly existence, how wonderful it will be to look back and see that the clouds which have come into life over the years are producing a beautiful sunset. They have come to cover, to rain on us, to protect, to guide us, to witness to us. They remind us that God has been walking in our lives all the time; we know, because we see the clouds. Sometimes when we want to rebuke the clouds, we need to stop and inquire as to whether the Lord Himself is riding on them!
May there be just enough clouds in your life to create a beautiful sunset!
(c) The Alabaster Box, VOL 16 NO 01 2001, C. Yvonne Karl