The persistent pursuit of following the cloud
I only needed one ingredient for dinner, so after finishing up an intense workout at the YMCA, I headed into the grocery store. I was pooped and just wanted to get home. The afternoon clouds were beginning to give way to dusk.
To my surprise the store was fairly empty despite it being the drive-home commute. I breezed through the check out line and headed out the door. As I turned the corner I was greeted with one of those sunsets that takes your breath away. Ribbons of clouds had turned magenta against an indigo sky. An animated WOW passed across my lips, causing a businessman, running into the store for his own appointed errand, to look up and follow my gaze. After acknowledging its beauty, the man admitted he never even noticed it. Without missing a step, he was inside the store, an otherwise sacred moment lost in mission.
For me, it was one of those divine moments that will interrupt your day, if you let it. Creation unmasked. The vibrant display brought to mind the book, “Follow the Cloud,” by Pastor John Stickl. Our missional community groups recently finished a study on the book, which is focused on the Old Testament Exodus story where God used a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide the Israelites as they left Egypt for the Promised Land.
To me, the sunset represented both cloud and fire, as the dropping sun transformed white pillows into streamers of fire; day melding into night.
Stickl, a first-time author, used the story of the Israelites as a starting point to encourage his readers to listen to God’s voice then take the next step. Many of the concepts in the book are not new, but Stickl has an anointed way to take familiar biblical truths and paint them in a refreshing new light. Near the beginning of the book, Stickl offers this simple assessment:
“The Israelites weren’t stuck because the cloud wasn’t moving; they were stuck because they weren’t following,” Stickl offers in a chapter called “Momentum.”
So my mind returned once again to the task-minded businessman who was so fixated on his mission that he missed God in action. The truly saddest moment wasn’t that the man missed the celestial watercolor, but, rather, once he saw it, he shrugged it off for manufactured manna.
I wonder how many times I must do the same thing. For sure, our days are full. My own day planner vies for space for clients, church work, class assignments, pastoral care, lunch dates, fitness needs, missional community gatherings, dinner prep, play dates and the rest.
The beauty of our journey, though, is we serve a creative God who the author of second chances. He is a master at getting our attention through sunsets and rainbows, puppies and good coffee, through laughter and hugs, trials and sickness. We just need to be watching, and listening, and following.
“Next steps are not expectations to fulfill, they’re discoveries to be made,” Stickl offers.