Is the Metaphor All Wet?

I went out for my daily morning walk earlier this week. The sun wasn’t up—it was dark—and though I couldn’t see them, the clouds overhead only made the unrefreshingly warm humidity in the autumn air heavier and burdensome. I clutched my small flashing strobe light (given to me by a kind neighbor last week who caught me walking without light and insisted I receive his thoughtful gift—I gratefully did). The blinking strobe doesn’t light up much of the forested landscape—its value is its uncanny way of catching the eye of drivers hurrying to work in the dark.

But the downside of a light that doesn’t shine very far is your eyes begin to play tricks on you. And you think you see a creature racing across the road ahead (maybe a deer, or was it a tiger?). A blinking light with jumpy shadows is a recipe for uncertainty at best when you’re walking in the dark.

The darkness matched the mood of my heart. I like to pray while I walk. And that morning my heart was burdened for the church, my own and the wider national and global church. It feels like we’re stuck beneath dark clouds in heavy air, not drifting backward perhaps but certainly not making noticeable forward progress either. Having spent a few years in this parish and pulpit, my mind raced back through the many, many spiritual strategies our congregation and campus had embraced, had launched, had completed—hoping this one or that one would be the breakthrough.

I admit it’s difficult to define breakthrough anymore. After all, what constitutes a divine breakthrough in a faith community? Love and ministry to the disenfranchised, the marginalized and alienated (as in Isaiah 58)? The gospel to our neighbors and neighborhoods, our communities and cities (Matthew 28)? “Small companies of prayer” that meet faithfully to intercede for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4)? A body of believers who love God with all their hearts, souls and bodies—and love their neighbors as themselves (Matthew 22)?

As I walked on in the dark, the cloud ceiling began to morph from black to grey, thanks to an approaching sunrise unseen beneath the heavy clouds. So what will it take? What are you waiting for, God? How long? Questions borrowed from saints through the ages much closer to him than I. Will the promised breakthrough—what the American writer and messenger described as “such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times . . . the Spirit and power of God . . . poured out upon His children” (GC 464)—come true for this generation?

“Ask the Lord for rain in the season of the latter rain” (Zechariah 10:1). “‘Behold I will do a new thing. . . . I will pour water on those who are thirsty, and floods on the dry ground. I will pour my Spirit on your descendants and my blessing on your offspring’” (Isaiah 43:19/44:3). “In the last days, God says, I will pour my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters. . . . even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days’” (Acts 2:17-18).

Still deep in thought, I approached the end of my forty minutes. Less than two hundred feet ahead around the trees and curve was my home. At that moment I felt a drop. Then a second one. It was beginning to rain. I quickened my pace to get out of the rain, when a thought flashed through my mind—could it be that the breakthrough-rainfall prophets have promised and saints have prayed for through the ages—could it be that the “Big One” (the last divine rainfall) comes only when the children of God are nearly home, much closer to home than anyone realizes?

Could it be then the shadows play tricks on our eyes—“we see through a glass darkly”—so that what looks far is near, and what looks near is far? Could the same dark glass be hiding massive movements of Heaven and its visitants on earth, frenetically at work in the very strategies and prayers we conclude are ineffectual? Then maybe all is not in vain. And Heaven is much closer to us than we ever dared to imagine. Could it be?

Such are the thoughts of a man coming out of the rain.

Me? I was just glad to be home.