Listen to the Cloud

In Sermon Ideas by Rachel Schultz

Listen to the Cloud


Key Passage: Matthew 8

Key Thought: Even when our prayer receives an unfathomable “no,” we can be encouraged by the reality that God has worked many miracles and said yes to millions of others. The saints through the centuries are a “cloud of witnesses,” testifying that God is always good.

Illustration: There was a gritty, hard-to-read story in Reader’s Digest in December 1997. A young mother named Barbara received two diagnoses virtually at once. Doctor #1 said she had a very serious case of leukemia. And her midwife told her that she was pregnant—with twins. Her dilemma was that if she got on a bone-marrow transplant program immediately for the leukemia, it would require aborting the two little babies already growing inside of her. There was simply no time to lose, doctors told her.

After much discussion, prayer, and soul-searching, she and her husband Jeff decided to carry both babies to term, and to postpone the medical treatment for seven months until after the births. In the meantime, they could fight the killer white-blood-cell count of 200,000 with a centrifuge procedure called leukapheresis and also oral chemotherapy, but the bone marrow transplant operation was put off for the sake of those two fetuses. This was a wrenching and very personal choice, and certainly we wouldn’t have argued much with a couple that made another decision.

Obviously many prayers went up during those seven months of waiting—knowing all the time that the leukemia was still lurking in her system, that her chances were growing dimmer by the week. Sure enough: six months after the twins were born—Hunter and McKenzie—Mom passed away. The father was left with a four-year-old son, Taylor, and those two little babies.

Human Reaction: We sit in insulated comfort reading such an article, and we toss down the Reader’s Digest in frustration. Where is God? Why didn’t He work a miracle? This is the thanks a family gets for valuing life, for sacrificing self? Why doesn’t the silent God show Himself? If not now, when? If not for Barbara Barton, then for who? Many wonderful books  chronicle answers to prayer. And we thank God for those stories. But there aren’t many books where good, deserving people, lifetime Christians, have a legitimate prayer need, life-and-death . . . and heaven gives them absolutely no response.

Why do such people encounter the “silent God”? God doesn’t even seem to say no; He just plain doesn’t answer at all. And the silence there in the ER or the morgue is nearly deafening.

A Million Miracles: One thing that makes this issue of God’s silence even more difficult is the stark contrast we see with the miracle-packed pages of Scripture. People were healed right and left! Matthew 8:16: “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to Him [Jesus], and He drove out the spirits with a word and healed ALL the sick.”

Every sick person who came to Him was made well. Jesus offered a 100% cure rate. When Jesus went through a town, there wasn’t a single sick person left when He was through.
•    The hospitals were empty
•    Funeral parlors went out of business
•    Every crutch was turned into kindling wood.

Peter’s Mother-in Law: Still in Matthew 8, the context to this healing marathon is that Jesus came into Peter’s house, and found that his mother-in-law was in bed sick.

There was none of this:
•    “silent God”
•    “no answer”
•    “Nobody home”
•    “One chance in twenty thousand of getting your prayer answered”

No! “Jesus touched her hand and the fever left her.” This was Peter’s wife’s mom—a friend! Of course Jesus would heal her; why would there even be any discussion? And in this 21st century, we wonder why the odds are so much worse. The people of God, faithful Christians seem to almost have better luck playing the lottery than getting God to work a miracle.

Best Soldiers (review):
 Sometimes today God does allow His best soldiers to suffer on the hardest battlefields, without much apparent help from heaven’s artilleries. The best Christians get the fewest answers, and we see God off in some other arena working miracles for the thieves and the hustlers. It’s hard to realize that heaven is trying to win those people, and counting on God’s best soldiers to trust in Him even during difficult and lonely battles.

Reclaiming Intimacy in Your Marriage by Robert & Debra Bruce:
 A second principle comes from this pastoral writing team—and they make the point that they are a team. “We’re the ‘Bruce team.’” The talents or abilities missing in one of them, the other partner often has. When one struggles emotionally, the other one can pick him or her up. When they go through a hard time, they remember how God had blessed them as a team in the past; this gives them courage to keep on going.

Chapter: Face Life’s Interruptions Together: They write about tragedies: deaths, financial downturns, lingering sicknesses, pain. Some people get mad and blow up, while others face sorrow and pain in stoic silence.

“There is a third and better way. Notice that we call this a ‘way’ and not an ‘explanation.’ Arguments and explanations fall silent when we are in darkness”—that’s part of the ‘silent God’ syndrome—“when life’s interruptions hit, but we have experienced that there is always a light, a way, if you will. When we join hands together in an intimate marriage and look at this light, we realize that we are not alone. This light is what we call the ‘communion of saints.’ We know that in the midst of tragedy or crisis, we are surrounded by men and women, a ‘cloud of witnesses,’ who went through suffering, trusting boldly in God. They aren’t here to offer us explanations, but they have given us the testimony of their lives to point us to a Savior who can see us through to victory.”

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 before us. We are indeed on a tough course. It’s a race, a difficult, arduous track, with rain and mud and tears and splinters. “But we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. So run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Maybe you pray and God seems silent. You feel like you’re getting no answer, that heaven is saying no in a very cold and impersonal way. But the bottom-line truth:
•    God has answered many, many prayers!
•    All through the ages He has answered prayers.
•    Did He heal your relative?  Maybe not—but God is a healing God.
•    He HAS healed millions.
•    In a world racked with sin, no, He doesn’t heal everyone. Not yet anyway. But He has a healing heart, a loving heart.

We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who call out to us:
•    “He healed my daughter.”
•    “He healed my dad.”
•    “He healed ME!”
•    Other witnesses tell how God rescued, how He intervened, how He sent angels, how He even brought loved ones back to life.

The Body of Christ: If you’re a Christian, part of this 2000-year-old living, dynamic organism that spans the globe and the past 20 centuries, then you are surrounded by many uncountable cases, millions of them, where God answered prayers of people who are part of your team! He said “yes” as often as He dared, as often as His loving, all-knowing, divine plan would permit.

Six Words: We should repeat these when we feel the silence of God, when it appears that heaven is giving us the cold shoulder, the impersonal, uncaring “no” of an unanswered prayer. As we read our Bibles and know that someone else’s mother was healed, that someone else’s child was raised from the dead, that another person’s wife or husband was restored to spiritual wellness, we can hear the testimony of that cloud of witnesses and say these six words: God is THERE. And God is GOOD.  

Conclusion: Were you one of the chosen ones who got a miracle this time?  Maybe not. Maybe God chose you to be a strong soldier, to carry on in a hard battle while He ministers to others more needy. And it hurts. You’d like the tenderness and the miracles to come your way. The silence hurts. But God is there and God is good.

The cloud of witnesses may speak in a quiet voice. Miracles sound like thunder, while the cloud’s testimony is more of a whisper. But in your darkest hour, be listening. God is there and God is good. 

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