“Dark clouds give water when the bright ones do not.” John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
I had great plans for a lakeside retreat in western New York. I picked a nice hotel with great reviews, and booked a room with a balcony overlooking the water. So I ran some errands, delegated tasks, rearranged schedules to free up myself for two days. And after I got done taking my mom to a routine medical appointment, I took off for the two hour drive, already anticipating some long reflective walks by the lake, and hours of quietly reading my bible on the dock under full sunshine.
Nope! That was not going to happen. A steady rain became my constant companion throughout my drive to Chautauqua Harbor Hotel. Though I found my room lovely and the atmosphere serene, I was still unsure how God would use my time there. But God did what He always does – He redirected my disappointed heart to Him. He called me to repentance for letting the dark clouds of everyday life discourage me and diminish my view of who God is.
We live in challenging times and dark clouds loom on the horizon of our personal and communal realities. No one (who is alive) is spared from trials and hardship. In a letter to fellow believers, James wrote “Count it all joy my brothers (and sisters) when you meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2). How does one count it all joy? Does this mean I should try my best to ignore the pain and convince myself to remain happy no matter what? That’s not what James meant. Positive thinking has never been and will never be the antidote to suffering. Imagine if I had chosen to respond with strong optimism, and disregarded the real status of the weather, and I sat on the dock in summer outfit and beach slippers, complete with a straw hat and huge sunglasses, in the middle of pouring rain and thunder. That would be insane. It would also be highly arrogant of me to think that clouds could get whisked away by my relentless insistence on having more sunshine.
“For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:3
While our human nature is focused on avoiding suffering, James points out that steadfastness is the fruit that results from trials, and this is important enough for us to consider it pure joy when we are tested. Trials bring us to a state of complete dependence on God. Through trials, God corrects our self-centered vision and allows us to rightly gaze at all that He is, which is all that matters – His goodness, holiness, mercy and power. Suffering also enables us to look at ourselves through the lens of humility so that we can see without a doubt, that apart from Him, we can do nothing at all. (John 15:5)
Knowledge of God’s word is essential to our growth and maturity, but knowledge alone does not produce steadfastness. Fellowship with the body of Christ is truly life-giving, but that’s not where steadfastness develops. Nothing else brings forth steadfastness more powerfully than the dark clouds of trial and suffering. Underneath these clouds, we realize that what we need the most is in fact the One who loves us the most. Underneath these clouds, our hearts are transformed and made steadfast by the One whose steadfast love never ceases. Underneath these clouds, we need not suffer alone. When it seems the clouds are here to stay, we can be most certain that Jesus is all the more here to stay. Such intimacy with Him is reason enough to rejoice.
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:4
I’ve come to see that when, by His grace, my heart seeks Jesus more than it yearns for the sunshine of earthly security, happiness and freedom, even the darkest clouds have no power to steal my joy. Steadfastness doesn’t mean I am unshakable on my own. Steadfastness means I am unshakeable in the arms of my Savior and Lord.
“Can you find a promise that if we follow the Lord Jesus Christ, life is going to be fairly easy? I do not think we shall find even one. But we shall find ever so many promises assuring us that however things are, we may count on strength to make us brave and peace to keep our hearts at rest.”
― Amy Carmichael