Have you ever been walking along the road on a blistering summer day and been overtaken quite suddenly by a cloudburst of rain? There is hardly a cloud in the sky big enough to dictate a rain shower, but here it is, giant drops of rain splashing down all around you, barely strong enough to make it through the leafy trees but large enough to create definite splashes on the pavement. And your first thought is: relief! Relief from the beating sun and the heat of the pavement that has been threatening to burn through the soles of your shoes. You wait with great anticipation for those first drops of cool rain to splash your face.
But then something unexpected happens. Instead of relief, the drops actually seem to make it worse. The rain hitting the pavement creates a stifling barrier through which you now walk. The steaming asphalt creates an invisible, choking cloud. Where before there was just blistering heat reflecting up against your feet, now a sticky, smelly heat rises up all around you. You breathe asphalt; the drops of rain feel like humidity itself. Ugh.
One of two things happens then: either the rain stops quickly and you are left muddling along a now humid, tarry road, or the rain continues. And as the rain continues, the road cools to the point where it no longer steams, the humidity begins to dissolve, a faint breeze stirs the asphalt smell away, and you are left with the cooling relief you have come to associate with rain.
I had an experience like this not too long ago, on one of our intensely warm mid-western days. It occurred to me how this rain is like the Word of God. It can overtake us when we least expect it, and in its embrace we find the promise of relief. After all, Jesus tells us that the water he gives us will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life. “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.” (John 4:14)
But sometimes the relief doesn’t come immediately, or in the way we anticipate. Sometimes it even feels as though we can smell the burning sulfur under our feet even as the drops of God’s Word are hitting us. We hear stories from all around the world of the persecutions that occur because of faith in God’s Word. Jesus himself warned us, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew10:34).
For any Christian, whether you are just beginning to learn about Jesus or whether you have grown accustom to finding relief in God’s presence, this unexpected lack of relief can range from disconcerting to faith shattering. And the unexpected conflict does not have to be external. God’s Word often confronts each one of us personally with our deepest sins, our greatest fears, our biggest weaknesses. The intuitive reaction is to “Stop!” Clearly the rain is making it worse – make it stop! Clearly this foray into God’s Word is making it worse – make it stop!
Unfortunately, drawing away is the exact wrong reaction. Just as it takes time for the rain to cool a blistering summer pavement, so it takes time for God’s Word to envelope and strengthen us. We cannot stop reading God’s Word and reaching for his presence simply because it initially makes us uncomfortable. Reaching to God and then stopping is like the rain shower that stops too abruptly – it leaves you in a sulfurous steam bath. Understanding God’s Word takes persistence and patience. We must continue to study his Word, just as the rain must continue to hit the pavement. And just as the breeze that eventually comes will stir the humidity away, so God’s spirit will eventually stir in us, guide us to a deeper understanding and a closer relationship with Him, and bring the relief that we are seeking. One drop, one word, at a time.
O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD! (Jeremiah 22:29)