My early morning ‘reflections’ were disturbed today by the sound of heavy rain on the lounge window, prompting me to re-locate into our large conservatory, where I sat and simply listened for over an hour, as the torrential downpour beat upon the polycarbonate roof – what a noise and stark reminder of the power of natural forces.
This unexpected distraction (?) provoked a series of thoughts about rain and spiritual outpourings – the subject of much debate and discussion in churches and at conferences during my time in church leadership.
My starting point has to be what actually happened this morning. The interruption to my devotions brought awareness of how much I’d gotten into a routine (not necessarily a bad thing) of sitting in quiet reflection on God and on Scripture . It then occurred how often natural rainfall does disrupt our human plans and programmes. As a cricket lover I’m conscious how “rain stopped play” heralds the weather’s unwelcome interference in a game’s flow. Again, our British summer frequently brings a catalogue of planned events (e.g. galas, fêtes, barbecues, picnics etc.) which have to be cancelled due to inclement weather conditions. One thing all this highlights, for me, is our love of being in control, and the frustration we experience at being incapable of controlling the elements.
Is there not a similarity here that applies to ‘spiritual’ outpouring ? Does not the history of Christian ‘revival’ suggest this is the case, with ‘divine interventions’ tending to interfere with normal human plans and activities, and proving quite unwelcome in some quarters, even to the extent of producing strong resistance and opposition (remember the physical attacks made on persons and properties in the early days of Methodism). It is no less true in ecclesiastical life today, as so much time, energy and finance is directed towards controlling plans, programmes, and, sadly, even people. Frankly such a state of affairs does need disturbing by divine interventions, methinks.
A second strand of thought then took shape – how the rain invigorates both the earth (bringing refreshment, enlivening and enriching the soil and the existing plants with its nutriments, and so facilitating growth) AND the environment as a whole (e.g. high humidity or pollen counts may sharply reduce as an after-effect of a quick shower) in a kind of ‘cleansing’ process.
I’ve found that a ‘stifling’ atmosphere can develop within some ‘church’ groups, which is most discomforting and incompatible with a genuine worship experience and with kingdom living. Some congregations suffer from high doses of legalism, professionalism and dogmatism, in which the human spirit finds it hard to breathe, let alone flourish. Here there is desperate need of fresh outpourings of the Spirit of God, to purify the environment, to restore creativity, to bring the nutriments and gifts which together promote healthy life.
A third line of thought emerged concerning how our Scriptures are replete with this beautiful metaphor. Parallels between natural and spiritual ‘outpourings’ are very evident. Rain is usually indicative of divine blessing. A great Harvest Psalm proclaims: “You visit the earth and water it, You greatly enrich it … You water its ridges abundantly … You make it soft with showers, You bless its growth“. There’s also a rich promise made to the Jewish nation, for instance, that “if you walk in My commandments … then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce …”
The link is frequently made in the prophetic writings between natural and spiritual rain, none more so than in Joel’s inspired vision of “the age of the Spirit”. Foretelling a change in fortune for his beleaguered people, Joel announces that God “will cause the rain to come down to you – the former rain and the latter rain (i.e. seasonal rains) …” In the next breath the prophet goes on to speak of a universal down-pour of the Holy Spirit, announcing: “… I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh …” Centuries later these words are taken up by Peter, the apostle, in defining events in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Peter affirms: “THIS is what was spoken by the prophet Joel…” and goes on to explain: “…being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, HE (Jesus Christ) poured out THIS which you now see and hear“.
So, Pentecost was an opening of Heaven’s Windows, and we’re left in no doubt that the ‘gift’ (or outpouring) of the Holy Spirit is available to all, as Peter continues: “…the Promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Now, although we cannot control spiritual seasons any more than we can natural seasons, we can at least ‘position ourselves’ in heart and attitude by seeking God and by asking Him for rain – “Ask the LORD for rain in the time of latter rain. The LORD will make flashing clouds; He will give showers of rain …”
Friends, it’s raining hard across the world … and now is not the time for umbrellas !