Follow the Cloud: Hearing God's Voice One Next Step at a Time

Follow the Cloud: Hearing God's Voice One Next Step at a Time

by John Stickl


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"Stickl explains how hearing the still small voice of God and obeying his call will lead us into a deeper, more passionate relationship with him.”
—Robert Morris, founding senior pastor, Gateway Church, Dallas/Fort Worth

There is a big difference between being set free and living free.

How do I know what to do with my life? How do I hear God’s voice? Maybe the answer is easier than we think. When God led the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, He gave them a cloud to follow. He led them in an intimately personal, ever-present way one next step at a time. He led them without revealing the whole picture because he wanted them to follow by faith.
In Follow the Cloud, Pastor John Stickl uses this image to ask, “What if we stopped letting obligation drive us and instead let grace lead us? What if instead of focusing on our faithfulness toward God, we focus on God’s faithfulness toward us?” 
The cloud of God’s presence is moving in your life right now. Maybe God is inviting you to follow him to a new career or relationship. Maybe he is inviting you to extend forgiveness, share your story, or give up your addiction. Whatever your next step is, God is leading you to discover who you are, who he is, and what you were created to do. He is inviting you to a life of freedom. Inviting you home - one step at a time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781601429254
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/01/2017
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 601,511
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.64(d)

About the Author

John Stickl is the lead pastor of Valley Creek Church, a multi-site church in Texas named one of Outreach Magazine’s top 100 fastest-growing churches three years in a row. Stickl has a master’s degree in Christian leadership from Denver Seminary. He lives in Highland Village, Texas, with his wife, Colleen, and their two kids.

Read an Excerpt


It is about you.

I realize those are not typical words you would expect from a pastor. I mean, when was the last time you heard a sermon series called “It’s All About You”? You probably never have and never will. Those four words make us feel uncomfortable. Honestly, they make me feel uncomfortable. We have been told our entire lives that it’s not about us. We have heard countless messages telling us to always put others first. We have been taught that God needs us to do great things for him. And although we have been full of good intentions, maybe we have unintentionally placed unhealthy expectations upon each other. You know the kind: Try harder. Do better. Change your behavior. Bury your feelings. Fix yourself. It’s not about you anyway, so pull yourself together. And from experience, I can tell you that is an exhausting way to live.

But what if it is about us? What if it is more about us than we have realized? What if our lives are more about what God wants to do in us than what he wants to do through us? What if the journey that God invites us on is really about discovering who we are, who he is, and what we were created to do?

Maybe God is more interested in setting us free than making us religious.

To be honest, I am afraid to write this book. I know that’s not a very inspiring way to start, but it’s true. My life is full. I am leading a large, fast-growing church. My kids are young and full of energy, which means I am constantly tired. I have very little free time. And I am not sure how to take what is in my heart and put it on paper. But here’s the thing: I think this is my next step. I believe that God is inviting me to do this. The very act of writing it is what the heart of this book is all about. Following the cloud—courageously taking next steps when we see God move. I am following the cloud because in many ways writing this book is about me. It’s about following God to a place I have never been before to discover things I have never seen before. And that is the invitation I believe God is extending to you—to follow the cloud. To go places, do things, discover truths, and find a freedom you have never experienced before.

I mean, let’s be realistic: it’s not as if God really needs us to accomplish his purposes. I don’t know about you, but I have quickly realized that I don’t have all that much to offer anyway. God didn’t need Noah to build the ark. He didn’t need David to kill Goliath. He didn’t need the disciples to establish his kingdom. And he doesn’t need us to change the world. In fact, if you don’t feel very qualified, you are in good company. Yet for some reason, he always chooses us. This sometimes mysterious God has chosen broken, hurting, and confused people to follow him to places they have never been before. Why? Because it is his deepest desire to set us free. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). He longs to break off the limits, labels, and insecurities that fill our hearts and minds. Every next step he asks us to take is an invitation to live in the freedom of his love, a discovery that without him we will never make. God is a loving Father whowants his children to live beyond the brokenness of this world—the brokenness many of us never seem to get free from.

You see, God knows something we tend to forget: the greatest thing we can do for others is become the healthiest versions of ourselves. I can’t love my neighbor if I don’t love myself. And the reality is, very few of us have a healthy love for self. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). John, the Apostle of Love, reminds us that we can’t give what we have yet to receive. And people in bondage can’t lead others to freedom. So if you want to live a life that is not about you, you first have to embrace that following him is about you.

But not in the way you think.

It’s about you awakening to life. It’s about you discovering who God says you are. It’s about you and finding freedom from your past. It’s about you resting in his love. It’s about you receiving the fullness of the finished work of Jesus. It's about you submitting to his Lordship. God is most glorified when your heart is alive and free, and you can become that person only by following the cloud.

So what is the cloud? Well it’s a physical picture of a spiritual truth hidden in the ancient story of the Exodus. “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night” (Exodus 13:21). Can you imagine what that would have looked like? The entire nation of Israel following a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night. The presence of God leading them from slavery to the Promised Land. Of all the ways God could have led his people, he chose to do it through a personal and ever-present cloud. Because that is who God is: intimately personal and always present. This cloud represented his tangible presence. It defined their identity, surrounded them with his love, and led them into a land of freedom. From within this mighty cloud, he spoke with the gentleness of a whisper: Follow me, one next step at a time. When I move, you move. When I stop, you stop. Where I go, you go. Keep your eyes on me. Stay in step with the cloud, and I will lead you to discover who you are, who I am, and what you were created to do.

Following the cloud is how I have learned to live my life and how our leadership team leads our church: listening to God’s voice and following his presence by faith wherever he goes. And although I don’t always understand what he is doing, I have learned that every time I have the courage to follow, I learn more about who I am, who he is, and what I am created to do. Every time I follow, he awakens more of my heart. With every next step, I see a little bit more of Jesus and become a little bit freer of myself. And that is the same journey I believe he is inviting you to take.


When we read about the Israelites following the cloud from Egypt to the Promised Land, we tend to focus on the physical aspects of their journey: like wandering in the desert, gathering manna from heaven, and fighting the nations of giants. But what we often fail to realize is that the Exodus was really a journey of the heart. While God was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into new lands, he was actually leading their hearts out of bondage, through their fears, and into new lives of wholeness. The goal wasn’t just to get them to a new land; it was to help them learn to live free as beloved children of God. Every physical next step was an invitation toward emotional, relational,and spiritual freedom. The physical journey of the Exodus was the process, but freedom of the heart was the outcome. The same is true for us today. While God is leading us through what often feels like our own Exodus, the goal isn’t to find the perfect life; it’s to heal and free our hearts. A journey of next steps isn’t really about where we go, what we do, or what we accomplish; it’s about who we become.

At the church where I serve as a pastor, Valley Creek Church, we have a simple illustration that captures this truth, which we call the three circles—or life in the Father’s heart. We believe that as we receive his grace, we are drawn to experience his presence and then are empowered to release his kingdom—that as we discoverour new identity in Jesus, it will lead us into relationship with him and empower us to live out our purpose. At the center of where these three circles intersect is the Father’s heart for us. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus is the way, but the Father is the destination. Jesus came not only to show us but also to lead us into the love of the Father. The Father’s heart is the Promised Land, and it’s where the cloud is always drawing us one next step at a time. This is the pattern you find all throughout Scripture.

My hope is that like the Israelites, you will start moving toward the freedom of living in the Father’s heart one next step at a time. And our movement always starts with receiving his grace. When we receive his grace, we will experience his presence and release his kingdom. As we receive our new identity, we will run to relationship with him and live out our purpose. When we believe we are beloved sons and daughters, we will desire to be with our Father and will spend our lives building his kingdom. When we know we are forgiven, we will joyfully approach him and live with courage. But the inverse is also true. If we resist his grace, out offear we will avoid his presence and will strive to earn his approval. If we believe we are spiritual orphans, we will be afraid of the Father and will spend our lives building our own kingdoms, trying to find significance. If we don’t know who we are, we won’t know how to relate to him and won’t know what we were created to do.

Sounds simple enough, right?

We are drawn by grace, not driven by expectations. But unfortunately this world is full of expectations. So instead of life in the Father’s heart, we are often driven through the cycle of performance (the three circles in reverse). Starting with circle 3, we spend our lives performing, trying to earn God’s approval so that we can become significant. We strive to behave to gain God’s acceptance so that we might earn our forgiveness. In the cycle of performance, we go against the current of grace: we do in order to become. And as I already said, that is an exhausting way to live.

Order is everything.

Identity leads to relationship, and relationship releases purpose. This is where the cloud led the Israelites and where it is leading us. This is the gospel. The gospel isn’t just for salvation; it is for all of life. And it is always drawing us to live free as beloved sons and daughters. If at any point in this book you get stuck, refer back to these three circles and remind yourself that the grace of Jesus is leading you into the freedom of the Father’s heart: the ultimate Promised Land.


All throughout the Bible, clouds are pictures of promise, presence, protection, and prophetic potential. That is a great description of a Spirit-led life. The first time the word cloud is mentioned is when God gave Noah a “rainbow in the clouds” (Genesis 9:13) as a promise of his goodness. “The Lord came down in the cloud” to be with his people (Numbers 11:25). “He spread out a cloud as a covering” (Psalm 105:39) to protect his people in the world. And, finally, Jesus said the nations of the earth “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). The cloud is always revealing the Father’s heart to his beloved sons and daughters. We are following the cloud toward him, and he is riding the cloud toward us.

Following the cloud is simply a life of restful movement. We rest in Jesus and yet never stop moving forward with him. Like the first-century Christians, we are the “followers of the Way”(Acts 9:2, nlt). We have nothing to achieve, prove, or earn. We have everything to receive, discover, and explore. We restfully move in step with him. That is the way of Jesus.

So here is my question and challenge for you: What if you had the courage to follow the cloud—to listen to God’s voice and respond to his presence, to move when he moves and stop when he stops? You might not fully understand it, and it might not always make sense, but you can trust that he is always leading you toward your Promised Land. In fact, your next step is often in the direction of your greatest fear. He leads you toward your fears so that you can become fearless in his love!

The cloud is moving in your life right now, leading you toward his freedom one next step at a time. Maybe he is inviting you to follow him into a new job, a new career, a new relationship, or a new school. Maybe he is inviting you to let go of something old or pick up something new. Maybe he is inviting you to extend forgiveness, release generosity, share your story, or give up your addiction. Maybe he is inviting you to break out of the rut and routine you’ve been stuck in for years. I don’t know what your next step is, but I know he wants you to get to your Promised Land even more than you do.

And your Promised Land isn’t a destination; it’s a revelation of who you are, who he is, and what you were created to do. It’s life in the Father’s heart. And although you may not even be aware of it, he is there. Calling. Drawing. Inviting you to follow. Inviting you home.


Next step.

At a time.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Section 1 Awaken to Life

Chapter 1 A Cloud Appears 13

Chapter 2 Come and See 28

Chapter 3 Momentum 41

Section 2 Receive His Grace

Chapter 4 Overwhelming Kindness 61

Chapter 5 Becoming Who We Already Are 79

Chapter 6 Beloved Sons and Daughters 97

Section 3 Experience His Presence

Chapter 7 Thunderous Whisper 121

Chapter 8 Finding Friendship 139

Chapter 9 Living in Security 158

Section 4 Release His Kingdom

Chapter 10 How to Kill a Giant 177

Chapter 11 Pioneers 195

Chapter 12 All In 211

Acknowledgments 223

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Follow the Cloud: Hearing God's Voice One Next Step at a Time 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Justnall More than 1 year ago
The most profound book I've read in over a decade. One of those books that leaves you changed. Encouraging, practical, insightful, and fascinating! The toughest part is putting it down. No matter where you are on your journey with Jesus, following for 50 years or just checking God out, you'll be challenged to question the status quo & you'll find yourself face to face with a God who loves you, speaks to you, and wants you to walk in absolute freedom, purpose, & life!
CPitt More than 1 year ago
The truths contained in this book are transforming my life. I am receiving the grace of Jesus and discovering who I am. I am experiencing the presence of God and discovering who He is. As a result of discovering who I am and who He is, I am discovering what I am created to do – my purpose. This is the Father’s Heart. This changes everything. The only thing hard about reading this book is having to set it down. Pastor John’s personal journey of discovering and living free in the Father’s Heart enables him to lead us on that journey with passion and enthusiasm. He truly wants this for all of us! His writing style is life giving, encouraging, inspiring, and motivating. If you embark on this journey to living free, you will learn that you have nothing to achieve, prove, or earn – that you have everything to receive, discover, and explore. When family, friends, and former colleagues ask why I left an executive-level corporate position, with the high income, the large office, the travel and perks, the material possessions it afforded – I can now answer by pointing them to this book. When they see that I’m living my life differently, that my passions have changed, that my time, gifts, talents, and finances are spent in new areas – I can now explain the changes by pointing them to this book. This book captures, in an inspiring and compelling way, the “why” behind my transformed life. This is my story and the story of all those who have asked, listened, and responded and are following the Cloud one next step at a time to a life of freedom. My prayer is that this will become your story, too.
KristyV More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I have read in a long time! It opened my eyes to how God intended us to live FREE! A life where we know who we are, who God is, and what we were created to do sounds so easy, but most of us never attain it. This book is a manual with simple, but not simplistic, next steps that we can all take to live a life of freedom. No matter where you are in your journey, this book will enlighten you with its wisdom, make you laugh with its humor, and inspire you with its simple message follow the cloud, and live free.
rachelfenderson More than 1 year ago
This book flips the american church model on it's head! Everything I thought I knew about Jesus, and my "religion" was shifted by the revelation I received through "Follow the Cloud." The heart of the Father is for us to live FREE as beloved sons and daughters, and that's a beautiful picture that keeps unfolding one next step at a time. This book is an easy yet deep dive that you can read over and over again and STILL receive fresh revelation!! #ifollowthecloud -- Will you?!
NicholasV More than 1 year ago
FOLLOW THE CLOUD by pastor and first-time author John Stickl takes a relatively brief, yet fulfilling and encouraging look at the desire that God has to lead His children on a continual basis, and that this type of intimate and relational expression of life with God is available to all Christians now. Using the Old Testament example of how the Lord led the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land through a cloud by day (and fire by night) to lead the people exactly where they needed to go when they needed to go. Stickl challenges readers to “follow the cloud —- courageously taking next steps when we see God move. The author breaks his explanation of following God more closely into four sections. Section 1 — Awaken to Life — makes the case that believers today have more access to God than the Israelites did in the Old Testament, and that the Lord means for us to follow Him in a dependent and trusting daily walk. Section 2 — Receive His Grace — builds a foundation for this intimate walk by demonstrating the love and grace of God, and believers’ identity as sons and daughters rather than servants or sinners. Section 3 — Experience His Presence — goes into detail to describe what “following the cloud” entails, and all the various ways that God communicates with us. Finally, Section 4 — Release His Kingdom — lays out a vision of what a willingness to trust and obey God can mean in the individual believers’ lives, as well as in the lives of their family, friends, coworkers, church members, communities and society at large. Stickl writes in an honest, self-effacing manner as someone who has only recently learned more about the love of God and His desire to lead him and all believers in all things; so that striving and despair can cease, and Christians can live in the joy and freedom that Christ desires and delivered to us through His sacrifice and obedience to the Father. This aspect of Stickl’s writing reminds me in a good way of other authors like Craig Groeschel who write not as “super Christians” who have had very extraordinary experiences and blessings with God that would make readers feel guilty and self-conscious; but rather as a follow struggler who has had to learn some difficult lessons, but now wants to share his joyful discoveries with others. This book is extremely encouraging and uplifting, and as a believer who has had many ongoing struggles in learning to trust God and totally depend on Him, this book was like a breath of fresh air to me. I would highly recommend this book for all believers.
JustinMilum More than 1 year ago
I am so grateful for this book! The truths contained are truly life-changing. This book delivers a rich understanding of God and the Gospel. It is easy to read, encouraging and life-giving. Yet at the same time challenges our religious perceptions of who we are and what God really thinks of us. You will not regret reading this book!
AndreaM More than 1 year ago
Please, PLEASE, read at least one chapter. I have the faith that if you lean in for a little and take a next step, you will be blessed with a lot!! This book is Life Changing with principles and lessons you can put into action immediately, not to mention it's an amazing read! The concepts are written in a way you truly understand them. John also uses his own life experiences to keep things real and add humor, which keeps you engaged. Knowing others struggle and similarly is a comfort, but learning what God has done through that is beyond measure!! I can't even name a favorite nugget I've gained but here's one - "We have allowed our experiences to determine what we believe, instead of allowing what we believe to create what we experience." I am sure you will want more before you finish chapter 1 - can't wait for you to begin!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Journey of the heart “Follow the Cloud” is an amazing book, easy to read and very difficult to put down. The truths in this book lead me to discovering my identity as his beloved daughter, experiencing his presence, building my relationship with him and accepting my destiny of releasing his kingdom. My Journey continues as a cloud follower one next step at a time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a powerful revelation of God's heart. God leads us one next step at a time into a life of freedom. God leads us in small steps and not giant leaps. He speaks in sentences and not paragraphs as He leads us. These and so many other life direction setting truths are uncovered in the pages of Follow the Cloud, an exceptional read!
CarolynJ More than 1 year ago
A good book can change your life and this book does just that. John writes from his heart personal stories and revelation that will surely draw you closer the good Father's heart. The revelation in this book is so profound and also so easily relatable. It's as if the author were talking to you at your kitchen table. The biblical truths in the book will not guilt you or shame you into trying harder or doing better, but will instead reveal the heart of God and his unending grace and love. This book is a must read for anyone who has been hurt by the church, or who sees themselves and others as having to earn God's love and approval.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From the very first page, there is a sense that this book is different. It's not about doing. It's about following. It's about listening to God. When John writes, "Following the cloud is simply a life of restful movement," it immediately takes on a different perspective not heard as often - resting *in* Jesus. Being *with* Jesus. This, along with all of the other wisdom that pours out on every page, gives believers great courage to step into who God designed them to be, one step at a time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow! This book is amazing! The life changing truths from the Bible come to life in a way that brings incredible freedom. If you lead in any way, you need to have this tool. A must read for any believer no matter how long they've been walking with the Lord.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow what a powerful book. This is a book that you will read and reread . I recommend it to everyone .
Luke Bays More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I've read in quite awhile. You'll need a highlighter! This book is packed with nuggets of truth that by the time you get to the bottom of the page you realize that you've highlighted most of the page. John Stickl does a great job of showing how we are never alone and that God is calling us to live a life of freedom that few of us have truly embraced. His life story is one that all of us can relate to and to see what he has accomplished through his own Next Steps is an encouraging reminder that while God may not be calling us to lead a church, He still has amazing plans for us if we are willing to take that step.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
2 1/2 years ago my family walked into Valley Creek Church for the first time and Pastor John delivered the message that day. Two things struck me that day. First, after a lifetime of hearing messages from many different pastors I had never heard a more honest, Scripture filled, challenging, and instructive message. Secondly, I knew immediately it was a worshipping church. My wife and I made the decision to continue visiting the church and it wasn't long before we decided to be All In with the church. Since then we have embraced the DNA of Valley Creek Church and are learning to Follow the Cloud every day. This book is about that DNA and why Following the Cloud is life transforming. Every day I am excited to listen for God's voice and know what my next step should be. Following the Cloud is not about a life bound by rules and laws, but a life living in the freedom of what Christ has already done for us. You can live in freedom too and this book will help you get there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Follow the Cloud provides simple understanding to profound truths answering the questions, "Who am I?" "Who Is God?" and "What am I created to do?" The answers to these questions literally changed my life - this book walks you through the discovery process as you lean in to listen to God's loving voice and embrace His invitation to follow.
AshleyBates More than 1 year ago
Following the Cloud isn't just a way of life, it's a way to life. By choosing each day to follow the Cloud you choose life over death, you choose Jesus over the world. When we learn who we are, who He is and discover God's purpose for our lives we experience the freedom our good Father offers! This book is real, it's transformational and will help light the path for you to find freedom as a beloved son or daughter.
kbays13 More than 1 year ago
It is so encouraging to hear that our identity is not in who we are or what we've done but what He did for us! We are not orphans. We are BELOVED sons and daughters of a God who loves us very much. This book answers the question, "What is God's will for my life". He will not reveal the final result but instead guide me by cloud on a journey of next steps with Him.
JosephElder More than 1 year ago
This book is unlike any book that I have ever read before. Whether you’re a new believer or have been following Jesus for decades this book will encourage, inspire, and speak to the very heart of your journey. There were so many nuggets of revelation for me in this book I found myself highlighting something on almost every page. I truly believe this book and the revelation in it has changed my life and I am hopeful it will change yours too. By the end of the book I believe you will have a deeper understanding of the Father’s love for you, find a new level of freedom and begin to walk confident in the purpose He has for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I searched for years to find true freedom in who I was, in my Christian walk, and ultimately in the plan God has for my life. The truths in this book are where I finally found the freedom I was looking for. You will love this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Follow the Cloud is a profound, yet practical guide to deepen your relationship with God. The three circles (Father's Heart) described in this book are such a clear and powerful diagram of what God wants for us. Don't miss this thought provoking book that will help you find your identity in Christ, your relationship with God and your purpose in His kingdom. Pick it up today!
BeccaJoye More than 1 year ago
A must read! This is an outstanding guidebook for living a wholehearted life - it answers the questions of who I am, who God is and what was I created to do! Great for all ages - strongly recommend!
RyanGreenawalt More than 1 year ago
The heart and message found within this book is life-changing. Jesus desires us to live free as beloved sons or daughters. Life in the Father's Heart is where I desire to live. After you read this book, it's not that you will want to do all these things for God, but rather that you will realize God has done everything for you. I am set free because of what Jesus has done, and that's the heart of God for you!
The_Shield_of_Rob More than 1 year ago
For most of my life I've tried to reconcile the complexities of the Bible. Follow the Cloud has changed my life! Complexity has become simply clear. I now understand my new identity in Jesus that leads me to enjoy His presence while releasing His Kingdom from a whole new perspective of freedom found in the Father's heart for me. This is not just a must read but a must receive.
MattJB More than 1 year ago
This book, written by one of the most humble and unassuming pastors I have ever encountered, so captures the heart and process of my own journey to freedom and will no doubt encourage every person in their own journey with Jesus. Its all about NEXT STEPS.. 1 step at a time! Pastor John communicates simply, yet so profoundly as he releases the revelation of learning who we are as Beloved Sons and daughters, learning who HE is as our gracious Father, and discovering what we are created to do as we release Heaven on Earth! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!