A FEW GOOD MEN SERMON SERIES
RAIN OF TERROR – NOAH AND THE FLOOD
HOW TO LISTEN TO GOD
JUNE 12, 1994
I spent most of my childhood growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina with three of my closest friends; Robert Campbell, Gary Ford and Mike Harkins. We would play baseball, football, basketball together, hours and hours. We always had one eye, though, on the sun because if the sun began to set, we knew the inevitable would occur. One by one our parents would call us home. Robert Campbell’s mom had a voice I will never forget. It would embarrass Pavarotti’s voice, it kind of sounded like this, “R O B E R T C O M E H O M E.”
(Demonstrated amidst laughter). “That was my mom”, Robert would exclaim and he would run home.
Gary Ford’s father was an interesting fellow. He was a big, burly man about 6’4″, 235 pounds. He would call Gary like this, “GARY”. That’s all it would take, just one GARY. “Ah, it was Dad.” Gary was a unique fellow because Gary perspired, as an eight year old, like Nate Newton after a very difficult game or some other pro athlete who sweats perfusely. I have never understood that, I guess that was because his father was so big.
And then we have Mike Harkin’s dad. Mike’s dad was a low key person. He used to smoke about ten packs of Camels a day, and between drags on his Camel cigarette he would go, wheeze, “OH MIKE, COME HOME”. And Mike would walk home.
My mother, though, from Laurel, Mississippi, the quintessential southern belle, would take the word Ed, which is my name, and turn it into a three to four syllable name. She would go, “EEEEEEAAAAAADDDD, COME HOOOOOOOME.” And I would make my way home. What was going on here? We had our ears attuned, trained to hear the distinctive voices of our parents.
In this session we are going to look at a man’s life, a man named Noah. Noah was an individual that God did great things through and the reason He did great things through the life of Noah is because Noah knew how to listen to his heavenly parent, God. God wants to do great things in your life. And that is a transforming truth you need to own, understand and apply. But if God is going to do great things through you, you’d better learn, I’d better learn, how to really hear His voice.
So let’s jump right in. I want to share with you four benefits of listening to God from the life of Noah. The first benefit you will see on your outline is listening to God provides me with perspective. Your outline is in your bulletin, is light blue, with a white border, there are little beads of water all over it. Get it? Noah And The Flood, The Rain Of Terror. OK, we’re tracking. It provides me with perspective if I can listen to the voice of God, if I can really hear God speak to me.
About four Christmas Eves ago, Lisa and I bought a little tyke’s sliding board set for, at that time, our three year old daughter, Lee Beth. And on the front of the box it said Easy Assembly. I thought, no problem, easy assembly. I have no clue about anything mechanical, so I thought even I could put together this little tyke’s sliding board. Two hours later I was still trying to get the legs of this contraption to work. I tried a hammer. I tried my fists. It began to test my Christianity. Finally, I walk out to the garage and take a 2 by 4 and I turned this sliding board upside down and I began to take Jose Consuelo-like swings at these little legs on this sliding board. Bash, bash. Lisa said, “Ed, what are you doing?” I said, “Lisa, this crazy (ruggg) little tyke’s sliding board (boom) won’t work and I am getting ready to (boom) destroy it.” The reason you are laughing is because it has happened to you before. You are working on the lawn mower and suddenly the screwdrivers become weapons and you want to tear it up. Or you see a little six year old boy, “I’m going to draw the perfect picture of Barney the dinosaur”, and he walks into his little room and sits down at his little table and begins to draw. And he messes up one line and the pencil becomes a knife and he wads the paper up and he throws it away. Such high hopes, complications arise, frustration, and then we want to tear the object or the person apart.
Those three little illustrations are microcosms of a great theological truth taught to us here in Genesis 6:5-9. Here is the story. God made the world. And God made the world with such a great purpose, with harmony and unity. Everything was going well. Man sinned. And that really got the ball rolling and we read in verse 5 of Genesis 6 the following words: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” And the Bible says “The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said ‘I will wipe mankind whom I have created, from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air – for I am grieved that I have made them.'” You would think God’s first reaction would be the kind of reaction that we have when an object doesn’t work right. Frustration, and then, ugh, extermination. I’ll just wipe the thing out. Was that God’s primary emotion? No. No. And you could feel the cosmic tension going on here. God saw that man was so depraved and so rebellious. God is a God of justice, a God of fairness, a God of punishment. And He has this nature about Him, but also He is a God of grace, of understanding, of forgiveness and His first thought, His first inclination was not extermination, His first thought was to give someone a second chance, to reflect His grace, His love, His mercy.
And the Bible continues, it says “But Noah (see that transitional phrase, I praise God for the transitional phrases in scripture) but Noah found favor in the eyes of God” That’s what the Bible says and that is where our man Noah fits in. He becomes the object of one of God’s most dramatic assignments in history. Why did God choose Noah? Because he walked with God. Because he walked with God. And the Bible tells us, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord, Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time and he walked with God.” You might want to highlight those two words “found favor”, because in the Hebrew they mean, literally, that God stepped down, that God extended His hand. And the definition would be an extraordinary person giving an ordinary person a second chance. In other words, this is the first instance we have of the concept of grace in the Bible.
Noah knew God personally. He walked with God. And when you walk with someone what happens? You talk with that someone. And when you walk with someone and talk with someone, you listen to someone, and when you listen to someone and really hear what they are saying, it gives you perspective – perspective. How we desperately need to have God’s perspective in every slice of our lives, from our relationships at work, at home, to what is going on in our businesses, to what is going on in our thought life. In every arena, we desperately need perspective.
When I was majoring in the fine arts at Florida State University some of the best artists, especially those who worked with oils and watercolor, would teach me to do this. I would be painting on a canvass and they would say, “Ed, quit concentrating on this little one inch by one inch part of the canvass, quit trying to make every little thing right. Back up from it and see the whole picture. See it from the proper perspective and then a whole new world will open up to you” and it really did. I learned something because someone who knew what he was doing taught me the concept of perspective.
Maybe God wants to do that for you. He wants to say take a step back, quit looking at that one little square inch, little, little part of the picture, take a step back and see my entire canvass and then watch Me paint, watch Me operate, watch Me use you as the brush to do great things. God searched for Noah and He found him. He found someone who walked with God. God is searching for you. God is searching for me. He wants other people, that’s right, maybe you, maybe me, to do Noah-type work. And we can if we listen to Him.
Let’s look down at the next section of scripture, Genesis 6:13. “So God said to Noah” (now this is weird, Noah is 500 years of age, going through a little bit of mid-life crisis) “So God said to Noah…’make yourself an ark’…”. Make yourself an ark, a boat and that is weird. And the leading of God, here is a Biblical principle, the leading of God oftentimes will be counter-cultural and illogical. Do you think Noah took some abuse? Do you think people laughed at him? Most probably said, “Well there’s old Noah going through a mid-life crisis, its not a Ferrari or a Lambergetti but its a giant boat, oh brother, is this guy crazy or what?” But because he had perspective, he saw the whole picture even though he didn’t understand everything. Noah obeyed God and the Bible said in Genesis 6:22, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”
God provided this man with perspective, a benefit of listening to God. But there is another benefit. If I listen to God it also can empower me with endurance. It can empower me with endurance. Just turn your outline over, you will see it. It empowers me with endurance. I saw a couple of people saying, “Now where is this thing, where is he going now.” Endurance is on the endangered character quality list, wouldn’t you say? Empowers me with endurance. We need endurance. We need perspective. Big time.
Take a wild guess how long this mid-life crisis type project took our man Noah to do. Well, I’ll tell you, 120 years. It took Noah 120 years to construct the ark. Now if I had been Noah, I think after about 30 or 40 years, I would have checked it in, how about you? Do you think he ever had the desire to quit? I bet he did. Every great man or woman of God I have ever known has struggled before with the doubt issue, with the thought of quitting. However, because this man was connected with God, because he listened to God, God gave him this character quality we so desperately need and yearn for, endurance. Endurance can be defined as the ability to crash through quitting points. I ran a marathon, in my early twenties, and I was mindful of the marathon this Friday as I looked at a picture of myself and two of my friends who ran it with me. I thought about endurance because I have been studying this character quality as we are going through the life of Noah. The picture was snapped by my wife on the 21st mile. The 21st mile is where you hit, in runner’s terminology, the wall. Before the race, “Ed, watch out for the wall, man, you hit the wall everything breaks down, it’s terrible, people suffer, they cry, they loose their equilibrium, it’s a horrible experience.” I was thinking, the wall, the wall, the wall. And at the 21st mile I did hit the wall, but I had two guys around me and they encouraged me, they said, “Run through it, it will be fine”. “But I’m about to die.” “Run through it, it will be fine.” Gasp, gasp. “I can’t make it.” “Run through it, it will be fine. You can do it. You are doing well. You are doing well.” And when I crashed through the wall I discovered something, the wall was not made of brick, it was made of tissue. And that is the picture of walking with God, of listening to God. We are walking with Him, and we think from the human perspective, oh the wall is too big, I can’t take the wall. There is no way I can persevere, this marriage situation, I’m at a quitting point; this business transaction, I want to just get away from it; this problem I am having with my wayward daughter, I want to just quit, I want to give up. But the Holy Spirit will be right there encouraging you, go for it, keep running, keep enduring, be like our man, Noah, and when you crash through the wall you are going to look back and see it was paper. So Noah stuck with it 120 long years. What endurance.
And then the rain of terror happened. But before it happened, the Lord said to Noah, Genesis 7:1, “Go into the ark you and your whole family..” Noah did not move until God told him to move. And then it says in verses 7-10, “Pairs of clean and unclean animals came to Noah”. I have read this text time and time and time again, but it just hit me this week. I will read it again. “Pairs of clean and unclean animals came to Noah.” They came to Noah. Noah didn’t do the Jim Fowler-Marlon Perkins thing (hoot..hoot….ah…ah…ah..I’ll find him, I’ll subdue the crocodile) he didn’t do that. Noah did what God told him to do. What did God tell him to do? Build the boat. He built the boat. And then God did this. Pairs of clean and unclean animals came to Noah and entered the ark. God did that for him. That means to me that I should just do what God wants me to do, I shouldn’t worry about the details I can’t control. Let God take care of those, I just do what I need to do, what God is telling me to do. And what I have done in my life before is, when God is instructing me, “Ed, you be faithful and here is the basic task right here, Ed, you are responsible for this.” I’ll say, “Oh, God, I can’t be responsible for that because look at all these details, there is no way.” And then I will just begin to sit and wait….”I need some kind of word on the details, God.” “Ed, take care of that.” “No, I really need the details.” That’s not what Noah did. Noah said, “OK, God, I don’t understand all these details but I’m going to take care of the boat. I am going to build the boat.” And then the animals came to him.
Genesis 7:12. “And the rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights…”
But you are missing one point. Before the rains fell forty days and forty nights, do you know what our man, Noah, did? As I said, he was obedient. God said “Hey, Noah, get into the boat”, and we walks into the boat, all the animals are there. God shuts the door. Did it rain immediately? How long did he stay in the boat with all of the livestock, the stench, the humidity? How long? Seven days. My goodness gracious. Seven days. I would have jumped ship. How about you? Seven days and it still hadn’t rained. Empowered with endurance. Crashing through quitting points. I would have said “God, I have built the boat for 120 years and now you are going to wait seven days longer while I stay in this confined, limiting structure, God?” He said, “Hey, Noah, show me some endurance.”
Another benefit is also present when we listen to God. It teaches me and it can teach you, timing. It teaches us timing. And when I say timing, I am talking about God’s timing.
Five years ago I had the privilege of running and operating an NBA summer league at our church. And we had between 20 and 35 NBA players come by every day and play basketball. My responsibility was to organize the teams and to do a Bible study in the middle of their scrimmaging. And let me tell you they really go after it in the off-season. I found out something after I had been doing this for about a week. I would say, “OK, I will see you guys tomorrow at three o’clock, the gyms will be open and the basketballs will be ready and the Gaterade will be cold.” You know what they would say back to me? “Yea, Ed, we will see you tomorrow at three o’clock NBA time”. I’d say, “OK, see ya.” So I will get there at three o’clock, no one was there. I wonder where everyone is. Then about three thirty one guy will show up, three forty-five, four or five guys, then by four o’clock, about 20 to 35 guys would be there. And I said, “Now, wait a minute, I thought yesterday (I didn’t want to yell at these guys – you are talking about 6’8”, 230) I thought yesterday we talked about three o’clock.” They said, “Ed, you’ve got to learn something. We operate on NBA time.” You see NBA time was different from the normal time. So then in the future, when I would schedule the gym, I would say “OK, three o’clock NBA time.”
A simple story to illustrate a simple yet profound truth. Too many Christians don’t understand the difference between God’s timetable and their timetable. We want things now, on our timing. I want the perfect mate now. That didn’t relate to anyone here, did it? (laughter) I want to be in our new building now. I want a couple thousand more people to receive the Lord now. I want to get on with my career now. But God says. ” Wait.” God says “Hold on and walk with Me and at the right time I will do it.” God is never early, He is never late, He is always on time. But we must make sure as finite, limited human beings, that we say “God, in Your time.” And He will teach you time. And He taught Noah time. Because Genesis 8:13 says, “By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year”. That means the man had been in the boat for over a year. Someone asked me recently, “Ed, do you believe people lived to be six, seven, eight, nine hundred years of age?” The answer is yes. The Bible says that rain hadn’t really occurred before on earth before this particular moment in time. And I believe the Bible says a mist came from the ground and hovered over the earth and this caused and led people to live to such astronomical ages compared to the way we live today. But that is a whole other message and topic.
Genesis 8:15-16. “The God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark’…” So again, he had been there for a year. The ark finally rests. And God says get out of the ark and notice again, Noah didn’t move until God said, “OK, it’s time.” And he walks out, and I tell you the first thing I would have done. I would have just started running around, rolling on the ground, maybe, I don’t know what. But my first impulse, I don’t know if it would have been what Noah’s was. Because the first thing he did, once he walks out of the ark, he prays. He worships God. And that is the fourth benefit of listening to God.. Listening to God also leads us to love. And I am talking about God, to love God, to worship God. He didn’t kiss the ground. The Bible says, Genesis 8:20-21, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord.” He knew salvation was from God. And salvation required a superabundant sacrifice. So our man got the best animals and sacrificed them. And the Bible says the aroma was pleasing to the Lord. Noah gave his best. It is easy to pray when the seas are rocky and it is a life and death situation. But it is more difficult, it is human nature, when we have been really blessed by God, after a spiritual high point, we kind of like to put God on the back burner and go our merry way. Noah didn’t do it. He worshipped God. That is when we need to give God our best. Quality worship expressing love to God. And people who listen to God, you can see them, are people who truly worship God, who truly know Him.
Four benefits of listening to God. But still though I haven’t answered the question, today’s topic, How Do I Listen To God? “Ed, great, these are four characteristics that I need, but how do I do it?” Let’s conclude here by looking at three steps quickly. The first thing I have to do, if I am really going to listen to God, I’ve got to accept God’s “engraced” invitation. Now that is not a misspelled word there, engraced. I have got to accept (that’s the blank you fill in) accept God’s engraced invitation. The ark is a picture of salvation. God, by His grace extended a very own, stamped, invitation, engraced invitation, to our man, Noah. Noah accepted it and he walked on the ark and the ark was his salvation. It saved him. God in the new covenant has given us Jesus Christ. And He gives us this engraced invitation. And he says “Ed, use the cross as your ark, as a bridge to get to Me.” And if I receive this I come into a relationship with Him. It is impossible to hear the voice of God, to listen to Him, if you are not into a relationship with Him. It is impossible, you can’t do it. There is no way. So, you can go ahead and just check out now if you are not in a relationship with Him you can’t hear Him. The second step on how to listen to God is also something we have to put into practice. We’ve got to remove the barriers in our lives. Noah led what I believe was a barrier-free life. Yes, he sinned. But he confessed those sins, he made those sins right. Our office is across the way and next door to another business. And this business really is a flourishing business and the reason I know it is flourishing is because I can hear them somewhat through the wall. I can’t hear them talking clearly. (Illustration of muffled talking). Sometimes I want to kind of put my ear to the wall and really listen. Why can’t I hear them very well? It is because there is a barrier up. Even if you know God, even if you have accepted His engraced invitation, if there is a barrier of sin, any kind of sin in your life that you have not dealt with, it impedes the communication process from God to you. You can’t really hear Him. You really can’t.
The third step on how to listen to God. I’ve got to learn how to train my ear. Train my ear. Train my ear for the voice of God. Kind of like we did with our earthly parents, back in North Carolina. We’ve got to learn the same thing. How does God speak to us? It is obvious, He has shown us. He speaks to us through His Word. You talk about documentation, everything right here, words to you, words to me. He also speaks to us through prayer and through other people. But I am going to warn you. And you better hear this. When people walk up to me and say “Ed, I have a word from God for you.” I am going, Oh, Oh, warning, warning, alien approaching. Because, if the word does not line up with the documented, authoritative, inerrant word of God, then it ain’t a word from God. Also, while I am praying, if I have an impression or I hear the voice of God (I have never heard an audible voice of God although I know people who have) but if I hear and feel that, again, if it doesn’t line up with scripture, it probably ain’t the voice of God. So make sure everything you hear, that you deal with, that you follow, that you feel a leading toward, lines up with His Book.
I’ll never forget a story I heard years ago. It happened in New York City in the late 70s. There was a native American walking with a New Yorker. I have never been to New York but they say it is a wild city. The two men are walking down the street and it is just jammed, as it always is. And these guys are walking along and they are talking about this and talking about that, and all of a sudden the native American stops. He goes, “Wait, wait just a second, I hear a cricket.” His friend said “What, no way, in New York City, this is the big apple.” “No, I hear a cricket.” And he begins to look and sure enough right at the base of one of those giant skyscrapers a little blade of grass had jutted through a crack in the sidewalk and a little cricket was chirping his heart out. The native American said, “I told you.” And his friend was blown away. “Wow, I can’t believe that, that’s amazing. How, how, tell me how.” And the native American said, “I’ll tell you how.” And he takes two pennies from his pocket. All these people going back and forth. And he does this. (illustration of money being thrown on the ground) When the money hit the sidewalk, it was like a traffic jam. Everyone looked for the money. Then he picked the coins up and he told his friend, “You hear what your ear is trained to hear.”
What kind of training are doing with your ear? What kind of exposure to God are you giving yourself? Because He wants to speak to you and spare you from the rain of terror.