This year I've been serving in children's worship at the church I'm attending while in Florida. Usually I am just around to lead the singing and to run crowd control the rest of the time, but during the month of June I will be teaching the Bible story as well. The curriculum we were using earlier in the year was nice, but was a bit lacking in substance (don't waste time, people-- give 'em straight-up theology from day 1!). So until we figure out what's happening next, I'm just using various stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible, which I love.
For some reason, I have had Noah on the brain recently. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because of all the torrential downpours we've had around here. Torrential downpours that occur day after day after day after day after day after.... you get the picture. Anyway, I decided to go with Noah for this week since his story kept popping relentlessly into my head.
It's a familiar story to everyone who was raised in church, and it's an easy story to do with children: the building of a boat, the animals, the rain, the rainbow. There are also fun songs that go along with the story (like the one referenced in the title of this post). We talk about God's promises, and fun is had by all. To be honest, I originally felt like it was a wee bit lazy to do such an easy story, and decided to do some more personal study in the hopes of deepening my understanding and thus improving the lesson I would teach.
As I contemplated good old Noah and his floating menagerie throughout the week, I was impacted far beyond my expectations. (Scripture is just so rich!) The last time I read through Genesis was probably about 4 years ago, and I don't remember that these chapters made a particular impression. But this time-- WOW! How convicting and humbling...and encouraging.
The first thing that struck me on this reading was how off I had been about the logistical facts of the story. I guess my basic theological points were accurate, but the whole "40 days and 40 nights" thing had me thinking that Noah, his family, and the animals were in the ark for 40 days and nights. Being in cooped up in an ark for that long would have been dreadful. I would have hated the boredom, the smell, the motion, the darkness, the fear, the lack of privacy, and the unvarying company. But when I actually took the time to read the passage closely, I realized that while it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, they were in the ark for over a year!!! I can't even imagine how unspeakably awful it must have been. I can, however, imagine my reaction to it had I been inside: "God, You saved me for this??? Are you kidding??? Gee, thanks a lot! I would have rather drowned!" Sadly, I can so vividly imagine my probable reaction because it too closely resembles the real reactions of my ungrateful heart.
I also spent some time thinking about what it meant that after everyone who should have been in the ark was inside, God shut the door. Not Noah or one of his sons, but it was God who sealed them safe and sound inside. It was a reminder to me that God is my true Protector and Provider. So often I make plans and try to create situations that I think will give me security instead of relying on God's faithfulness and goodness. And in reality, all the safety nets I create for myself are more like spider webs. Sometimes I think if I could only do something to make myself more beautiful or more talented or more intelligent or more kind, then I would be okay. But God is the only source of my protection and provision; the only source of my salvation. Nothing I do, no matter how great, will ultimately protect and save me. I know that it's obvious to Christians, but when I genuinely examine my heart, I realize how shallow and fragile my understanding of this important truth really is.
Also, God gave Noah and his family instructions and when they followed them, God was able to protect and provide for them. Had Noah refused to build the ark, he would not have been safe. If he had decided to leave the ark as soon as the rain subsided, he would not have been safe. Not only that, but Noah and his family remained inside the ark even after it seemed clear that the land was dry; they did not leave until God gave His permission to do so. This kind of stalwart obedience can only stem from a deep faith and great wisdom that inspires awe in me.
As I pondered this, I was reminded of some of my favorite imagery from the Psalms. Often, the psalmists invoke the image of God's hand being on us, or us sitting in His hand. I love the picture of myself sitting in the hollow of His hand. I imagine myself planted there securely as I trust and obey, safe from all the dangers, threats, and anxieties that are swirling about beneath His grip. I rest there contentedly, basking in His loving gaze and confident in His strength and wisdom, knowing that no evil can befall me as long as I am in His hand.
But as I examined my own heart in the light of the story of Noah, I realized that this beautiful picture is rarely--if ever-- reality. Not that it's not possible, of course. Ideally, I would be resting in God's hand like that. But I don't. More accurate imagery would be that of a petulant toddler who is being prevented from doing something and held against his will. Imagine a blotchy, red, sweaty, tear-stained face, a voice hoarse from screaming, clothes wet with drool and tears, a body exhausted from kicking and writhing in anguish, and a mind irrationally tormented with desires for control and the opportunity to do that which is not beneficial. That's what I look like. More optimistically, I could perhaps see myself sitting in His hand, peering anxiously over the edge at the dangers and wondering just how I am going to take care of all those problems. Very seldom do I actually rest in His grip, and it's usually not until after I have exhausted myself from kicking and screaming.
The ark was certainly not pleasant. It may have not seemed like such a great reward for a (very long) lifetime of faithfulness and obedience. But it was how God protected Noah and his family. It was the best thing for them. And even as I see the story of my life unfold and am astounded by the amazing opportunities that God gives me, I am too often unthankful and resentful for the roads the journey takes me down. I've had some really hard things in my life. While I have been blessed abundantly, few things have come without struggles-- some of them profound. Unfortunately, I easily become angry or despondent when it seems like my obedience has led me to yet another place I'd rather not be. But then sometimes He gives me these moments of sparkling clarity when I get to see how things are working together: a friend who blessed me or whom I was able to bless, a lesson I learned, a skill I developed, how I was protected from harm, how I was forced to do a 180 degree turn and go in a completely new direction, and, sometimes, how I was able to have time for much needed rest and reflection instead of continuously charging ahead. When I am able to glimpse just a small part of the "why", I am humbled, awed and thankful for a God who is so powerful and wise and yet is so personal and loving. I am also deeply ashamed and sorrowful for my grotesque lack of faith in light of all that He has done. May these tiny glimpses be instructive to me as I grow in faith and wisdom and learn to rest in His protection.
So, Sunday morning, I'll talk about Noah with the children. We'll sing silly songs and make animal noises (will I regret opening that door?) and rejoice in God's promises. Hopefully, our faith will be renewed and our resolve to obey will be strengthened. And most importantly, I hope that each one of us leaves that room tomorrow more deeply in love with our gracious God and more able to rest competely in His hand.
Sing with me now!
(c'mon, you know you want to)
...So, rise and shine
And give God the glory, glory
Rise and shine
And give God the glory, glory
Rise and shine and (clap)
Give God the glory, glory
Children of the LORD!