Albu van Eeden
Today we all seek the Lord’s face, whether we listen, speak, take care of the technical aspects of the broadcast, we seek the Lord’s face.
My theme for today is Hearing God’s Voice. A hymn that has been on my mind laid this topic on my heart. Hearing God’s voice during the time of COVID-19 with all its dangers will not only help us to stay alive physically and spiritually but it will even make our lives purposeful in this time where we may feel tied down. We do not always realise what a privilege it is to hear God’s voice.
Some years ago, I attended an evening service in this auditorium. There were about 600 – 700 people in attendance. The bright lights were on when a little cricket walked into the auditorium in front of everyone. The people in the first two or three rows could see the little cricket on the carpet but it was totally unaware of all the eyes watching it. It was doing its best to be careful. It took a few steps, stopped and moved its feelers around to find out whether there was anything dangerous. It was totally oblivious to the type of place it had walked into. It did not know that it was a building built by men. It could not even dream of the engineering behind the building of this auditorium. It knew nothing of the carpet it walked on and how it had been made. It knew nothing of the benches and how they had been cut, sawn and brought here. It just walked in. As I watched it, I thought, Lord, what a symbol of man born into this world, living and walking on earth. The difference between the brain of the little cricket and the brains of the people who planned this building is not as large as the difference between our minds and the mind of the living Creator.
Friends, we have no idea of what God sees of us as we walk through this world. We have no idea of God’s plans with regards the COVID-19. We may walk around carefully, trying to hide our sins, keeping them to ourselves so that people do not see them but we do not realise that we are in the bright heavenly light where God sits on His throne with the host of witnesses. They watch me, planning my life and the way in which I do things. If you are sitting on your sin and going out of the way to hide it, is just as foolish as this little cricket who thought it was safe, but it did not realise that there were 600 pairs of eyes watching him. Everyone saw the cricket in the light. How foolish is the man who passes through this life not believing in and having no contact with the living God! If it was possible for us that evening to speak to the cricket in a manner in which it could understand, this would have been similar to you and me being able to hear the voice of the Creator of heaven and earth speaking to us.
It does not matter what God says to you, it is a privilege to hear the voice of the Creator of heaven and earth speaking to you, a simple, pathetic human being. There is something very strange about hearing the voice of God. It is divine. You cannot explain it with human logic. Whether you are Cain and God speaks warning you to watch out for sin; whether you are Moses at the burning bush and God speaks saying, “Go back to Egypt and fetch My people”; whether you are Paul who is knocked off his horse and God speaks saying, “Paul, Paul why are you persecuting me?” Friends, it is heaven on earth to hear the voice of the Creator speak to you. When He speaks it is unusual, it is unlike any human voice. At times He will speak to convict and strike you and the great evil and filth of your heart will become obvious to you. You will be convicted of how evil you are, how wretched you are and that you deserve hell and nothing else because of the evil that is in you. Although you may break down when you see your evil, weep before God and plead for grace, it does not make you lose hope and kill yourself. It brings a godly remorse. The Bible says that godly remorse leads to life, worldly remorse leads to death. The man on the cross undergoing crucifixion was pathetic, in pain and hopeless but when he heard God speaking to Him, he received hope in that hopeless situation - the hope of being in Paradise with God if he received forgiveness for his sin. Godly remorse does not want us to throw in the towel and kill ourselves but this is the mystery - it does not give you a green light to continue living in sin because the one who just continues in his sin and says, “I am forgiven, I have received forgiveness,” has not heard the voice of God yet. The voice of God convicts you of the evil of your sin and makes you more careful and motivated never to sin again.
I would like to look at a practical portion from God’s word - an example of a man who heard God’s voice. As you listen to God’s word remember that in God’s eyes you are less than the little cricket. God watches you entering this world, planning how to cross the area safely, looking for and deciding what job you will do. God in heaven asks, “Why don’t you ask Me what job to do? You young man who is checking out the girls to see which is the right girl, God looks down and asks, “Why don’t you allow Me to choose a wife for you?” If you feel that nobody wants me, I will never get married, God says, “Be happy with the way I have made things work out for you. Do not look for something I have not given to you. Let your life be open and in the light.” Let the sins of your heart and the thoughts of your mind be open and in the light. If we are truly aware of the holy God before whom we live then going to another human being, admitting your sins and asking for prayer is nothing. There is nothing as difficult as being aware of the holiness of God, your sin against God and that what you have done is against God. This is the remedy that will help you get rid of your sin. Keep in mind: I am living before God all the time. He watches the thoughts of my mind and the plans of my heart.
Let us look at the example of Noah.
12 God looked on the earth and saw how debased and degenerate it was, for all humanity had corrupted their way on the earth and lost their true direction. 13 God said to Noah, “I intend to make an end of all that lives, for through men the land is filled with violence; and behold, I am about to [d]destroy them together with the land. 14 Make yourself an [e]ark of [f]gopher wood; make in it rooms (stalls, pens, coops, nests, cages, compartments) and [g]coat it inside and out with pitch (bitumen). Genesis 6:12 – 15 (AMP)
I sometimes wonder whether this Coronavirus pandemic was not sent because God saw that people have become violent, dishonest, cheating and full of lust. Do you know that of the 10 cities in the world with the highest crime rate, 5 are South African cities? But people still complain about no booze and smokes. Now they smoke dagga, believing a lie that there is something good in smoking dagga. In states and countries where cannabis has been legalised, motor vehicle accidents have shot sky high.
God gave detailed instructions to Noah for the construction of the ark. This country has been in COVID-19 lockdown for 122 days today. Do you know how long Noah and his family were in the ark? 377 days. A year is 365 days or a leap year, 366 days but Noah spent 377 days in the ark. Firstly, he waited 7 days in the ark before the rain began. I wonder what happened in his family? “Dad, you had this crazy idea and now we sit in the ark and there is no rain!” Then it started raining and the water surged for 150 days – 5 months of destruction. Then the water receded for 110 days until the ark settled on the mountains of Ararat. After another 40 days the land became visible. For 3 weeks after that Noah sent out birds from the ark until the dove that he sent out did not return. Noah had to wait for another 3 months before the ground dried. Now in the six hundred and first year [of Noah’s life], on the first day of the first month, the waters were drying up from the earth. Then Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and the surface of the ground was drying. Genesis 8:13. After another month he and his family could leave the ark. They spent 377 days in the ark after entering. God had a purpose with everything. Blessed, blessed, blessed is the man who could hear God’s voice saying, “Build the ark and go in with your family.”
There are so many similarities between Noah in the ark and this COVID-19 epidemic. Noah had to stick to the instructions which were practical, not spiritual, of exactly how the ark should be built otherwise it would not float. We are given strict instructions on how to be safe in this epidemic, but people rebel against the rules, left, right and centre. They do not like them. I do not say that if you keep the rules an accident cannot happen and you can contract the disease but if you stick to the instructions carefully you will know that you have done what you should have to keep virus free. We have repeated the instructions from this pulpit over and over - keep your distance, (the virus enters through breathing or else via your hands when you have touched a contaminated area or else through your eyes, if someone coughs into your eyes.) If it contaminates your hands and you touch your face, it can enter the mouth, nose, eyes. Wear a mask to avoid inhaling the germs easily. Sanitise your hands, wash them regularly.
Noah had to stick to the instructions and build the ark to the best of his knowledge exactly as God had prescribed. But more grace was needed for Noah and very often we do not see that. It was not an outer discipline - how you behave with your body but an inner discipline - taking care that your heart remains pure and clean. To live more than a year together in the ark, in each other’s faces so to speak, and not to allow sin, irritability or feelings to enter. God’s blessing would have left them locked up in that ship without God had they allowed sin to enter. If the daughter-in-law allowed thoughts against her mother-in-law and vice versa? You must keep yourself clean and maintain hygiene to protect yourself against the virus but make very sure that God is in your midst, that the blessing of God is in your midst.
The ark could have become hell on earth. It can become unbearable in the Church of Christ if God is not in our midst and we no longer continue with pure hearts. There could have been greater hell in the ark than outside where people were crying, drowning and suffering. The church can become an unbearable place if we allow sin in our midst. A person would rather jump out and drown than stay in the group. Be very careful friends, be very careful that God does not withdraw His hand from your midst. It could be heaven on earth in the ark, but it could have become hell on earth. There are times in Christian families and in churches where it is more bearable outside in the world because we are so jealous of one another, we judge each other, we allow sin in our midst and we lust after each other. The most unbearable and unimaginable, stinking sins can exist in the Church of Christ.
We do not know what happened on that journey in the ark. The Bible says that the fountains from below broke open. It was not only rain but the earth broke open and water swelled up from below. It is possible that this little ark could have been caught by a wave, washed down and caught up by another wave. They could have fallen over inside the ark, lost their direction and consciousness. We do not know. A large log could have hit the ark, making a crack and causing a leak. They may have had to patch leaks. Things are not always as easy as they seem from the outside. Through everything they had to love each other and as Paul says, estimating the other person higher than myself. Look around you and see the person that you think the least of: Christ said that what you have done to the least you have done to Me.
There is another characteristic they all had to have in the ark - they had to keep the faith. They all had to maintain their faith because ark-building was a bizarre thing. Nobody had experienced anything like this before and there was nobody outside who agreed with them. Do you know what could have happened, which unfortunately happens in the church of Christ? They could have lost their faith half-way. When we lose our faith, we will turn against each other and attack one another. If we do not maintain our faith together with Noah and stand with him, we will turn against him. Be very careful, friend, has the devil not succeeded in robbing you of your faith? You can no longer believe that this is of God - to be so different from the world? To dress so differently to the world? To have music that is so different to the world? We are just a handful, so few, just a spot and the whole world is moving in a different direction. Who says that Noah had the truth from God? Who says that Noah had not gone bonkers with his story of the ark and the flood? If things were rough in the ark, they would have fallen on each other and stepped on one another’s toes. The devil is always there to accuse and say, “He stepped on my toes! I sat and held onto the pole and he flew through the air and bumped me off!”
Where did this all begin? It began with a man who was able to hear the voice of God. I do not think I have ever heard before of so many people who claim to have heard God’s voice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has his own theory of where it comes from and why it is here etc. Friends, the fact of the matter is that if you realise you are just a little cricket walking through an auditorium, you will know that there is a God in heaven who has allowed this and this will give you peace and confidence to continue.
Now to the song that brought me to this topic. It has been ringing in my head. I have listened to it repeatedly. This song is about hearing the voice of God. It was written by William Cowper who was a brilliant poet in England in the 1700s. He went through difficulties and in the process, lost his mind and for 3 years he was in a mental institution. A man of God, John Newton, ministered to William Cowper. John Newton wrote the song, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. William Cowper returned to his senses and then wrote this song:
HARK, MY SOUL, IT IS THE LORD
Hark, my soul, it is the Lord;
'tis thy Saviour, hear his word;
Jesus speaks, and speaks to thee,
'Say, poor sinner, lov'st thou me?
'I delivered thee when bound,
and, when wounded, healed thy wound;
sought thee wandering, set thee right,
turned thy darkness into light.
'Can a woman's tender care
cease towards the child she bare?
Yes, she may forgetful be,
yet will I remember thee.
'Mine is an unchanging love,
higher than the heights above,
deeper than the depths beneath,
free and faithful, strong as death.
'Thou shalt see my glory soon,
when the work of grace is done;
partner of my throne shalt be:
say, poor sinner, lov'st thou me?'
Lord, it is my chief complaint
that my love is weak and faint;
yet I love thee, and adore;
O for grace to love thee more!
Hark, my soul: wake up my soul, be careful now, watch out that you do not miss it. He seems to call his soul to stand at attention because the Lord is speaking. The voice comes to you and me and when you hear that voice in your heart it is very intimate and you know that it is meant for you - God is speaking to you. He speaks about his own soul and tells it to watch out because this is the Lord. This voice bypasses all the noise around you. You realise the intimacy of this voice. God speaks just to you.
Friends, it can come to you and me when we are busy with the darkest sins imaginable. God does not bypass the sinner. He goes to the sinner in the deepest darkness of sin when there is so much noise around him. God speaks and for a moment you realise that there is something different in this voice - it is the Lord speaking. You might be in the flesh - a carnal person - longing to go deeper into sin, longing to be exposed to the deepest secrets of Satan, you might be a Satanist of the worst kind but you are still just a little cricket before God. Satan might tell you that you are so powerful, you have power to heal people, your muti is the best and strongest, you might have a bag of sins behind you but God pays no attention to that. He will come to you, as sinful as you are and suddenly you realise, Hark, my soul, watch out, it is the Lord. You might fighting battles; you might feel as if you are going off your mind; you are battling to keep your thoughts together and keep sane, you are battling to keep your head above water and there is no time to think of all kinds of things when out of the blue, this voice comes and you realise it is different to other voices you have heard. It is so easy to miss it. You almost do not hear it. But it is so loving, so positive. You cannot believe that God can speak with so much love after all the sin you have committed. Something or someone says to you, watch out, hark, my soul. Yes, there is much activity, you are trying not to drown, but stop, the Lord is speaking. Other voices may shout in your ears - your ego that must be saved which you do not want to lose; your pride; your self-respect that you feel people will no longer respect you if you continue to listen to the voice; your finances and the situation you are; your family who says that this is your culture, do not betray your family, your forefathers. This voice says: Hark, my soul, it is the Lord.
The Lord has authority. He is Lord and Master. He has authority over everything around you. He has your life in His hands. He is Lord. Your health is in His hands because He is the Lord. This is not just another spirit or person this is the Lord speaking to you. It is like a command from the angels saying, “Stand at attention – it is the Lord here in your midst.” He is not just the Lord He is also your Saviour. He can save you from the worst sins you could have fallen into. The biggest surprise - the Lord has not passed you by, you have been in His presence for a few seconds, …tis thy Saviour, hear His word. Can it be that this little cricket that I am can hear? That God has a message for me? Have you ever heard that voice, dear friend? Where you feel like you could disappear into a hole because you are unworthy of a message from the King of kings. You realise that He is not just your Saviour, He quickens your memory and you clearly see all the different sins you need to be saved from. No wonder this man was snatched out of a mental institution and became normal.
God has a word for you. “Lord, it would have been enough for You to be in my presence but to have a word from You!” God has a word specifically for me. Jesus speaks and speaks to thee. What does the Lord say to you? Say poor sinner, do you love Me? He calls you a poor sinner because no matter how big you might have been in your own eyes, it does not matter how rich you have been, it does not matter how powerful you have been but in His eyes you are just a poor sinner. Just a poor sinner. He asks, Say poor sinner, lovest thou me? “Lord, how can you ask that? I am a sinner, I have hated you, my whole life has been a curse against you. How can You think of asking me if I love you?” He says that because He sees there is hope for you. Even if people have written you off and say there is no hope for you, He has hope for you. He says, Say poor sinner, lovest thou Me? And He uses the word poor compassionately –poor, little sinner. He feels sorry for you. You can do nothing in this world that disqualifies you from Him saying to you: Say poor sinner, lovest thou Me?
After Peter denied Jesus three times saying, “I don’t know the man,” Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” He asked Peter this question three times. Tell me friend, I know you are a sinner, I know you are full of hate but there is one Man you can still love – the One who gave His life for you on Calvary and shed His blood for you. He is still the One you can love. Ultimately the love that you have for Christ will give you the strength to live a godly life and say no to sin.
God must still do His work of grace in our lives. He says, “I will keep you in this world because I still have work of grace that must be completed in your life.” When we think of the word grace, we think of peace, mercy and forgiveness but friends, there is something very hard in receiving God’s grace. For this I want to read a portion from a hymn by the man who helped William Cowper, John Newton. He wrote: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound when he was saved. There was, however, a work of grace that had to be done in his life. This work of grace must continue in our lives. Otherwise we would have been saved by entering the ark with Noah but inside the ark we would have caused trouble for the others because we have not been broken yet, God’s grace has not been done in our lives. So, when you read Amazing Grace, you think that was all and John Newton had a wonderful time - until God started His work of grace.
I ASKED THE LORD THAT I MIGHT GROW
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favoured hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Humbled my heart and laid me low.
“Lord, why is this?” I, trembling cried,
“Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?”
“Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”
It seems as if He wants to aggravate my pain and make it more difficult, but He is God. He says God crossed out all the wonderful plans I made, and He humbled my heart and laid me low. After God has slapped you a few times, you lie trembling and say, “Lord, I’m just a worm. Are You going to keep punishing me till I die?” But Newton says, “Lord, I am Your worm,” not any worm – Your worm. If a person has not been broken by God in this way, you will enter the ark with Noah and then? You will be a problem and a pain to everyone in the ark. This is the curse in the church of Jesus Christ - people who have been unwilling to go through the mill of God, become upset around every corner because so-and-so insults me and so-and-so has done this, so-and-so has stepped on my toe. Such people are one big problem and not a blessing to anybody in the ark. It would have been better had such a person not entered the ark with Noah.
There is a heavenly Noah who has built the ark, not with wood but with His flesh and blood so that you and I can be safe on judgement day; so that you and I can be a blessing to His church. If we are unwilling to go through the mill that John Newton went through, we may lose our privileged position of being part of the group in the ark of God with Christ. Instead we will become a curse to everybody around us. We will hate them, stab them in the back and make life difficult for them. The ark that Christ built was no joke. As with Noah there was nobody who supported Him. Nobody realised that He was building the ark. He spoke to His disciples many times and told them, but they did not understand. He was alone and when He hung on that cross, He hung there alone. He paid the price that gave Him the right to approach anyone, whether you are in South Africa or overseas, and ask, “Poor sinner, do you love Me?” He can call you a sinner, whether you are the president of the country or a king, to Him you are just a poor sinner but if you love Him, repent and come to Him, He can save you.