The Impact of Obedience

This was originally posted on my church’s blog. You can see the original post here.

With a presidential election coming up, the power of our words is really front and center. We’re now down to two main candidates (and Kanye West?) and every word spoken is being dissected for its meaning and intent. 

Joe Biden went into hiding, hoping that Donald Trump would self-destruct, but even his goal of not speaking backfired as rumors of health issues swirled about. Just as the words of our presidential candidates hold weight and can change the course of history, the words we speak hold weight as well. Words spoken to a friend, acquaintance, or family member can change the course of our lives or theirs. Sometimes these words take the shape of big emotional moments where we’ve thought through what we’re planning to say, but other times, these life-changing words occur in the less climactic moments where words are spoken without much forethought. We’ve all had situations (I’m sure I’m not alone in this, right?) where a few loose words injured a relationship temporarily or even permanently. It’s interesting how those words less thought through can carry an outsized impact.

Other times the impact of words spoken isn’t realized until hours, days, months, or even years later. Maybe you made a prediction or observation that was forgotten until it rang true and was remembered. If you’re lucky, others remember, but most likely they didn’t. Of course, the things we wish were forgotten are remembered and things we want to be remembered are lost to the wind. This phenomenon was on my mind recently as I was reading through the story of Noah. 

Noah is thrown into the story in Genesis 5 as the son of Lamech, and Lamech’s words about Noah were recorded for all to read. Lamech said in Genesis 5:29, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” When these words were spoken, you have to wonder what those around Lamech thought. Did they grasp what he meant by those words? Did they think they were platitudes or did they take them seriously? Fathers will sometimes project greatness onto their ordinary child, but it turned out this was no ordinary child and his words rang true and are recorded for all to see. But then I wonder, how were the words remembered? Were they forgotten until Noah’s greatness rang true? Or were they recorded and repeated to Noah and those around him, reminding them to watch out for what was to come?

As we continue reading into Chapter 6, we see God regrets His creation and plans to destroy it, but Noah found His favor (verse 8). And we all know the rest of the story. Noah was obedient and God told Noah to bring his family along. This was the restarting of God’s creation and Noah’s time to shine.

At the end of this story, I found I have question after question.

  • Was Noah righteous and blameless because of what his father spoke after him (i.e. he was trying to live up to the expectation) or was Noah righteous and blameless because God had ordained him for that moment? It’s the classic chicken and the egg scenario.
  • Did Noah attempt to convince others of the coming doom? In versions of this story written for children, you see Noah playing this role, but you don’t really see that in the scriptures. When it came down to it, Noah only impacted his family.

There are some great lessons to take from these questions and this story.

You never know how your words will land

Whether you’re talking about Noah or Lamech, I’m sure both said things that had an impact. It’s interesting that Noah is the one who had words spoken over him, but whose words themselves were apparently not taken seriously by those who considered him blameless.

As Noah built the ark, you know he had to have been having conversations with his neighbors day after day. Despite the consistency of these warnings and conversations, the neighbors didn’t respond to the looming threat.

No matter who you’re speaking to, your words have the ability to impact the world. It’s a sobering thought and might even make you a little scared. Rest assured, most of your words are forgotten. Since we have no way to know which will be forgotten and which are remembered, we should speak with intention and care.

It’s why I pray Psalms 19:14 regularly.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer

(Psalm 19:14)

It’s why I have to remind myself not to share so many opinions and be slow to speak.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry

(James 1:19)

But instead, speak words of wisdom.

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

(Proverbs 12:18)

You never know what your final impact will be

As I think about Noah and his family loading up in the ark, you have to think there was some hesitation and fear. Even though they knew they were following God, there had to be some self-doubt when no one else took the warnings seriously. I can imagine Noah feeling like he wasn’t heard by the people around him and feeling small and disrespected.

But as we look back on this, Noah is our story. You have to think Noah had some doubts despite his obedience. And even once his words landed, I wonder if Noah realized the impact his obedience would have on the world. At the time, I doubt it really felt like he was changing the world (what does that feel like anyways?). I wonder what Noah would think if God had allowed him to see the impact he had.

As Christians, we’re called to have that conversation with a neighbor, pray for those around us, and take those small consistent steps of faith. Sometimes those small steps result in a big impact that we could have never foreseen. If you doubt the impact you could have, reflect on some examples from our own church history.

One prayer followed by action from a church member (Kathy Hart) was fundamental to God bringing former pastor Mike Keahbone to Cherokee Hills. Small steps of obedience from a group of believers led to Cherokee Hills being planted. Those small prayers have led to countless lives being changed and continuing to be changed. With those examples mentioned above, I doubt they could have seen or understood the impact they were having at the time.

We all play a part in God’s story. No matter how big or small you feel your impact is, remember Noah and remember all those throughout the history of Cherokee Hills. It may take 10 or 100 or 1,000 years, but that small act of faithfulness can result in an impact unimaginable in size. Maybe that’s overwhelming, but it’s also comforting: our small acts of faithfulness are all God needs and then He will do the rest.

Just think: the prayers for our next pastor today could result in generations of impact down the road. I don’t know about you, but that seems like too good an opportunity to pass up.