Excerpt from Obedience Over Hustle: The Surrender of the Striving Heart by Malinda Fuller
Obedient When the Dream Isn’t Yours
“What’s an ark, Lord?” Noah asks, scratching his head. “And while we’re talking, what exactly do You mean when You say ‘floodwaters’?” He looks toward heaven and runs his hand through his hair, confused because of the cloudless sky. “I mean, I know we’re on good terms, but this is a whole new level, Lord. Are You sure I’m the one You want to take on such an enormous task? I’m a farmer, after all, not a skilled woodworker.”
There is a pause. He shifts his weight anxiously, waiting for God to return his arguments with concession. But the silence hangs thick, and finally he blurts out, “Okay, Lord, I’ll do it. Why not? Even if I don’t know how this whole thing is going to pan out, or how to gather all these animals, or how to collect enough food to feed them, I’ll do it because You asked me. Not because I think I can or because I’m confident that it will work. But because You asked me, I’ll do it.”
There will be times throughout our lives when getting excited about an idea is easy. We have a dream or someone gives a great talk at church or a conference, and we’re left scribbling wildly and churning the plans over in our minds for days. Sometimes the inspiration comes from the most random places in the most unusual ways, but regardless, it is something we can get behind. We are not just eager but ecstatic about pursuing the vision that we believe is God-ordained—especially if it’s something we know others will be excited about too.
But what happens when that God-dream isn’t a trendy idea or when pursuing His plan will probably leave us a few followers short with a couple of friends who have turned their backs to us? Will we still go after that dream excitedly, or will we let it pass us by because it doesn’t fit into our five-year plan, personal brand, season of life, or budget?
What would we do if God handed us a plan that seemed so out of left field that we questioned our ability to discern His voice from the others? What if the thing He asked us to do is not just beyond our ability or means but actually sounds a little crazy? For me, it sounded like, “Quit your job that contributes 30 percent of your family’s income, even though you’ve just increased your monthly expenses by 30 percent.” I remember being so sure that what I was stepping into was God’s plan, even though it was terrifying. I knew I was in good company, though, because others had gone before me, and their orders had sounded even crazier. At least I wasn’t asked to “march around a fortified city in silence,” “attack the enemy’s camp with torches and horns,” or my personal favorite, “build a giant boat in your front yard.”
When we step out into the land of crazy, God-sized plans, no one can offer more sympathy than a man named Noah. Yes, Noah-and-the-ark Noah. The one who remained after God decided to rid the world of all humanity and start fresh. (Genesis 6:13)
The Bible describes the world of Noah’s day as full of corruption and violence. (Genesis 6:11) Yet in the midst of the darkness and despair, a single ray of hope emerged: his name was Noah. One day God struck up a conversation with him and shared His plan for the future: Earth 2.0, which happened to include Noah and his family. Now, for a moment I want you to consider what that exchange might have felt like for Noah. We don’t get the insider’s look at what thoughts were racing through his mind or how high his blood pressure rose. We don’t know if he processed through the gamut of emotions (like most of us do) or whether he chose humility, honored that God would assign him to such a monumental task.
Have you ever stopped to wonder what would have happened if Noah had responded differently—if he had walked away when God presented the plan, or if, after working countless years, he decided it wasn’t worth it and chose to leave the half-constructed ark and forge his own destiny? What if Noah had balked when God handed out his job, reacting the way we tend to when God handed out a task to complete: “Me, God—are You kidding? I’m way overqualified to do manual labor.” Or maybe we don’t take the high road but wallow in self-deprecation: “God, that is such a large assignment; I don’t have near enough experience or influence. Maybe You should ask someone else to do this—they’d probably do a better job anyway.”
Unfortunately for Noah, he was the only option—the one person who had a relationship with God. (Genesis 6:8) So whether Noah ran his mouth—giving God a list of reasons he couldn’t or shouldn’t be the one to complete the mission—or silently went about completing the task, we know one thing: Noah did the work.
He didn’t start off with enthusiasm only to abandon his work later. Scripture says that “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” (Genesis 6:22 NIV) Everything. Not part of the task, but all of it. And there were a lot of details!
“Build a large boat from cypress wood and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior. Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Leave an 18-inch opening below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.” (Genesis 6:14-16 NLT)
God didn’t exactly give Noah creative freedom for this project—His instructions were specific. Not only for the actual construction of the boat, but for all that Noah was to collect and bring with him as well:
“You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” (Genesis 6:19-21 NIV)
In His infinite wisdom, God chose one man with a desire to obey to carry out this vital task. He didn’t send an army general to conquer or a politician to rule. God planned to use the sweat of a man’s brow and the strength of his faith to save from extinction all the animals on Earth and the very people He had lovingly created. He didn’t start over with a new garden and Adam and Eve—He chose Noah. God whispered His plan to Noah, who was five hundred years old, giving him specific instructions to obey. And the Bible tells us that he did.
Noah obeyed even when it didn’t make sense, even when he couldn’t see what would eventually take shape. Without knowing how long the rain would last, how many days would pass before he’d see land again, or where they would end up, Noah went into the ark with his family and a zoo. And God.
What else was there to do? For a lot of us, there would have been time to panic.
The delay between when Noah walked up the ramp next to the giraffes and when the boat actually floated away was significant. We tend to hear the story and think, God shut the door, and then it started raining, but in reality, something different happened. Noah’s family took refuge down in the belly of the boat for seven days before God opened the heavens. (Genesis 7:1, 10)
That would have been enough time for doubt to descend and take up residence in Noah’s mind. It would have been more than enough time for the rest of his family to start arguing and grumbling about the stench of the animals, the cramped quarters, and whose turn it was to clean the stalls and feed the sheep. A week is a long time when we are waiting with anticipation for something epic to happen; and in Noah’s case, he was certainly on (an apocalyptic) edge. Most of us probably would have built an escape hatch for moments like these or could have been found curled up in the fetal position in a dark corner, having succumbed to fear.
Why exactly did God wait? The Bible isn’t clear about the purpose of the seven-day waiting period, but we do know that when it was over, everything changed. God brought the rains. The flood covered the earth, and Noah lost everything he’d ever known; he was literally face-t0-face with the hand of God. I’m sure there were moments when Noah was perplexed at how and why he was the one sitting on the ark. He never could have imagined that building a floating zoo would be the thing people would remember him for—forever. It didn’t make any sense.
But that is often how the story unfolds with God. The math doesn’t make sense, but it still adds up. One barren wife and one old man become the promised parents of God’s chosen people. (Genesis 18:11) One young boy sold into slavery saves nations from starvation. (Genesis 37:28; 41:57) One Hebrew baby spared at birth leads two million people through the Red Sea on dry ground. (Exodus 1:17; 14:21-22) One eyeless man, with hands on the temple pillars, kills the enemy leadership. (Judges 16:19-20) One prophet prays, and a drought ravages the land for three and a half years; then he prays again, and the rains come. (James 5:17-18)
This is what happens when we choose to obey—even when it doesn’t make sense. When the odds are against us and we aren’t sure whether to believe the naysayers or trust God at His word. I pray that in those moments we will be people who push forward in faith. I’m not advocating carelessness or negligence, but I am suggesting that our human wisdom can only take us so far, and that the steps beyond are those of pure faith. And obedience.
It was obedience that saved Noah and his family. Yes, the hand of God spared them, but the truth is, God didn’t take away Noah’s free will—the choice of whether to trust God and go along with the plan or to walk away and pursue his own path was his. The building of the ark was not Noah’s brainchild. He probably didn’t grow up as a young boy thinking that one day he’d be the head of the sole surviving family. The dream to sail around the flooded earth wasn’t his—it was God’s. And the plan probably didn’t make sense at first, but he did it anyway.
What has God asked you to do?
Maybe it’s ark-sized, but perhaps not. Maybe you feel that it is enormous, and you feel too small to tackle it. Perhaps it’s a plan that was never on your radar, such as adopting a child later in life with children in high school or already moved out of the house, like several people I know. Maybe you’re like my friend who has recently felt that God is asking her to move her family overseas for a season, even though her life feels steady just the way it is right now. Perhaps God is asking you to give up the dream job you’ve spent the last five years working hard toward because He has a new project or business He wants you to start. For others, this ask might be a call outside of your comfort zone to write a book, teach a class, start homeschooling, or speak at a retreat. (I can appreciate if you’re feeling apprehensive about anything on this list!)
Whatever it is, whether it seems daunting or demeaning, may we have the heart of Noah to say, “Yes, Lord,” even if it doesn’t make sense. May we be those who can say, “I did everything the Lord told me to do,” just as it was said about Noah. (Genesis 7:5 ERV)
Malinda Fuller is a bold communicator and a proud homeschooling mom to two spirited girls. She and her family reside in Northern California.