Description: Why does God bring us "thunder and lightening" experiences in our lives -- those things that stop us in our tracks?
Lack of Contentment 2
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Let’s look together at Exodus 20:18 and it might be good to reflect that this is about the year 1440
B. C. The Israelites escaped from Egypt so this is somewhere about 1430 B. C. And you can remember
that it was about 2000 B.C. was Abraham’s date. So Abraham has experiences of God appearing to him
on the mountain with his son Isaac and Adam had experiences of God walking with him in the garden in
the cool of the day, and Jacob had experiences of the angel wrestling with him at Bethel.
So, down through the years from 2000 say about 1440 B.C. there were moments when God revealed
himself but primarily to individuals. But, of course, this was a remarkable scene when this whole
mountain was filled with sound. Trumpet sound, and lightening, and thunder and it was obvious that
something incredible was happening. I mean, there was a report on television I think today about
another UFO seen between Virginia and New York. Of course, the conclusion is it’s probably a
meteorite that has come close.
But you can imagine – you know the fuss that we make over lights in the sky but you can imagine the
sensation that this caused of the whole mountain being lit up. There was thunder, and lightening,
and sounds of trumpets and the obvious sense of a mysterious presence.
So it is important for us to see that God went to immense trouble here to manifest himself very
clearly and plainly to all the Israelites in regards to his ten commandments. The ten laws are
obviously an important thing in his mind and in his dealing with us. So, it’s good first of all to
see that when you read Verse 18, “Now when all the people perceived the thunderings and the
lightnings and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and
trembled; and they stood afar off.”
I think one of the difficulties our dear Father faces with us is our life becomes so desperately
routine and ordinary. I mean, you get up, okay, you’re going a bit early in the morning, but we get
up Monday morning, we hit the road, we go out, we make our calls, we finish the day, we get to the
motel and then we come back here and have a nice time together. Life is not filled with tenement
blocks. It’s not filled with tanks rolling over the tops of us. It’s not filled with the fear of
the firing squad. It’s not filled with fear of arrest. It’s very, very normal and ordinary and, of
course, we pray and ask God that he will do that. That we will be peacefully governed, so that his
gospel may be shared without all the difficulties of persecution.
But that is in itself one of the difficulties that God has with us. Our life is so ordinary and so
routine that it can just fiddle along with just a little thought here, a little thought there, a
little book we read here, a little book we read there and it’s quite difficult for God to give us a
thunder and lightning experience. What came home to me was whether it’s me just with my little cash
flow where I can’t find the sum of money that I’ve lost in the accounts or whether it’s you with the
sales just stopped or slowing up or running out of territory, whatever it is God has his thunder and
lightning experiences for us. He has his way of creating a mountaintop with thunder and lightning
coming that makes us stop and say, “Wait a minute, is God saying something to me?”
It just came home to me it’s vital that we recognize those moments and that we aren’t so brainwashed
by Satan that we kind of fill those in to everything else and we just say, “Oh yeah, well it’s just
a little more difficulty I’m having,” or, “It’s this reason, or that reason, or the other reason.”
In fact, you can see what the tendency is for us to do in Verse 19, the people, “Stood afar off, and
said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.’”
Now first of all, it’s important to see historically that in a way they were kind of justified. If
you go back to Chapter 19:21, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down and warn the people, lest they
break through to the Lord to gaze and many of them perish.’” So, in a way, they are justified
because they were warned. Look, the mountain itself is holy because God is there, so stay well back
and by that means God was teaching them the respect for his dignity and his holiness. It is true
in another part of the Bible, it says, “No man can look upon God and live.” Of course, the teaching
is that nobody can see God himself and live because you’ll say, “Oh well, isn’t it true that at
times Moses seemed to see?” Yes, but he saw the angel of God, or he saw the fire in the bush.
So, it’s possible to see manifestation of God as an angel or as thunder and lightning and still live
but no man will look upon God himself as he is and still live in this present earth. Of course,
when we get to heaven then we’ll see him as he is. It is true, in a way, that people were justified
by what they said. But do you see that they often express an attitude in our own human nature? In
Verse 19, “And said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest
I think it’s true that very very often when God speaks to us in some way, like failed sales, or
difficult sales, or a messed up cash flow, or whatever the others of us have, often we miss the
point. Often – well, we have a phrase, or we have a slang phrase in Ireland, maybe it’s an
American, we juke around them. Juke — you juke — you get out of his way, you’re like a boxer, you
kind of out flank him, do an end run I suppose in football. You kind of go around him.
I mean, God would bring a thunder and lightning to you, maybe the sales stumbling, maybe the car,
maybe something else, maybe the death, bring something and we kind of look but we’re the same as
Moses, or the same as the people of Israel, “You speak to us, don’t let God speak to us lest we
die.” We kind of try and get round. If you say to me, “How do you get round?” Oh, we work out,
“Well, we need to use another method in our sales,” or, “I have an opportunity to say to the Father,
‘Lord, I cannot find this that I’m missing in this cash flow. Will you show it to me?’” Or, I can
say, “No, no, forget that — I’ll just get the calculator out and I’ll go to it.”
Now it isn’t that I shouldn’t use the calculator and it isn’t that I should look up and say, “Angel,
come down and point my finger at the right spot.” But first I go to God and then by all means get
the calculator out. First, I go to God and say, “Lord, is there anything in me, or anything in my
life, or anything in what I’m doing that is preventing you speaking to me directly? Is there
anything you want to show me here, or do you Father just want me to respect that only you can make
this thing go right?”
I think it’s very possible in the selling to juke around God. Indeed, to look at the thunder and
lightning, or almost like Moses with a bush and flames and say, “Ah, just another bush and flames.
Ah, just a low point in sales. Ah, just – I mean, it’s just a little dry time.” Or, it’s possible
to say, “Lord, I’m listening. I’m listening Father. I’m listening. I want you to speak to me; I
don’t want Moses to speak to me. I want you to speak to me, Lord. I ask you to answer me in regard
I think that’s what happened with – I was telling Andrea a little of Dan’s testimony last Sunday
evening, I think that’s part of what happened to him. I think he got the message. I think he got
the message, “Wait a minute, I’m not cutting it. This is God saying to me, ‘You have to do
something.’” To him it was fast and pray. To him it was fast and pray but it really was look, get
serious. Are you serious about this or are you not? Is this a do or die business, this business of
you having this number of sales? Is this a do or die business or is it not? Do you really care
about this or is it not a big thing to you?
Now, it seems to me if the thunder and lightning experience comes and we take the attitude, “You
speak to us lest God speak to us and we die,” that is kind of getting round the thing. You know,
it’s kind of saying, “Well yeah, I need to take a new tactic with my sales. Well, I need this.
Well, I need that.” I was saying to Sandra, in a way she feels she had run out of territory in
April and it seems to me the Father may have all kinds of plans for us as the year progresses in
regard to territory but we all know that what we have at this time God is able to make enough to
feed 5,000 and he’s able to create. That’s what the pair of us said yesterday down there, God is
able to make sales out of nothing.
In a way, we all know the situation so well here in America, the place is the most veracious
consumer society in the world, they buy anything hand over fist, let alone beautiful jewelry. The
thing is there, it’s all there. It’s all there. It’s simply the Father is giving us a thunder and
lightning experience and it’s very important for us to respond to him. Not to Moses, not to the
sales, not to the calculator, not to another way around the thing.
Why? Well, because of the next verse God explains, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for
God has come to prove you, and that the fear of him may be before your eyes, that you may not sin.’”
This may be good to talk about the two fears there first and then to get to the important part of
that sentence. “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear.’” That is, don’t be afraid you’re
going to die. Don’t be afraid God is going to strike you dead, he’s not. “And that the fear of him
may be before your eyes,” — that respect for him. Fear of his authority, not fear of death but
respect for him and fear of offending him that that fear may be before your eyes that you may not
sin. We can talk about that in a moment. But, the important reason is there in the middle of the
sentence, “For God has come to prove you.”
I remember, in fact, it was Nan Ames was a Methodist missionary and is apparently related to Robert
Ames who is touted as the next possible archbishop of Canterbury. But Nan Ames was a Methodist. An
old harden Methodist missionary who had been in Africa in years and was back teaching in the same
school I was teaching in and she was a strong lady. I taught English literature but part of the
time, because I was in the ministry, the Methodist ministry at the same time, I taught religious
instruction we called it, divinity we called it.
The head of the divinity department was a man maybe seven or eight years older than me who was a
Presbyterian minister and he headed up the religious instruction department. Harold Calvert, I
still remember him. I remember that he taught me when I was a student and I was a good little boy,
but I remember even I, in one chaotic time, his classes were always chaos, I remember I threw I
think it was – it must have been something like a ball of paper and it missed the guy in front and
hit Harold Calvert. And he said, “What did you do that for O’Neill?” And I said, “It slipped sir.”
That was the kind of class Harold had and I think of him now and he was a dear man. We had a
wonderful time going to Denmark on a cycling tour with the students and he was just a dear fellow.
But, his classes were chaotic, absolutely chaotic. And I remember Nan Ames, once in a conversation
with I think myself and maybe one other person in the staff room and somebody said — she was in
that same department because she taught religious instruction except her classes were absolutely
ordered. Someone said, “Harold Calvert, what’s wrong with him? I mean, he can’t control his
classes, he can’t exercise discipline. What is wrong?” And she said, “Ah, he just hasn’t found
himself. He hasn’t found himself.”
And it was her way of saying that he has never dealt face-to-face with the “thunder and lightning”
and with his God. He has never really come to heel with God, seen himself as he really is, seen his
weaknesses, and made a definite commitment of his life to live a life of integrity where things are
consistent. A place where, of course, he goes to school each day and he does a good job and he
controls his classes, and he teaches them the scripture. He knew he was only playing at it. He
knew he was. He knew the classes were chaos. He knew he was just going through the motions.
So, there was a big sense in his mind he was saying of dissatisfaction, of feeling that he wasn’t
really making the thing work. He wasn’t really doing the thing he was meant to do. He wasn’t
really living a life of integrity. He was, what we would often say, having at the thing. He was
playing at it. He was having a shot at it but he wasn’t really doing the job. That’s why God
brings them the lightening experiences.
He brings us face-to-face with himself either through lost sales, or through failed sales, or
through a death, or through the cash flow, or through something not working as it’s meant to work.
It’s him saying, “Stop. Stop.” And he does it to prove us. God does it to prove us. That is to
prove us out. You remember the way in the old railroads, I don’t know if they do it now, they used
to have hammers and they went along the wheels tapping the wheels to see if they were right. An
expert could tell when he tapped the wheel whether the bearing was gone or whether the wheel was
cracked, or something like that. And he tapped it. That’s probably where the kicking of tires
comes from but he tapped the wheel to see if it was sound. That’s what it means. God brings these
things to prove us. To say, “Are you really operating straight with me? Are you really doing the
job? Are you really achieving the purpose that I sent you to achieve? Or, are you just playing at
I think that’s more why it’s important for us to have glorious sales. I don’t think it has much to
do with us all making a lot of money. I don’t think it has much to do with us being able to pay our
bills even. I don’t think it’s very much to do with the success of the business, or with the
ministry. I don’t think it has.
I think it’s that God wants us to achieve the purpose for which we were sent. He wants us to do it
well and do it thoroughly. He wants our sales to be good, our customers to be impressed with the
reality of this business, with the integrity of us as business people, wants them to respect us and
therefore, to begin to ask us, “Now, what is the secret of your life? What makes your life like it
is? I mean, you’re not just successful but you’re a kindly and a thoughtful person. Now, what
makes that? That’s the kind of life I want.”
It seems to me that’s why God brings us thunder and lightning experiences — to prove us. To get us
to come to heel, be real, do the thing as he intended it to be done. And I think that’s why the
Verse ends like that, “And that the fear of him may be before your eyes, that you may not sin.” In
other words, that we would rise to what God wants. These people heard him saying, “You shall have
no other Gods before me. I want that. You shall not make for yourself a graven image. I want
that. You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God in vain. I want that. Remember the
Sabbath day. I want that.” It’s God bringing before our eyes what he wants.
Now, it is possible for us each time to slip down. You know, to slip away. To slip away and say,
“No, no, no. No, it’s just my sales are low. It’s just the cash flow, I can’t find the peace. I
haven’t written it correctly in pencil or something. No, it’s just a little thing.” If we keep
slipping back down saying, “You talk to us lest God talk to us.” If we keep sidestepping God, if we
keep getting around the issue, we will never, never come into maturity as human beings or as God’s
children. We’ll continually be making excuses. We’ll excuse ourselves away into death and our life
will end as the poem says, “Not with a bang but with a whimper.” We’ll just whimper away.
Don’t you think that was one of the saddest things in the business at times where people would never
really face up to the challenge? They’d never really win; we’d just kind of make do. We’d make do,
we’d get around a failure and try and make it appear not a failure. We’d never really deal with it
face-to-face. Then, of course, you can see where it all occurs in verse 21, “And the people stood
afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.”
You remember Oswald Chamber says, “That’s always where you find God, in thick darkness where you
can’t see your hand in front of you. In dense blackness where you can see no way. Where there’s no
way you can see. Your eyes can’t see anything. You can’t see any way out, you can’t see any way
forward, you can’t see. You can’t see what to do.” That’s where God is, when you can’t see how he
can possibly deliver you. That’s where God is. That’s why probably, I think, if you were in a
desert and you came to me and said, “Look, it’s pretty hard to sell jewelry out here.” I’d sort of
agree with you.
But if God has given us territory that has some stores in it and some people, I don’t think we
should impose the darkness on each other. You know, I don’t think I should say to you, “Okay, let’s
– I’ll give you Alaska, you know, or the Barren Straits between Alaska and Russia.” I don’t think
that’s fair. I don’t think we should set out to impose darkness. I don’t think that’s real
darkness, that’s not the thick darkness that God brings. But I don’t think we should be afraid when
we come up against a blank wall. I think that’s God bringing the thick darkness. And God is in
that thick darkness.
Don’t you think until we have been two or three hours a night on our knees in prayer night after
night for six months, until we’ve done that really it’s not the time to call ‘uncle’? It’s not the
time to call for Moses to speak to us, or for somebody to bring a flashlight into the darkness. The
thick darkness is there because God alone is the answer. He’s got you at least in a place where you
can’t see what to do next except to get on your knees before him in desperation. And don’t you
think it’s out of desperate prayer that God answers and that’s why he brings these experiences.
But they are precious experiences, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of
Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven.’” And God will talk
to you from heaven if you seek him hour after hour in that thick darkness. “You shall not make gods
of silver to be with me.” You see what he’s saying? Don’t put other things to be with me. Don’t
try a little of this to help me out. “Nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.” All I want
you to do is, “An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and
your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen,” because I want my fear to be before you so that you
may not sin. But, if you do sin there’s an offering that you can make because it stands for the
sacrifice of my son in Calvary and so you can do that.”
“In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.” I’ll
always bless you there at the point of confession, of sin and repentance. “And if you make me an
altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones.” I don’t want an elaborate thing. The altar
is not an end in itself. “For if you wield your tool upon it you profane it.” Just let it be as it
is because it’s not the altar and it’s not the sacrifice that is enabling forgiveness to come, it’s
my son’s death. So, these things only stand for something so don’t make them an end in themselves.
And don’t make confession and repentance an end in itself, they’re only to bring you into a
closeness to me that will bring prosperity and blessing to you.
“And you shall not go up by steps to my altar.” So, don’t go up on steps so that your nakedness is
exposed on it because my altar is holy. Treat everything that I have as holy and when you come
into my presence have respect for me and respect for my holiness. The fear of me that that will
bring will prevent you from sinning against me.
Let us pray.
O mighty God, we see how easily we can fail to acknowledge you and respect you and how we can create
an idea of you in our minds that we then can manipulate and fit into our other ideas. Lord God,
forgive us for that. We would look up to you, Lord. You were the one who took the loaves and
fishes that the little boy brought to Jesus and you made them enough for 5,000. We would not, Lord,
side step you. We would thank you for speaking to us in thundering and lightening that we can
understand. We would thank you for the things that you bring into our lives that are precious, the
things that aren’t working out as we thought they would, the things that are not yielding to our own
Oh Father, we would thank you for those and we would come to you now and listen to your voice as you
speak through those things. Whether it be sales that aren’t going right, or aims, or goals, or
desires that we believe you have put in our lives that aren’t being fulfilled. Lord, we will come
now into your presence and we would deal with you and we would see that this thick darkness is the
only place where we will find you where finally we’ve run out of our own ideas and we cannot see to
put our foot in front of us.
Lord God, far from complaining of such situations, far from trying to help each other to find a way
through them. Lord, we would recognize that this is you speaking to us. You have come to prove us.
You have come to make us true. You’ve come to bring integrity into our lives. You have come to
enable us to integrate our wills with our conscience and thus to live in truth and in honesty before
you. So Lord, we would respect your altar. We would respect, Lord, your presence and we would
respect, Lord, your thick darkness and thank you for it and would seek you until we find you in this
So Father, we thank you for your goodness and faithfulness to us.
And now the grace of our Lord Jesus and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be
with each one of us now and evermore. Amen.