Listening for God

by Sean Foster on January 18, 2015

I Samuel 3:1-20

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the LORD said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.”

As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.

John Ortberg, good Presbyterian, Pastor and Teacher wrote a book entitled: God is closer than you think. And that’s just it, God is closer than we think. The Bible is not a story about humanity longing to be in relationship with God; the Bible is a story about God wanting to be in relationship with humanity. What that means is that we can know God, we encounter and experience God. God is not far away in some celestial space. As Ortberg argues, God is closer than we think.

I believe that all of us, have inside of us, a yearning, a desire to experience and know God. I believe that people have a natural hunger to be in relationship with God. And sometimes we don’t see that until people are in trouble or in crisis, but it is my experience that people really do long to hear from God.
• And of course we want it to be clear.
• We want to hear from God about our most pressing questions.
o About why a friend has cancer for example.

Over the last few months we have been praying for a little boy since he was just a few days old. And as we pray, I think there have been times when we have asked why Lord? Why this little helpless boy. He is now four months old and they still don’t have a diagnosis of what he is dealing with.

We want to hear from God and we want it to be clear.
• We want to know God’s love for us.
• We want to know that we have been forgiven, without doubts.
• We want to hear and know God’s clear direction for our lives.
o Where should I go?
o What should I do?
o Students who are applying to Universities right now.
• Which one should I attend Lord?

We want to hear God’s voice and we want it to be clear.
• Lord, send me a text.
• Put it in writing so there is no confusion.
• Send me an e-mail.
• Make it black and white so that we do not miss or confuse what God is saying to us.

Now the question that I get more often than not, is: Why isn’t God speaking? And it’s not that God is not speaking, often the problem is that we are not listening.

You see, we want God to speak to us on our own terms. Shout Lord so that we can hear you. Make it obvious!

In my work as a minister, in my work as a Chaplain at the Hospital, and now in my work as a Chaplain with the Fire Department, the biggest part of my work, is listening. Listening is at the very heart of what pastors do. And it is actually very hard work because we are a society that talks more than it listens.

What impedes us from hearing God’s voice? You see, God chooses to speak to us on our terms. I mean, we would prefer if God would send the text or e-mail, even a phone call. We want God to be clear and obvious. But God does not yield to our ways. God’s ways are:
• Subtle
• And quiet
• And in my experience, slow.
• God is in no hurry.
• God is not bound by time the way we are.
I mean, here’s the thing: God of the Universe get’s to choose how God communicates to us – and there is nothing we can do about it.

I think we have trouble hearing God because we have such busy lives. We look at our calendars and they are literally bursting at the seams. Somewhere along the way in our Western North American Society we have trained ourselves to think, or we have come to believe that busy equals success. Busy equals productive. We even have our self-esteem wrapped up in this idea.

In the church, we even take it a step further. That it is some kind of sin to be idle and quiet. And this is why we want God to shout at us. While we gather the items that we need for our next meeting, What was that you were saying Lord? As we jump into the car and drive to our next appointment, Maybe you could speak while I’m driving Lord?

What was that Lord?
Could you say it louder?

But God wont do that…. God’s voice is quiet.
• We hear it when we are still and quiet ourselves.
• When we are focused on God.
• When we settle our hearts
• When we quiet our minds.
• And still our voice.
And I am telling you: that is hard work for us today.

We are a society that does not like quiet.

We have so many voices competing for our time.
• Our spouse
• Our children
• Our work
• Parents
• Friends
Sometimes it is the voices from within. And sometimes they are the loudest.
Those voices that always seem to begin with the words:
You Should…
And of course, the quilt that comes along side of those words.
All those statements we speak to ourselves.

Now sometimes that voice from within is nice and encouraging. You can do this!

And sometimes that voice from within is not so nice. Telling us to take charge of our lives and leave no room for God. Those voices that lead us to become gods ourselves.

And all of these things make it difficult for us to discern when God is speaking to us. I mean, it really does take time:
• To learn
• To recognize
• To know, God’s voice.
• That it is God who is speaking to us.

When I was preparing my message, it was my plan and intention to focus on the text from I Samuel. I mean, this story from first Samuel is a wonderful story. It is rich and full.

Most of us know the story. Eli is the Priest. Samuel is a young boy who lives at the Temple with Eli. The setting is night, and they are sleeping.

The text teaches us that Samuel was sleeping in the Temple, in the same room where the ark of God was kept. Eli, was sleeping in another room of the Temple.

Verse 4: Then the Lord called Samuel.

And Samuel wakes us, Here I am.
He runs to Eli – Here I am, you called me?
And Eli awakened from his sleep.
No, I did not call you. Go back and lie down.

Three times God calls Samuel.
Three times, Samuel runs to Eli.
Here I am, you called me?

When I read this story, I sometimes wonder who was more annoyed by this constant interruption?
• The young Samuel whose sleep is interrupted by someone calling his name?
• Or Eli, who is old and whose sleep is interrupted by Samuel waking him up?

But now you can see why it took me time to get to our text today. Do we recognize God’s voice when God calls?

I mean, it is clear in the lesson that Samuel does not recognize that it is God’s voice who is calling him. And we could say of course that he is just a young boy.

But let me take you back to verse one of our reading today. It reads:
The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord, under [the direction, care and guidance] of Eli, the Priest.
It continues…
In those days, it reads, the Word of the Lord was rare.

For whatever reason during that history, during that time period, people were not hearing God speak.

Even Eli, the Priest does not seem to recognize what is happening to Samuel, but finally it occurs to him, that it must be the Lord who is calling the boy.

Samuel, the Lord is calling you. Go lay down and if God calls you again, you say: Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

In the still and quiet of the night, the Lord spoke to the young Samuel – one of Israel’s greatest Prophets.

What if that was our prayer? What if we prayed that prayer: Speak Lord, your servant is listening? What if we prayed it over and over again so that it truly became our desire: more than anything else – that we would hear from God.

From time to time we would have evening services. It was an opportunity for us to explore different styles of worship. Traditional, Healing, Taize. Taize is a style of worship that has times of silence and quiet. I remember the feedback from those services that people felt most uncomfortable through them. And it’s not like we would sit in silence for an hour; ten minutes. But it made people uncomfortable. Ten minutes felt like a long time to be still and quiet before the Lord.

Listening for God is hard work.

Ortberg is still right! God is closer than we think. But the fact that we cant hear God is not because God doesn’t want to speak to us – it’s more likely that we are not taking out the time to actually listen.

The Bible is a story of God seeking to be in relationship with us.
• God loves us.
In fact, we just celebrated that a few weeks ago. God loves us so much that He gave us His son so that we can be in relationship with God.

But, what if we prayed that prayer? Speak Lord, Your servant is listening.

What if we took out time on a regular basis to be still and quiet before the Lord.
• Where we settle our hearts.
• Quiet our minds
• Still our voice.
• Get rid of theta cell phone – so it doesn’t interrupt.

We as a church have a mission of Inviting all to be alive in Christ. But Christ must first be alive in us.

May our most fervent prayer be: Speak Lord, Your servant is listening.


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