I grew up hearing my dad say things like, “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times!” Can you relate? The fact was – my dad probably did tell me a thousand times; but I was born with an innate ability to ignore what I didn’t want to hear, because I understood as well that if I heard something – I was responsible to either obey it or reject it. I didn’t really want that burden.
Of course the other side of the issue wasn’t just ignoring my dad it was being unable to hear him. I always had the stereo on, or the TV or whatever else and though he might be speaking well enough, and even if I might be interested in hearing what he had to say – I couldn’t hear him because of the distractions.
I wonder sometimes if that isn’t the reality for many Christians when it comes to hearing the voice of God. There are some who are afraid perhaps for some reason and that fear or maybe even for others that rebellion keeps them from even wanting to hear God speaking. For others it may not be fear or rebellion it could simply be that there are so many distractions in front of us that it never gets quiet enough inside our minds to hear God calling out to us in the pages of the Bible, which is seldom read and less seldom studied. And yet for others it may simply be that they don’t know what God voice sounds likes.
How does God communicate to us? Dreams? Sometimes. Audible voice? I’ve never heard God speak out loud. The Spirit’s prompting to your Spirit? This is usually where I hear God speaking first.
Of course there are two rules when it comes to hearing God’s voice. (1) God will never communicate something to you that will contradict his word. If it doesn’t match the scriptures – it’s not God. (2) If you want to hear you have to listen.
This morning I want to walk through the experience of God’s last judge in the Bible – a boy named Samuel who learned not only to hear God’s voice but to heed it as well.
Please stand as you are able and read with me 1 Samuel 3:1-21.
Learning to Listen
We have to begin where Samuel does – learning to listen to God. Samuel goes through three phases in his journey toward hearing God’s voice. First he’s serving God but not hearing from Him. Second as God calls out to Him, he hears the voice but doesn’t recognize that it’s God. And third he finally hears and has to wrestle with obedience.
I want you to notice that in each instance The transition to go from one to the other relies upon the Lord who wants to be heard. Just as he continually called out to Samuel, he continually calls out to be heard by those who often would love to hear his voice; but who like Samuel often find that God asks more than their comfort will allow. This is the nature of hearing God’s voice – it is usually (always?) going to be a call to go beyond what you’re used to – in other words God is always going to call you to step out in faith. He is going to call you to something new, not to something you’re already doing.
Laboring without hearing
Start by looking at verse 1, but also peek over and spy out verse 7. Samuel you might remember is a young boy who had been dedicated by his mother Hannah to serve the Lord in the temple. As he grew – Eli the priest gave him various chores in the tabernacle. So it says that he was “ministering to the Lord before Eli.” And we’re specifically told that hearing from God was not a normal every day thing. By the way – I think that’s a great note to make when you read the Bible. There is about 4000 years of history recorded in just a few thousand pages – and not that many events are recorded in the grand scheme of things. So it’s not unusual that Samuel would neither recognize nor expect to hear God’s voice. So just note that for a time at least Samuel was laboring but not hearing God’s voice.
Hearing but not recognizing
But all of that changes one night (V2-5). Eli is in bed, and obviously in another place, near the Ark of the Covenant as a matter of fact, Samuel also is in bed. Very early in the morning for the Lamp of the Lord was to burn all night long and it has not yet gone out; In the flickering light of the lamp the Lord calls out to Samuel. The boy gets up, cries “Here I am.” Runs into Eli and says, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli looks up at him and says, “I did not call, lie down again.” Samuel was a good boy and so, probably scratching his head a bit and wondering no doubt is Eli was getting a little cracked he went and lay back down.
Again (6-7) the Lord called, Samuel ran and Eli told him to go lay back down. And still a third time (8-9) the Lord called, Samuel ran to Eli. And suddenly the old man discerned that God must be calling to Samuel.
A great deal of ink has been spilled trying to determine why neither Samuel nor Eli figured it out earlier. In fact we’ve already been told in verse 1 that the word of the Lord was rare. And in verse 7 we find out that Samuel did not yet know the Lord (meaning he had not experienced God in this manner yet) and moreover we’re told in verse seven that the word of the Lord had not been revealed to him yet. This doesn’t refer to the text but to the pre-incarnate Christ, the utterance of God had not been revealed to Samuel yet. Both phrases are meant to parallel and explain each other. Samuel may have been serving the Lord but up until this point, he had not been personally relating to the Lord. Given these circumstances it should hardly surprise us that a young boy didn’t recognize God’s voice when it first came.
Listening For God to Speak
For his part, Eli finally figured it out and told Samuel what to do.
For the fourth time the Lord seeks contact with Samuel, beginning in verse 10, the Lord comes and calls to Samuel and just as he’d been told he responds, “Speak Lord your servant is listening.” I don’t know what Samuel expected to hear, but what he heard made him very afraid.
If you start reading the book of Samuel from the first chapter you find a major contrast between Samuel and his parents who are quite godly – and Eli and his sons, which altogether lack righteousness. Starting in 1 Samuel 2:12 we find out that “the Sons of Eli were worthless men…” They didn’t know the Lord either, and they dishonored His sacrifices, got in the way of the Israelites who were trying to come to God. On top of that they were sleeping with the girls who helped out at the temple. Eli himself did not stop the boys from what they were doing. All of them were guilty and God was about to bring judgment. Indeed, back in 2:27 God sent a prophet to warn them that judgment was coming. Eli had heard the warning but apparently had done nothing about it.
Hearing and heeding are two different things
Now that he had heard this thing I can’t help but believe that Samuel was wishing he had never heard the word of the Lord. He lay back down until morning and then started opening the doors of the tabernacle and getting things ready for the day when Eli came in. Verse 15 ends with the tell-tale statement: “But Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.”
Samuel had discovered what some of us know as well: knowing what God wants you to do is not the same as doing it. We’ve all had sweaty palms and palpitating heart beats when it comes time to share the gospel with someone – what we do at that moment determines our obedience.
Thankfully, Samuel had an ally in Eli who pushed him to spill the beans. “Please do not hide it from me. May God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the words that He spoke to you.”
I have to believe that Eli’s coaxing was as much a gift from God as the message itself had been. Samuel had a choice to make. Obey the Lord, or obey his fear. He chose to obey the Lord. “So Samuel told him everything…”
Obedience brings more opportunity to obey
It can hardly be said that from this point in verse 18 and going forward that Samuel had no problems. Indeed later he would express fear to God when the Lord told him to reject Saul and anoint David as the next king. (1 Samuel 16:1-2) Fearing for his life he would shrink from duty until God emboldened him again to complete the task.
Each time we obey the Lord’s voice, whether heard in the pages of scripture, the voices of saints around us or in His Spirit whispering to our Spirit we take another step down the road of faith. Every obedience brings more opportunities for obedience.
Much of Samuel’s life is summarized for us in verse 19-21. Since Samuel was faithful to the Lord, the Lord also was faithful to Samuel, letting none of his words fall to the ground.
For us the applications are many. We have to start with the first question “are you listening?” Or are you just serving the Lord without knowing him well enough to recognize his voice even if he were to shout in your living room? Listening to the Lord means we need to know him.
Listen to the Voice of the Lord. Romans 12:2 indicates that hearing God’s voice and recognizing his will DEMANDS that we are soaking in His word. We cannot expect to know and prove God’s will without God’s word in our lives.
When you think God is speaking that is the time to listen carefully, Bible in hand, prayerfully attentive to His word.
And when God speaks do not be hesitant to obey the words of the Lord. Even when afraid, his grace is perfect for your needs and He will enable you to obey him again and again.
Closing Hymn: His Strength is Perfect