Do I need to give more examples? I do not have time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets.
— Hebrews 11:32 NCV
Long ago in the sun-baked land of Canaan, a woman prayed for a son. Hannah was one of two women married to a man named Elkanah. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had several children while Hannah tried and tried but was never able to get pregnant. Peninnah looked smugly down on Hannah and demeaned her year after year, making her feel worthless because of her inability to have kids. Elkanah, on the other hand, loved Hannah very much despite her inability to conceive and encourage her whenever she felt down. “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” he’d smile with a twinkle in his eye. And, I’m sure, she’d smile back.
But one day, after Peninnah had been especially degrading, Hannah went to the temple in Shiloh to pray.
Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the LORD. And she made this vow: “O LORD of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the LORD, his hair will never be cut.” (1 Samuel 1:10-11 NLT)
Standing in a darkened corner of the cool sandstone sanctuary, God’s prophet watched as this curious woman poured her heart out to God. “Go in peace,” Eli said to her “and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him” (vs. 17 NIV).
So began the story of Samuel.
The very next day “Hannah became pregnant, and in time she gave birth to a son” (vs. 20 NCV). Hannah’s heart overflowed with gratitude toward God and she named her son Samuel, which means God heard, because he was an answer to her prayers. She spent the first three precious years of his life weaning and raising her son, then Hannah did as she had vowed and Samuel was dedicated to God for the rest of his life.
Wouldn’t you like to be dedicated to God? What does that really mean? How was Samuel dedicated to God and how can we be just as dedicated? Well, first being dedicated to God, at least for Samuel, meant being…
Willing to Leave
Hannah’s tears, moist on her cheeks, were a mixture of sorrow and joy as she returned with her son to the place he was first conceived—not her and Elkanah’s wedding bed, but the temple of God in Shiloh. Finding Eli, the priest and prophet who assured her an answer to her prayers so many years ago, Hannah asked, “Sir, do you remember me? I am the woman who stood here several years ago praying to the LORD. I asked the LORD to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the LORD, and he will belong to the LORD his whole life” (vs. 26-28 NLT).
Hannah, like Jephthah before her, would give her only child to the Lord to live and work in the temple of God. Although the decision wasn’t Samuel’s at first, he continued to live and serve in the temple year after year for the rest of life. He was sheltered and set apart from the world. He now belonged to the temple of God.
While God certainly doesn’t require us to leave home before we’re even out of diapers or to sleep on a cot in the church basement, our dedication absolutely requires that we too be set apart and that we too belong to the temple of God.
In fact, that’s what church is all about!
The word translated church in English Bibles is the Greek word eklesia, which literally means the assembly or the called out. Just as in a school assembly where student are called out from class to meet together in the gym, the church is an assembly of people dedicated to God who’ve been called out from the world around us into the temple of God—not a temple made by human hands nor built with bricks and mortar, but a living, breathing, beautiful, constantly growing Holy Temple. The apostle Paul explains it best.
You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT)
God breathed life into you not just so that you’d believe in him, but so you’d belong to him and to his family! Even in the perfect paradise of the Garden of Eden, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). God’s temple today, his family of faith, gives us a place to belong so that we never have to be alone. As Rick Warren says, “We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family… A Christian without a church home is like an organ without a body, a sheep without a flock, or child without a family. It is an unnatural state.”
The Bible says, “You belong in God’s household with every other Christian” (Ephesians 2:19 TLB). Part of being dedicated to God is being willing to leave the world behind and become a part of the assembly—the Temple of God. It also means being…
Willing to Learn
Samuel didn’t just spend his temple time vacuuming the sanctuary or dusting the pews. The Bible says, “Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli” (1 Samuel 3:1 ESV). In other words, he became Samuel’s disciple. Disciple is a term most Christian’s are familiar with, but I’m not sure many of them really understand the meaning.
Education was very important to the typical Hebrew family. By the age of eight most little boys had already memorized the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). By the age of twelve, the more promising students had the entire Torah memorized. Now, at the age of twelve or thirteen most young men began learning the family trade and started working in order to help support their family, but the best and brightest students went on to higher-education. They attended school in the temple and by the age of fifteen they were ready to become disciples.
Usually, a young student would seek out a respected Rabbi, turn in his résumé and hope to here those life changing words—Come, follow me. If the Rabbi thought the boy had what it took and understood his yolk (the Rabbi’s particular set of interpretations and teachings), then he would invite the lad to become his disciple. Discipleship meant more than just learning by listening to the Rabbi’s teaching; it meant leaving home, following the Rabbi as he traveled his preaching circuit from town to town, and receiving hands-on training—like a twenty-four hour a day apprenticeship. The disciple’s training was more than just intellectual; rather, he learned to do what the Rabbi did, to become more and more like the man he followed so closely, so that someday he too might become a Rabbi and have followers of his own.
That’s what Samuel did. He spent every waking moment in the shadow of Eli, learning, training and practicing to become more and more like his mentor. That’s what we are called to do as well. Seven centuries later, Jesus issued this invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV).
Jesus invites, not just the best and the brightest, but every single applicant to be his disciple—to take up his yolk (his teachings) and learn from him, and in so doing we can become more and more like him—we can learn to have a heart like his, gentle and humble. That’s what being dedicated to God ultimately means—learning to be, learning to love, like Jesus. Finally, being dedicated to God also means being…
Willing to Listen
Late one night, just as the flicking of the lamp was burning low, Samuel’s heavy eyes fluttered shut as he slipped away into dreamland. But no sooner had his head hit his straw mat, a voice called out to him from the darkness, echoing off the cavernous temple walls. Samuel sprang to his feet and ran to Eli, who was fast asleep himself, and announce, “Here I am. You called me?”
Eli told him, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”
So, slightly bewildered, Samuel went back to bed. But then the still small voice called out again, “Samuel!”
Samuel again went to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
“I didn’t call you,” Eli scolded, sounding a little annoyed. “Go back to bed.”
By now, Samuel was confused and probably starting to question his sanity. But then the soft strong voice called out to him a third time. And a third time Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me?”
Then Eli began to realize that perhaps Someone else was calling the boy. So he told Samuel, “Go to bed. If he calls you again, say, ‘Speak, Lord. I am your servant and I am listening.’” So Samuel once again retuned to his bed.
Then the voice of God spoke into the darkness once more, “Samuel, Samuel!”
And, responding just as Eli had told him to, Samuel said, “Speak, LORD. I am your servant and I am listening” (vs. 10 NCV). Because Samuel was willing to listen, God spoke to him and revealed to him his plans for the future of Israel. Samuel listened intently to every word God spoke, and the two of them shared many conversations over the years. In fact, Samuel became a prophet to his people, listening to and then relaying God’s divine revelation for his generation.
As I’ve said before, I don’t believe that God ordinarily speaks in an audible way today. I don’t believe he gives direct divine revelation to each generation as he did in the past. But God does speak! He speaks to us today in a variety of ways. The question is—are we listening? Sometimes God may speak to us through a restless spirit. Other times, God uses another person’s words to help us recognize that he is speaking to us—a poignant sermon that just happens to speak to your immediate needs or a spiritually insightful book that you spot out of the corner of your eye in the check out lane. Sometimes God gives us unusual blessings to get our attention (see Romans 2:4). Other times he may use disappointments, difficulties, and failures for the very same reason. God may even impress a specific message into our hearts through his Spirit. Have you ever had an unexpected urge to pray for someone that you haven’t even thought about in years? Have you ever felt like something was telling you, I need to give this person a certain amount of money for some reason? Sometimes God speaks to us through recurring themes—a subject that keeps coming up in a variety of ways. In each and every one of these and other similar circumstance, we ought to turn to God and ask, “God, are you speaking to me? I’m listening. What is it you’re trying to tell me?”
Still, the most important and primary way in which God speaks to us today is through the Bible. The opening words of the book of Hebrews assures us, “Long ago God spoke in many different ways to our fathers through the prophets, in visions, dreams, and even face-to-face, telling them little by little about his plans. But now in these days he has spoken to us through his Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2 TLB).
Jesus, himself even said, “I am the Good Shepherd…My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:11, 27 NCV). And, Jesus adds, “But they will never follow a stranger. They will run away from him because they don’t know his voice” (vs. 5 NCV). As followers of Jesus, in other words, we ought to be so familiar with the voice of our Shepherd that when a counterfeit looms on the horizon we can recognize it instantly. What this world needs is not another two-bit faith healer peddling lies or another so-called prophet in an Armani suit. What this world needs is for the voice of Jesus to be heard—to be broadcast across the nations.
The little red letters splashed across the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are Jesus’ words to the world, but they’re also Jesus’ words to you. As Charles Stanley has aptly said:
When God speaks, He is speaking to you. Everything in the Bible applies to your life in some way. Every message or communication based on the Word of God carries truth meant for you. There is no such thing as a chapter in the Bible, a sermon based on God’s Word, or a book that explains God’s Word, that is not for you. Each of us must take God’s Word personally!
God longs to be heard, but it’s up to us to listen!
Samuel’s dedication to God was a result of his willingness to leave the world behind, to learn the ways and word of God, and to listen to the voice of God—and it all grew out of his faith in God. Samuel went on to become the last of the official judges of Israel and appointed their very first king—King Saul. He lived to a ripe old age and never once did Samuel lose faith in the God to whom he was dedicated. May we all have that kind of faith and dedication to God.
This morning we have someone here who has made the decision and is ready to dedicate herself to God. Like Samuel, she’s still very young—but she believes in Jesus, loves him very much and is ready to dedicate herself to him for the rest of her life by confessing her faith in him and being baptized in his name.
They’re going to go ahead and get ready while we sing this next song, but I want her testimony here this morning to be an example to all of us. Baptism, more than anything else, is a witness to the testimony of a heart that is following Jesus. Let’s sing this song together...