Summary: The story of the boy Samuel provides clues to hear more clearly from God: we need to cultivate our environment, obey with what we do know God wants, and listen with a servant's heart. In doing so, we set ourselves up to be better listeners and obeyers.
Hearing More Clearly from God
Prophets with a Purpose – week 1
Today we’re starting a five-week series I’m calling, “Prophets with a Purpose.” A prophet or prophetess is someone who speaks for God. In a way, I’m a prophet as I deliver this message. When you encourage or correct someone lovingly with God’s word, you’re a prophet. Sometimes we think of prophets foretelling the future, and some do. But prophets don’t just foretell; they also “forth tell.” They speak God’s message for the present as well as for the future. In each of the five weeks, we’ll briefly spotlight one prophet and what it means for us today.
I’ve always loved today’s story. A little boy hears God’s voice and doesn’t know it. (Today we would call it auditory hallucinations!) An elderly priest gets irritated. I mean, who likes to have their sleep interrupted? But Eli finally figures out what’s going on, and helps the boy connect in a personal way with God. The boy learns to submit to God as he has to Eli. And then the boy’s first message from God condemns the elderly priest’s own family! When Samuel is faithful to deliver that tough message, he sets out on a path to become God’s mouthpiece to a nation: the last of Israel’s great judges, the first of the great prophets, and the maker of kings. Welcome to the life of Samuel!
(JOKE) Samuel shows us, sometimes it’s hard to heard God speak. I heard about a person up north who decided she wanted to try ice fishing. So she went out and cut a hole in the ice. Just then she heard a loud voice say, “There are no fish under the ice.” Amazed at hearing a voice speaking to her, she wondered if it was God. She finally convinced herself she probably imagined hearing the voice so she tried drilling a hole in anther spot. Again, she heard the voice, “There are no fish under the ice.” So she asked, “Is that you, God?” To which she heard the reply, “No, this is the ice rink manager!”
Hearing from God can be problematic! In your life, lots of voices clamor for your attention. There’s your friends who want to help, providers who want to fix you, TV ads that promise to fulfill your every need and desire, and that well-meaning grandson who wants to run your life! Amidst all the clamor, would it be helpful if you could hear clearly from God? Maybe Samuel’s story can help. Consider these suggestions:
1. Cultivate your environment.
By this I mean, choose carefully where you put yourself each day. Samuel didn’t have to worry about this: his mother actually chose his environment for him. If you don’t know the story, go back and read the first chapter of 1 Samuel. Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was unable to conceive. She wanted a child so badly that she promised God if he would give her one, she would give him back, in full-time service to the church. And that’s what happened. God miraculously blessed her with Samuel. After Hannah weaned him, she brought him to the church and left him there, only to visit annually with a hug and new clothes.
Think about the environment in which Samuel grew up: He hung out at the Temple all day and night. He met different priests. He heard various prayers. He watched as they made sacrifices. He probably got into discussions with people who loved God and served God. Samuel was in an environment ripe for nurturing a relationship with God.
Now don’t oversimplify this: going to church doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to hear from God. It’s all about relationship! The elderly priest Eli had a couple of good-for-nothing sons who, like Samuel, also worked in the church. And God’s first message to Samuel was about their downfall, because they cared more about themselves than the Lord.
We all know someone who has faked the Christian life. Yet, if you really want to hear from God, don’t wait until it’s an emergency! Cultivate your environment now. Come to church services and worship God with other believers. Read your Bible daily, listening for what God wants to say through his word. Get alone with God regularly in prayer and learn to be aware of his presence throughout the day. Discuss with others how scripture speaks to your life. All these things help you to tune into God’s channel with less interference.
Cultivate your environment carefully, and then,
2. Do the last thing God told you.
If you don’t know what God is saying now, at least do what you already know God said. Samuel obeyed his mother and Eli, his mentor. Yet, Eli provides a negative example of this point: he is a terrible father! He knows the Bible says to lovingly discipline your children; yet, he’s allowed his sons to grow up from spoiled brats into adult monsters. And now they’re supposed to take over for him as priests? God says, “No way!” Eli had not done what he knew God expected of him as a father, so why should he expect God to talk to him about anything else?