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Are You Listening?
January 16, 1994

1 SAMUEL 3:1-11

"Hey, hey, anybody listening?" Hello, are you listening? "Samuel!" But, the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread, according to 1 Samuel 3:1. The boy, Samuel, did not know it was the Lord speaking to him. Samuel had never heard the Lord speak so he did not know how to listen. Samuel heard, but he wasn't listening. Is the word of the Lord also rare in our day? As then, are visions not widespread? How is it in your life? Is the word of the Lord rare? Or, is the Lord speaking, and you are not listening?

Let's look at Samuel's experience this morning, and discover how Samuel learned to listen. Wouldn't it be remarkable if, as the result of listening to this sermon, and applying its teaching, you began listening to God, and not only listening, but hearing God speak to you? Will you make a personal goal this morning to learn how to listen to God?

1) Samuel was in church. He was in the temple. Samuel's mother, Hannah, had dedicated Samuel to the Lord. In fact, she had given him a name which means "answer to prayer." She had prayed earnestly for a child. When the Lord heard her prayer, and gave her a son, she named him "I asked the Lord for him," which is what Samuel means in Hebrew. When he was a small boy, Hannah brought him to the temple to study with Eli. Samuel was living in the temple when the Lord spoke to him. Samuel was in church.

Do you come to church expecting to hear God speak to you? Of course, God speaks outside of church, but coming to church, worshiping God, studying the Bible, fellowshiping with brothers and sisters in Christ, makes us more susceptible, helps us to listen for God, so that when God speaks, we can hear and understand. Samuel was in the temple when he heard God speak to him.

2) Samuel needed help. By himself, he was unable to hear God. When Samuel was awakened by the call of his name--Samuel, Samuel--he went to the old priest, Eli. Three times Samuel went to Eli, and Eli kept sending him back to bed. Finally, Eli realized it was the Lord calling, and Eli told Samuel how to answer so that God could speak. Samuel needed instruction. Samuel needed help. Another reason for coming to church and fellowshiping with Christians is we all need help. We all need instruction on how to listen, and how to respond. Put yourself where God speaks. Be attentive to the instructions of others. Learn from their experiences. Study with one another, and share. Share your fears, share your hopes, share your frustrations, share your dreams, and in the sharing, in the deep sharing, you will hear God speaking to you.

3) Eli told Samuel to lie down! "Go back to bed," he instructed. The Lord spoke to Samuel while he was sleeping. I don't think this means if you fall asleep during the sermon God will speak to you, but who knows! Eli was telling him to stay put, relax, remain calm. Samuel had been jumping up and down, racing to Eli's room every time he thought he heard the old man calling him. Much like many of us today, Samuel was busy running around. Getting busier and busier is not necessarily the best way to discover what God would have you do. Instead of getting hyperactive or hysterical, or seeking advice from everybody, try trusting in the natural course of your life as God has given it to you. The word of God did not come to Samuel while he was on some special pilgrimage or attending a self-help seminar or working around the clock to get ahead. The word, the vision, came when Samuel was lying down in his own bed.

Eli's advice to "lie down" is a way of saying "let go". Lying down made Samuel surrender his being to a force bigger than he. All his previous jumping up and down was Samuel's attempt to remain in control of the strange, somewhat unnerving encounter he was experiencing. What Eli was really advocating was for Samuel to relax and trust what was happening to him. Trust what you hear. Give up control.

4) Eli instructed him not only to go back to bed, to lie down; but also to talk back to the Lord. Eli told Samuel to answer when the Lord called his name, and it was now the fourth time! God doesn't give up. Take heart! God keeps calling and calling, keeps speaking and speaking, until you finally lie down and begin to listen! Eli told Samuel to answer, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." God expects a conversation. God expects a response. How can God speak to you when you aren't listening? And, how can God speak to you when you don't talk back, when you don't acknowledge his speaking? After God spoke Samuel's name, God waited for an answer before continuing.

Sometimes the answer is nothing more than our consent, as Samuel consented to listen. Sometimes the answer is an interactive conversation. Job argued with God for three chapters. Jonah carried on an extensive dialogue with God. God seems to enjoy a little discussion, even debate. God doesn't seem to want robots for his people. God wants some interaction, some response, some arguments. God wants more than robots. God wants more from us than companionship. If God had been interested only in companionship, the work of creation would have come to a screeching halt after dogs were created. Dogs will come when you call, lie at your feet, go on long walks with you, and above all, show you unconditional, unmerited devotion.

God wants more than companionship, more than unconditional, unmerited devotion. God wants a relationship with you. God created human beings so God could be in relationship with us. Relationships require an intentional exchange of ideas and emotions between both parties. God enters into covenant with us, and covenant is a two-way street, a relationship. God wants you to talk with him. "And he walks with me, and he talks with me," goes the hymn. God wants you to share, share your life, share your dreams with him. And, God wants you to listen as well. Prayer is too often a one-way conversation with us doing all the talking. Prayer is a relationship, a two-way conversation, where we talk and we listen.

5) God also spoke to Eli that night, and God spoke to Eli through Samuel. God did not speak directly to Eli. God used another person, a child, to speak to Eli. When Samuel learned to listen to God that night, God gave him a message for Eli. It was not a pleasant message. It was a message of judgment. Eli's sons were also priests in the temple, but they were abusing their privileges. They helped themselves to the sacrificial offerings. They engaged in sexual misconduct and harassed the worshipers. God told Eli through Samuel that judgment had caught up with him, and Eli's family was to be punished. Samuel did not want to relay the message. He hemmed and hawed, but Eli insisted. He said, "What was it that God 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."

God often speaks to you through another person, and that other person is often a child. The old adage--children are to be seen but not heard--is not biblical! Children often possess a wisdom adults have lost. God can often get through to a child easier than he can get through to adults. Children have fewer barriers, rationalizations, and preconceptions. Isn't this what Jesus meant when he told us we need to become like little children?

Dr. William Burch, a pastor in Georgia, tells how his 3-year old daughter Katelyn has become the newest theologian-in-residence at his home. On a quick walk across the yard, Katelyn suddenly halted all progress by dropping down next to an azalea bush and asking, "What's that, Dad?" "A bumblebee," he replied, and tried to move on. But Katelyn was not yet ready to move on. "What bumblebee do?" she inquired. Forced into joining her on the ground, he examined the fuzzy creature buzzing from bloom to bloom. Just for a few miraculous minutes, adulthood's selective vision was banished to be replaced by a child's all encompassing sight. Through his daughter's eyes, he truly saw a bumblebee for the first time in many years. During a moment of grace, they knelt together in open-eyed prayer and praise. Thanks to his three-year old, he became childlike again, and heard God speak.

A couple brought their 13-year-old daughter to their pastor asking for help in dealing with her behavior. They listed her problems: rebelliousness, poor grades, disobeying, bad attitude, etc. "Will you talk to her?" they pleaded. The pastor agreed . Gradually, she opened up and poured out her bitterness and resentment at never being heard by her parents. When the two returned to the room where the parents were waiting, the pastor assured them that things could work out and that he would pray with them for a harmonious household; but would do so with one condition. The parents were reticent, but asked about the condition. The condition was this: "For the next 30 days, your daughter can say anything she wants to say, and any way she wants to say it. You can only listen to her. You can't answer or respond in any way until those 30 days are up; only then can you talk to her."

The father swallowed hard. "Ridiculous!" he shouted, "There's no way I can agree to this. Not in my house."

"Fine," the pastor said "Then I can't pray with you for a change in your home."

"What you're asking is impossible," the father protested.

"It is not impossible," the pastor countered. "It is simply a question of whether you desire a change in your home." Finally, caught in desperation, the parents agreed, and the four of them prayed together.

A month later, the pastor was visited by the father, mother, and daughter. What a totally different set of people they were. Happy and standing close to one another; unafraid to touch one another, whereas before they kept their distances.

The father readily explained, "I listened, and then listened some more. At first it was all I could do to restrain myself from telling her I'd had it with her and grounding her for a month for what she was saying. But I did hold my tongue and I listened. Slowly I began to realize that some of the things she was saying were right, and I needed to hear them. After three weeks, my daughter decided she had said everything she had wanted to say. She walked in and sat down on the bed one evening and said to me, 'I'm all finished for now. What do you want to say to me?' My wife and I just reached out our arms and she came to us. We hugged her and just loved her. When I began to talk to her, I told her how I had been wrong...It turned out that in finally keeping quiet and listening instead of always talking, we began to hear the voice of God speaking healing words for us."

In finally keeping quiet and listening instead of always talking, we began to hear the voice of God speaking healing words. Are you listening to your children? Are you listening to your spouse? Are you listening to God?

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris