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1 Samuel 3: 1-10
Listening for God’s Voice

Listening for God’s Voice

In the early 1900s, back when the telegraph was the fastest method of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse Code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the office address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.

The young man filled out his form and sat down with the seven other applicants in the waiting area. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. They muttered among themselves that they hadn’t heard any summons yet. They assumed that the young man who went into the office made a mistake and would be disqualified.

Within a few minutes, however, the employer escorted the young man out of the office and said to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled.”

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and one spoke up saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand. He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That’s not fair!”

The employer said, “I’m sorry, but all the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. The job is his.”

We live in a world that is full of busyness and clatter, like that office. People are distracted and unable to hear the voice of God as he speaks to them. Many voices shout for our attention—deadlines to meet, bills to pay, meetings to attend, phone calls to make, emails to answer.

Is everyone here familiar with the term ‘caller ID’?

Do you use it?

What would you do if your caller ID read “GOD”?

Would you answer it?

Are you tuned in to God’s voice? Do you hear him when he speaks to you? Are you listening? I’m hard-pressed to think of anything more important. We must learn how to hear God’s voice.

In the reading from The Message when God calls Samuel the third time - he goes again to Eli and the scripture reads “That’s when it dawned on Eli that God was calling the boy” and Eli gave him instruction on what to say.

Retired Catholic deacon, W. Pat Cunningham wrote:

“Samuel was a prophet, but he was not aware of that until he was literally shaken from sleep by God. Old Eli wasn’t a prophet, but after three divine attempts to get his and Samuel’s attention, he finally either got the message or was so irritated that instead of telling Samuel to go away and go back to sleep, he gave him the best advice for all of us. If you suspect the voice you hear is divine, then tell God you are listening; shut up and listen.” This prompted me to go online and look up listening and found this.


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The slide showing behind me is the Chinese character for ‘listening’. It is made up of five other characters. Colin W. Bates is a learning and development specialist originally from the UK and working in Hong Kong for 26 years. He writes about this symbol.

· Across the top of the character there are the elements of ears to hear and eyes to see. We use our ears to hear by paying attention not just to the words spoken, but also to the tone, pace and emphasis of the words.

· We use our eyes to connect with the person and reassure them that they have our attention. We also use our eyes to check the body language of the person to gain insights into their thoughts because of nonverbal communication.

· Across the bottom of the character are the elements of the mind to think and the heart to feel. We use our mind as we are listening to consider the words and ideas shared. We may take an ‘open-minded’ approach, or we may choose to be more critical in how we listen, but either of those take our mind being engaged.

· We also use our heart to hear and we empathize and sympathize. Hopefully we experience the emotions being shared and we feel compassion for the person sharing. Using our heart allows us to listen more deeply and be connected with the other person.

· At the centre of the calligraphic character, holding this all together is a single stroke. This represents the need for undivided attention and focus as we listen. We usually think much quicker than a person can talk and as a result we tend to fill in the gaps; sometimes with unnecessary chatter from our mouths or silently in our minds and hearts. To listen most effectively, we need to calm this chatter and completely focus our attention.

No wonder it’s so hard to listen!

Listening is so important in life and crucial to making relationships work. We all have built into us the need and want to be listened to. Being listened to communicates things like worth, value, love, and respect.

How do you feel when you are pouring your heart out to a parent or a friend and then find out that they weren’t listening to you? You feel hurt, upset, and like they don’t care about you. Listening is so important and yet we live in a day and age where there are so many distractions to listening that it makes it more and more difficult to do.

Valerie Bridgeman of Methodist Theological School writes “Samuel arrived in a peculiar time and in a peculiar way. The tribal city-states with clan leadership have devolved more and more. In Judges 21 it is written “Everyone does what is right in their own eyes.” The reason things are out of control, we are told, is because “there is no king in Israel”. As a result, religious lethargy has left the times devoid of divine animation. Visions were few; rituals were steady, but only rarely provoked a divine encounter: “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”

Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was unable to conceive and she prayed for a son and promised she would give him to God. When he was weaned she gave him to the Temple at Shiloh. Eli was the priest there.

The message that God gave to Samuel was regarding Eli’s family. And Samuel was still a child. This was Samuel’s first task, and it was not a small one. He had to go to his mentor and tell him what God said.

11-14 GOD said to Samuel, “Listen carefully. I’m getting ready to do something in Israel that is going to shake everyone up and get their attention. The time has come for me to bring down on Eli’s family everything I warned him of, every last word of it. I’m letting him know that the time’s up. I’m bringing judgment on his family for good. He knew what was going on, that his sons were desecrating God’s name and God’s place, and he did nothing to stop them. This is my sentence on the family of Eli: The evil of Eli’s family can never be wiped out by sacrifice or offering.”

15 Samuel stayed in bed until morning, then rose early and went about his duties, opening the doors of the sanctuary, but he dreaded having to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But then Eli summoned Samuel: “Samuel, my son!” Samuel came running: “Yes? What can I do for you?” 17 “What did he say? Tell it to me, all of it. Don’t suppress or soften one word, as God is your judge! I want it all, word for word as he said it to you.” 18 So Samuel told him, word for word. He held back nothing.

Eli said, “He is GOD. Let him do whatever he thinks best.”

The experience of people in the Bible and the words of Jesus confirm God speaks to people. When we look in the Bible, we find over and over again that God communicates with people because God desires relationship, not mindless obedience.

It should be the norm for Christians to hear from God - in fact we should expect it. Listen to what Jesus said to the religious leaders (John 8:47)

He who belongs to God hears what God says.

Jesus spoke these words to the religious leaders who knew the Bible backward and forward (they probably had most of it memorized), but they didn’t know God personally. They didn’t know how to recognize when God was speaking to them because their hearts were far from God. Like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, we can know God’s Word in the Bible and yet miss what God is saying to us through the Holy Spirit because we don’t know how to recognize his voice.

Unfortunately, there is no formula for hearing God’s voice because God is a being to be related to, not a computer. If there was a formula (pray the Lord’s prayer, wait 5 min., get on your knees) people would bypass the relationship and just do the formula, (and then write a book on their experience to make a bundle on telling everyone else how to copy the formula for their life.) God speaks to different people in different ways at different times. Here are some examples:

To Samuel he spoke in a still small voice; to David he spoke through a prophet; to Balaam he spoke through a donkey WAIT! I had to look this one up. As Balaam and his donkey travelled along a road, an angel of the Lord blocked the path of the donkey who had stopped. When Balaam beat the donkey, God miraculously caused it to talk to its owner. Finally, Balaam saw the angel and realized what had happened. He ended up blessing the Israelites instead of cursing them. (Numbers 22)

……;, to Joseph he spoke in dreams, to many in the New Testament he spoke through the Hebrew Bible. We should not think that God will speak to each of us the same way and neither should we compare our ability to hear from God based on someone else’s experience (oh, I didn’t hear God speak to me like that, I guess I am not as good). Just because someone else had a word of prophecy or a vision doesn’t mean our experience of God is any less.

Isn’t it interesting how we spend millions of dollars on these radio-telescopes pointing them in random directions in outer space hoping to catch a transmission or signal from extraterrestrial life on another planet, when God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth is speaking to us right now? We don’t need millions of dollars of equipment. We just need time and a willingness to learn to recognize God’s voice.

However, there also comes a time for action that brings us to a second way to develop the habit of listening to the Spirit. We listen and then we decide if what we hear is the Spirit…or not. The Bible gives the warning to ‘test the spirits’.

Faith is not a passive state of mind. It is an active partnership with the Lord in which we wait, discern through prayer, scripture reading, and discussion with spiritually mature people, what we ‘hear’ and ‘sense.’ Aligning ourselves with a community of faith can help us listen for and hear the Holy Spirit speak. That community may help us understand the Spirit’s voice.

Another way that we can make listening to and listening for the Spirit a habit ties into an important spiritual discipline. The ability to listen during important moments of quiet and meditation can allow us to hear the Spirit clearly during moments of action and decision.

One very important practice that we have allowed to be taken over by more humanistic practices is that of meditation. Meditation is a very old Christian practice.

‘Christian meditation,’ writes Joyce Huggett ‘has nothing to do with emptying our minds. Christian meditation engages every part of us - our mind, our emotions, our imagination, our creativity and, supremely, our will.’

‘As Archbishop Anthony Bloom puts it,’ she says, ‘Meditation is a piece of straight thinking under God’s guidance.’ (repeat)?

The Lord wants us to hear His spirit just as clearly as Paul did. In fact, God wants every believer to hear the Holy Spirit. But we must develop the habit of quieting our hearts and minds that helps us hear the Spirit.

God is speaking today whether you believe it or not. My challenge to all of us is to start listening. It is so important to make sure that we are taking time to “be still” and taking the time to separate ourselves from the world and everything going on around us. This will help us to hear God’s still, small voice and familiarize us with what and how God sounds like. On top of all that, we must respond as God calls our name. God will not force the Word on us but instead wait for us to be ready to purposefully listen to His leading. The question is, are you ready?