Your Servant is Listening

1 Samuel 3-4 and John 17

When was the last time you were purposefully silent?  No headphones on with iTunes or Netflix playing in your ears?  No talking with someone else, just you in silence?

One respected Christian writer says: “Silence is a kind of substance in which we are able to experience eternity. It is a substance that enters into our souls and if we don’t have it, our souls become impoverished.”- Dallas Willard, Dmin. Lecture, Fuller Seminary 2012

We are constantly surrounded by noise, aren’t we?  In actual fact, I think most of us like it that way.  Having noise going on makes us feel less… alone.  Of course, we don’t like too much noise all the time.  We can also relate to The Grinch:

“For tomorrow, I know, all those Who girls and boys, will wake bright and early, they’ll rush for their toys, and then… Oh the noise! Oh the noisenoisenoisenoise! There’s one thing I hate: oh the noisenoisenoisenoise!”- The Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss.  

            We want enough noise to distract us but not so much noise as to irritate us.

My iPhone 12 now tells me when I’m being exposed to too much noise.  Yesterday, I was mowing my grass and decided that I would listen to a book on my iPhone’s  Audible program ( ironically the book I was listening to was about the spiritual disciplines including… silence) while I mowed with my headphones on.  In order to hear it over the loud noise of my lawnmower I had to have the volume turned up to full.  My iPhone didn’t like that and told me I needed to turn it down. (iPhones tell us when and how to do almost everything- when to wake up, how to get where we want to go, when it’s time get up and move around, and turn down that music- iPhones are now our nagging parent I guess).

I have eleven children, most are now adults, but when they were all small, noise was simply a fact in our house.  If I wanted quiet I had to go someplace else.  During that time I went to a monastery and spent several days in a silent retreat.  There was no noise. None.  We were not to speak to other people, not even a hello when you passed them in the hall, no chit chat at the dinner table.  Just 5 days of silence.  A strange thing happened to me during that time of silence.  For the first time in my life I really heard God speak to me.  Why did I hear God speak to me that week?  Because I had turned off all of the other noise, and I was really listening for God’s voice.

Can you really hear God’s voice?  A lot of people doubt that this is even possible because they’ve never experienced it.

            “The fact that we do not hear does not mean that God is not speaking to us… We know that messages from radio and television programs are passing through our bodies and brains at all hours of the day: messages that an appropriately tuned receiver could pluck from the very air we breathe… We are not attuned to God’s voice. We have not been taught how to hear it sounding out in nature — for as we read in Psalm 19, ‘The heavens announce the glory of God” — or in special communication directed by God to the individual.” (Dallas Willard- Hearing God p. 68-69)

            In today’s reading, young Samuel had to be taught how to listen for God’s voice.  As we saw yesterday Samuel’s mother, Hannah, gave him to God in gratitude for God giving him to her.  Samuel was brought to the House of God where he was being trained by Eli, the priest, to be a servant of God.   It’s interesting to notice that it says that at that time the word of the Lord was rare (3:1).  Apparently God wasn’t doing much talking, or, maybe the people weren’t doing much listening, you decide.

The priests at that time not only served in the temple they also slept in the temple. Picture the scene:  Samuel is in bed, it’s quiet, and everyone is trying to go to sleep.  Samuel hears a voice speaking in the silence.  Samuel assumes it’s Eli calling for him so he comes to Eli’s bed.  Eli says “It wasn’t me, go back to bed”.  It happens a second time, Samuel gets up and goes to Eli who again says “It’s not me, go back to bed.”  It happens a third time and Samuel again runs to Eli, who by now realizes that the boy isn’t trying to stall going to bed but someone really is calling him, and it must be the LORD.  So Eli trains Samuel in how to listen for God’s word.  Say, “Speak LORD, for your servant is listening.”  Samuel does as he is told, and God speaks and Samuel responds, “Speak LORD, your servant is listening”, and then God tells Samuel what is about to happen.  God is about to punish Eli and his family for their sin.

At breakfast the next morning Eli asks Samuel what God said and warns him to tell the truth.  Samuel delivers the bad news to Eli and the priest accepts this as being a true word from the LORD.  As the story unfolds, God backs up His word.  The Philistines defeat Israel in battle, they take possession of the Ark of the Covenant, where’s God’s glory resides, and Eli’s two wicked sons are killed.  When the report is given to Eli he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.  From then on God keeps speaking to Samuel.  Why?  Because his servant was listening. 

Samuel was faithful and took the words God gave them and shared them with the people.  Jesus did the same thing.  He listened for the voice of his father and he faithfully shared them with his people.  In John 17 Jesus says: “I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.” (John 17:8)  The words that Jesus spoke were the words that came from his Father.  Jesus spent much of the first 30 years of his life studying the scriptures and committing them to memory.  He began his ministry by spending 40 days in the wilderness in solitude and silence.  His daily habit was to rise up early while it was still dark and pray- you can be sure that his prayers weren’t simply him telling God what he wanted, but included much careful listening.

The word of God was rare in the days of Samuel, was it because God wasn’t speaking, or was it because no one was listening for God’s voice until Samuel?

If it feels to you like the word of God is rare today ask yourself, is it because God isn’t speaking, or is it because we aren’t listening?  Try this… turn off the noise, find a place to be silent and place yourself before God and say, “Speak LORD, your servant is listening”.  God may speak to you through His written word, the Bible, or through His creation, or through a dream, or maybe even a still, small voice.  But you won’t hear God if you don’t shut off the noise and listen for Him.

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 3-4 and John 17

Watch Your Words

Proverbs 10

Proverbs 10 8

This chapter contrasts the righteous person versus the wicked person.  There are so many things that could be written about, and I started to pick and choose a few to write about.  As I read the chapter a few times, I was struck by how many times the mouth, or what we say was mentioned.

Blessings are on the head of the righteous,
But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence

The wise of heart will receive commands,
But a babbling fool will be ruined.

11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

13 On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found,
But a rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding.
14 Wise men store up knowledge,
But with the mouth of the foolish, ruin is at hand.

18 He who conceals hatred has lying lips,
And he who spreads slander is a fool.
19 When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
20 The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver,
The heart of the wicked is worth little.
21 The lips of the righteous feed many,
But fools die for lack of understanding.

31 The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom,
But the perverted tongue will be cut out.
32 The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable,
But the mouth of the wicked what is perverted.

These are some of the verses, but maybe not all.  We can often see a lot about ourselves (and others) by what is said or not said.  Listen to what comes out of your mouth.  Are you listening, or receiving commands, or are you babbling and therefore unable to hear the instruction?  Are you choosing when to talk and when to refrain?  Are you speaking righteousness?  It is often hard to control what we say but doing this is a sign of wisdom and righteousness.

This topic is something that shows up several other places in proverbs, as well as other places in the Bible.  I think of James 1:19.

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;

We often speak without thinking or think about what we should say instead of listening to the other person.  Then, what comes out of our mouth is either not appropriate or not helpful.  We often don’t like silence, so we say something just to have noise, even if it is not useful.

I encourage you to pay attention to what you are saying, and when you are talking.  Take time to listen.  Take time to gain from what others are saying.  Take time to allow silence to occur.  Our words are a good indicator of whether we are seeing wisdom or being fools.

Andrew Hamilton

Between the Darkness and the Dawn

John 19

John 19 30 b

Last night, Christians worldwide, celebrated and lamented Good Friday. We do not call it Good because we are happy or rejoice at what took place with Jesus on the cross, but because in the crucifixion of Jesus, we are bought and redeemed. Jesus went to the hill of Calvary, in the area known as the Place of the Skull, carrying a cross down the Via Dolorosa for us; Jesus knew that if he did not walk that path, to that place, and march up that hill, all people would be stuck in darkness. We would be forever covering our sins, and never removing them. We would be forever wishing to be better, but never having a Counselor to teach us truths and transform our hearts.
Can you imagine what it was like that first Good Friday and Holy Saturday? Jesus hangs limply from a cross; his disciples had abandoned him, denied him, betrayed him. On either side, two criminals, now with two fates, both die laboriously. Women, who followed this man they called Messiah, crowned with thorns, now lifeless. All creation waits with baited breath for what comes next. Sitting in cosmic darkness, existence waits for Light to dawn.
In our area, sister churches gathered together to commemorate this moment. One thing we tried to experience together was silence. Silence and solitude are twin spiritual disciplines; tragically, they are both neglected in modern Christianity. As you today, sit in the space between Crucifixion and Resurrection, find some space for silence and solitude.
Turn off the phone
Power down the computer
Turn off the background Netflix
Enter into silence, find a place of solitude.
We may find we are sitting in darkness. Don’t be afraid to admit that. Darkness comes, and after that, the Dawn.
Silence can be awkward and uncomfortable. Most of us run from it at the first chance. But when we calm ourselves, when we take a moment to appreciate the silence and the stillness, we come to find that our souls have more to say than we previously thought. Our souls may weep at a chance to speak, having been pent up for so long. As Nicodemus and Joseph leaped at the opportunity to serve the rabbi they followed from a distance, so our souls, in silence and solitude, leap up to tell us their deepest desires. But we must allow them.
And when they speak, we will find that they desire the one who died on the cross, the one who will set them free.
In this time of cosmic twilight, we are betwixt our darkest moment and the brightest day, let us do well to remember the words of Christ.
It
Is
Finished.
-Jake Ballard

Silence and Submission

but Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge

This week, we’ve seen Jesus be the peaceful yet persistent diplomat. He’s preached about turning the cheek and walking the extra mile. He’s told stories about forgiveness and even flipped over tables. Today, we see Jesus be silent. Matthew 27:11-14 tells of the exchange between Jesus and Pilate shortly after Jesus’ arrest:

Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

 

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

 

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

On the surface, the story of Jesus before Pilate is about a conflict between, you guessed it, Jesus and Pilate. On a deeper level, it’s the resolution of a conflict between Jesus and God. The night before this encounter, Jesus was severely troubled by God’s will.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

 

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 27:36-39)

Jesus repeats this prayer two more times. He earnestly pleads to his Father to provide him a way out. Jesus is obviously conflicted because he wants to obey his Father, but he also doesn’t want to die. Jesus’ sentiments seem familiar. I often find myself wanting to obey God, but wishing God would call me to do something different. God has given each of us a cup, too. I find some of the things God has filled my cup with really fun and exciting, like getting to teach the middle schoolers at my church every week. Other things that God has filled my cup with are a lot harder to swallow. Loving my enemies? Forgiving those who have hurt me? Denying myself? Obedience and submission to God’s will is not a pick and choose; it’s an all or nothing.

Jesus refuses to defend himself before Pilate as an act of obedience toward God, it’s the resolution of last night’s conflict. It’s Jesus saying, “Okay, God, not my will, but Your will.” In his silence, there is submission. Jesus’ cup was beyond difficult to swallow, but he did it for God—he did it for you and me.

What’s in your cup? Will you be obedient to what God has filled your cup with?

 

-Mackenzie McClain