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 noise, noise, noise, noise! There’s one thing I hate: oh the noise, noise, noise, noise!”- 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.