“Suddenly the LORD called out, “Samuel!” “Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” “I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did. Then the LORD called out again, “Samuel!” Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” “I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.” Samuel did not yet know the LORD because he had never had a message from the LORD before. So the LORD called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” Then Eli realized it was the LORD who was calling the boy. So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, LORD, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed. And the LORD came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.” 1 Sam 3:4-10 (NLT)
Check out the rest of this passage and keep reading to find out what happens next; but, let’s stay in these six verses for now. Eli was Samuel’s spiritual leader, a pastor in the church of their time. Eli was familiar with the voice of God and helped Samuel to realize that it was God who was speaking to him. Samuel heard the voice of God, but he was not listening the first three times God called his name. Check out this statement from a professional in the office of Supportive Services at UMD:
“Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do.Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Listening leads to learning.” (Paul Treuer; University of Minnesota, Duluth).
“Listening leads to learning…” I love that! Listening is a choice that requires action, hearing is more of a passive behavior. For example, I find that when my wife is speaking to me, listening means that I need to turn off the TV, to put down my phone, and give her my full attention. I try to physically turn my body towards her and give her eye contact. I will often repeat what she says in my own words so that I internalize them better and so that she knows that I clearly understand what she is communicating. Isn’t it the same way with God sometimes? One of my goals this New Year is to intentionally turn away from distraction and to turn towards God, to show Him that I are choosing to take the posture of listening.
There is one other point about this passage I want to mention. Even though Samuel did “not yet know the Lord,” in other words… he did not have a personal relationship with God yet… the Lord was pursuing Samuel! This is good news! Psalm 23:6a says, “Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life” (The Message). God wants to know you.
Today, my challenge for us is to take 5 minutes to sit in quiet and wait to hear from Him. Find a comfortable place, and say out-loud “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Sit in silence. Write down whatever comes to your mind in three columns. The goal is to listen for words, phrases, and thoughts that fill the 1st column and to ask God to help us to challenge the ones in the 2nd column:
1st column: “Helpful or positive” (insights, revelations, self-improvement goals, strengths, life-giving words)
2nd column: “Destructive or negative” (self-defeating thoughts, fears, bad thoughts about others)
3rd column: “Neutral information” (to-do lists, plans, etc… Use this column to help de-clutter your mind from things that are neither negative or positive)
This is not always easy, and can be uncomfortable, but I believe this exercise will challenge us to be intentional with our thoughts and to “take them captive” (2 Cor 10:5). It will help us to “discern” God’s voice; this is a fancy way of saying “recognize or identify.” Just like we can “discern” the voice of our friends or family members from another room or on the phone, the more we grow in relationship with the Holy Spirit of God, the more familiar we will become to knowing with confidence that it is Him speaking! Sometimes the Lord will speak audibly, but most times His voice sounds like a “thought.” The Holy Spirit is always speaking, we need to slow down and actively listen to what He wants to say.
Open my ears, God, and help me in my listening. I pray that you would speak directly to me and help me as I learn to grow in familiarity with your voice. It is overwhelming to think that the Lord of all creation would desire to know me, but I accept this as a gift and am so thankful. Thank you God for pursuing me and helping me to hear the insights, strengths, value, and life-giving words you are speaking over me. With new hope and refreshment for the day, I pray all of this in your name, Amen.
Additional Scriptures for reference:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22