St Michael’s and St Barnabas, 30th March 2014
Reading – 1 Samuel 3:1-10
Listening to God
When Samuel was a little boy, Hannah brought him to live at the tabernacle. She had promised God that Samuel would serve him all his life. The priest, Eli, would now take care of Samuel. He would teach Samuel about God.
One night while Samuel was sleeping, he heard a voice say, “Samuel!”
He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am.”
But Eli said, “I did not call you.”
The Samuel went back to bed.
Samuel heard the voice call his name twice more. Each time, Samuel ran to Eli. Finally, Eli told Samuel, “I think God is speaking to you. Next time say, ‘Yes, Lord, I am listening.'” Then Samuel went back to bed.
“Samuel! Samuel!” the voice said again. This time, Samuel answered, “Yes, Lord, I am listening.” From that moment on, Samuel gave messages to God’s people. He was a special prophet of God.
(from The Beginners Bible)
So the question we are looking at this morning is: how do we listen to God?
After all, we all live in a busy, noisy world. Go out of this building into the street and just a take few moments to take in all the sounds you hear. There’s the roar of traffic, maybe a siren somewhere, a bird trying to make its voice known, children running down the road. We are constantly being bombarded by noise, from here, there and everywhere. Go home, and there’s the television on, or the washing machine, and what about all the information that keeps coming out of our computer or our phone?
We live in a busy, noisy world. So how do we listen to God? Well, in one of the Psalms, Psalm 46:10 we read these words: Be still and know that I am God. How many of us find it easy to be still, really still? If you’re anything like me, you have lists of jobs to do, you’re thinking about what you’ve got to do next, and you’ve got one eye on the clock as the day seems to vanish in front of you. But the psalmist tells us: Be still and know that I am God.
So how we do actually find the time to be still? I don’t think it’s an accident that in our reading God spoke to Samuel at night. Now we don’t know exactly how Samuel spent his days. In some ways he was a very special child. His mother Hannah had prayed for many years for a baby, and promised that when she had a son, he would be given over to the Lord to serve Him all his life. So some of his time would have been spent with the old priest called Eli, learning how to perform all the duties expected of a man of God.
But I am also sure that when he was not busy learning, Samuel was in other ways a normal, healthy child who enjoyed running and playing, laughing and joking his friends. So it was at night, when he was lying down in the tent of the Lord, that God spoke to him. For many people it’s either right at the end of the day, or at the start, that they have what is known as a “quiet time”, that is a time to be still in the presence of God. It may only be a few minutes, but it is a space in the busyness of the day to listen and to learn from God.
And when it comes to listening to God, we have one big advantage over Samuel. Samuel only had a few books of the Bible, from the early part of what we nowadays call the Old Testament. But we have before us the Bible, the whole counsel of God. So listening to God is not a matter of trying to hear some small, still voice and guessing whether it is from God or not. Listening to God is a matter of reading God’s word and recognising it is God’s personal word to us today. That’s why reading the Bible is not something only for a few keen Christians to do. It’s something that all of us should do if we are serious about listening to God and finding out what he wants for our lives.
So how old do you have to be to listen to God?
When it comes to a subject like “listening to God”, it’s very easy to think I’m only talking to grown-ups. But I believe God speaks to people of all ages, from the very old right down to the very young. We don’t know how old Samuel was in our reading today, but he almost certainly quite a young boy. And he’s not the only child we find God speaking to in the Bible. We find Jesus in the temple at the age of twelve. We find the prophet Jeremiah being given a word from the Lord when he was only a child. And again we are told in the Psalms that: From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise. (Psalm 8:2). God can speak to you at any age. After all, He is the one that made you and He is involved in your life from the moment you are formed.
What does all this mean for us a church family?
Two things I want to bring out from our passage this morning. First of all, if you care for a child, as a parent or grandparent or in any other role, then the best thing you can ever do for them, is to teach them to listen to God. In our reading Samuel heard the Lord call him by name. But no-one had ever taught him about the Lord speaking in this way. Samuel thought it was Eli calling to him, and at first Eli just told him to go back to bed. It was only the third time when Samuel came trotting into Eli’s room that Eli realised Samuel was being more than just an annoying child and told him to say, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.
How can we teach our children to listen to God? Well, there’s a whole world of resources out there to help us do just that. There are children’s Bibles, and if you’ve been involved in a baptism here, you should know all about the Beginner’s Bible aimed for the really little ones. As the little ones grow up, there are more advanced Bibles and Bible reading notes for children to work through. There are also DVDs and online web resources, not all of the same quality, but some of them excellent. One way or another, there is so much help available to help parents teach children about the Lord, and one thing we should all do as God’s family is invest in our children so they know who God their Heavenly Father is and what He wants for their lives.
So we need to teach our children to listen to God. But just as importantly, we also need to listen to what God is saying to us through our children. Now unfortunately the Beginner’s Bible – like most children’s resources – fails to give us the message that the Lord gave Samuel to speak to Eli but it is an important one. Let’s listen to the end of this passage from our grown-up versions of the Bible:
Read 1 Samuel 3:10-18
That’s quite a serious message that Samuel heard that night, wasn’t it? There’s something ironic in the fact Eli taught Samuel to hear the Lord speak but did nothing about his own children who had grown up ignoring God’s will for their lives. And so the message Samuel gives Eli is one of judgement upon him and his own family. It may sound a harsh and difficult message, but let’s not forget – Eli was the priest of the Lord. If anyone should have known what the Lord wanted him to do, it should have been Eli. But Eli did nothing, and so the Lord had to act to against him.
So what effect did Samuel’s message have on Eli? The answer appears to be, not very much. He simply says: He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes. He hears the word of the Lord, but he doesn’t do anything about it. He isn’t really listening. Maybe he thinks he can ignore the word from a child, maybe he doesn’t think the situation is as serious as Samuel is describing. Whatever the reason, though, in the end disaster does fall upon him and his family, and the word of the Lord comes to pass. To me, that’s an important lesson. If God can speak to any of us, no matter how old or how young we are, then we all need to take seriously what other people are saying to us. It might just be the Lord’s word to us. We need to hear, we need to identify what we are hearing and we need to respond.
Back, then, to the original question: how do we listen to God? At the end of the day, it’s all about making the time, time to listen to God, time to listen to one another. You see, people who listen are people who learn and there is no better thing we can do than to learn what God wants of our lives. As Jesus said to the crowds who came flocking to hear his teaching: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Because God has so much to teach you through His Son, Jesus Christ. So let me ask: Are you, then, willing to listen and to learn?