January 22, 2023

A young man applied for a job as a telegraph Morse Code operator.  He entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants wondered what was going on since they had not heard a summons. 

Within a few minutes, 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.” One of the other applicants spoke up saying, “Wait a minute. We never even got a chance to be interviewed. 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. 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 often distracted and unable to hear the still, small voice of God. What about you? Are you listening in to God’s voice? Do you hear God when God speaks to you?  Are you wide awake to what God wants to do through you? 

Say with me SPEAK Lord I’m listening. Our biggest problem is distraction. Today we are talking about maybe the familiar story of Samuel. But let’s look with unfamiliar eyes and ears. One of the problems with familiarity with the Bible is that very often we hear the words being spoken but we’re not really listening.   

For instance, look at verse 1 The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. 

What does this mean? It seems to me that there are two things going on.  The first is that God was still speaking but the people were not hearing. They might have been listening but they were not taking it in. 

Franklin Roosevelt who often endured long receiving lines complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. So he tried an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you sir. It was not until the end that his words were actually heard, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, not missing a beat, the ambassador leaned over and whispered I’m sure she had it coming. 

The people did not want to hear what God was saying. They liked the feeling that God was there if they needed God but they didn’t want to hear what God had to say to them on a day-to-day basis.

The second thing was that God was in fact speaking to them much less. Wouldn’t you? Relationships depend on two-way communication especially covenantal ones like the Jews had with God. It is difficult to have a one-sided conversation and sustain a relationship, isn’t it? Good communication is the recipe for success of any relationship physical or spiritual. 

And even the chief priest must not have been listening to God. Because think about it. Why did it take Eli — the head priest — three times to finally figure out that it was God who was calling? Simple. Eli himself had stopped listening and responding to God. He had allowed himself to wander from God’s grace. Eli had allowed corruption to permeate the Temple. 

He let the sins of his sons go on and they treated their responsibilities with utter contempt. They dishonored God by putting themselves first — they took the best offerings up front.  And Eli couldn’t do or wouldn’t do anything about it. Eli was content in his life. God gave him a good job and a good wife. His soul was well as far as he was concerned. But Eli was a person who loved God, served God, did good things for the people so what made Eli so bad in God’s sight? Eli was content to the bone and willing to get by. And his laziness and contentment allowed him to close his conscience to the hurt felt by God and the people around him. The people he was called to serve. Eli was content with his life. Eli was distracted. 

God had spoken to Eli through a man of God in 1 Sam 2:31 The days are coming soon when I will eliminate both your children and the children of your father’s household. There won’t be an old person left in your family tree. and when Samuel told Eli the same thing. Eli said 18 “He is the Lord, ” “He will do as he pleases.” Eli didn’t even lift a finger to fix what the problem was. 

We should be content with what we have but not content with who we are. We should always be growing towards Christ every day in some way. That is called sanctification, to be made holy. The journey on to perfection.  That is the Hallmark of the Methodist tradition. Not perfect in the sense of without error but perfect in love, the love of Christ. The Christian faith is not about getting baptized and getting your ticket punched to go to heaven and waiting. Eli wasn’t doing anything. And God wasn’t talking to Eli or his sons anymore. But God was still talking. And somebody was trying to listen.  SPEAK Lord I am listening

Samuel was somewhere between 10-12 years old. A Tween is what we would call him nowadays. I learned over the years that tweens and youth have a heart for God and often are more willing to listen than adults to what God is trying to say. 

So, it makes sense to me that Samuel would be more receptive to the message. Never discount that God is talking to someone because of their age. Samuel was a servant of the priest Eli. Now that night they had both turned in for the evening. 

The next is an important detail I don’t want us to miss. So if you are planning your lunch plans pause for a moment and listen. 3 God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was. Samuel was asleep close to where the Ark of God was kept in the Holy of Holies which is where God lived, you know the one they found in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It contained the remnants of the stone commandment tablets. 

The lamp that was lit all night and allowed to burn until the oil ran out just before daybreak is still lit.  So it is probably around 2 or three in the morning when a voice calls out to him. Samuel was probably used to Eli calling for him since we learn verse 2 Eli whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. But it wasn’t Eli who was calling. You see miscommunication is a serious distraction in listening to God’s message. I always laugh when I find a list of church bulletin bloopers.  Ushers will eat newcomers.
Remember to pray for the many people who are sick of our church and the community.  

Samuel has a miscommunication. Verse 7 Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.  But despite the difficult situation with a people that did not want to hear God, God did not let go or stop trying to communicate. There were still people who were receptive. That’s what we see in Samuel. He heard. Although Samuel was spiritually immature and did not know what he was hearing, he was receptive. He was wide awake.But it isn’t always easy to hear God’s call.

If you are wide awake, tuned in to God, it doesn’t matter what’s going on around you, you can hear God speak. It is true that God’s call to Samuel had to be repeated. He didn’t quite understand it not being used to hear God’s word. But he did hear. And because Samuel was really listening, was truly receptive to God, he was able to respond to him fully. He was able to make it a two-sided conversation and respond to God. 

Samuel responded to Gods call – ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’  I wonder how this applies to us. Do we expect that God would be speaking to us? And if God is speaking to us are we really listening? Do we really want to hear what God is saying to us? SPEAK Lord I am Listening. Sometimes we get comfortable in our religion’s regularity and ritual like Eli don’t we? 

We get comfortable with the familiar words and we don’t really hear them. And deep inside we probably know that it’s sometimes uncomfortable when God wants to speak to us.  God wants a two-sided conversation. And when we have that kind of relationship that is receptive to God’s word God delivers all kinds of messages. Now this story raises some important questions for me that I want to raise with you. 

Does God really speak to people? If so, how do we know that it is God talking? And how do we learn to better listen and position ourselves to hear the voice of God? I think we have answered the first question. God does talk to us through the power of the Holy Spirit even today. 

There are many of us here today who have felt a leading from God or had an experience when they heard God speak to them in a variety of ways. Which leads us to the second question how do we know that it is God talking? 

In Nancy Reeves book I’d say yes God if I knew what you wanted She says there are seven points that can help us.

 1) God never guides us to break divine law. God doesn’t tell you to do bad things period. 

2) Note the final result? Does it lead to humility or to pride? Beyond ourselves or into ourselves? Is it service or serve-us?

 3) What effect does the choice have on our spirituality? Does it add meaning?

 4) What are the people connected with this discernment saying? 

5) Since we are all strands of the creation, what impact does our decision have on the environment and the culture?

6) God does not believe in the adage “you snooze, you lose”We will receive more than one message. It’s not a blue light special.

 7) Do you have a sense of detachment about the options? If we are vested in one option it will be very difficult to determine what God is telling you.  

And my last question was how do we better listen? Some methods include prayer, scripture, worship, reading, writing, dreams, retreats, walking, God speaking through creation. Let’s take a lesson from Samuel.  It seems to me that Samuel had three P’s for his discernment.

 He had proper practice, he was obeying what little he knew about prayer, scripture and worship among other practices and he was faithful to them. 

He had the proper position, he was laying quiet and still and removed all distraction. He had people what Reeves calls God with skin on. He had someone close to him who knew what God’s voice sounded like. 

And he had proper proximity, Samuel was living close to the presence of God both physically remember the Ark? And spiritually. If we want to hear we need to be near. We need to cultivate our relationship with God. 

James 4:8 tells us Draw near to God and God will draw near to you. You have to sit down and spend time with God or don’t expect you will hear. Sometimes we need to carve out just a minute or two to actually listen to what God is saying instead of telling God what we want God to do for us. It is that simple. 

Early African converts to Christianity reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where they would pour out their private devotions. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, Brother the grass grows on your path. How is your path?

Sometimes we often seem to be more concerned with the condition of our physical grass than keeping the grass off our spiritual path don’t we?

Speak Lord I’m Listening

SOAP stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. Or REAP. So you read scripture then write your observations about what you think it is saying to you, then how you can apply it and then write a prayer for that day. Do it and I will guarantee it will affect your life in a positive way. In addition, there is one more important thing you need to do and that is add a Y to your soap. We need to learn to yield as Samuel did. God often calls us to things that don’t fit our schedule. Don’t fit out agenda and don’t fit our ideas of what should be done.  Don’t let distractions dim your discernment. Make a conscious effort to listen to God. Say Speak Lord I am listening. And then really listen. SPEAK. Amen.