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Samuel - Listening to God

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 Kings Samuel – Listening to God 1 Samuel 3 Pastor Pat Damiani July 16, 2017 Many years ago, the United Nations gathered for a conference in New York City. During a lunch break, two of the participants decided to take a walk around the busy streets of New York City and grab a sandwich at a local deli. One of those men was a Native American who had spent much of his life learning the ways of the wilderness, including tracking animals. As they were walking along in the midst of the usual mix of sirens, honking horns, blaring radios and ringing cell phones, the Native American stopped abruptly and turned to the other man and said, “Did you hear that?” “Hear what?”, laughed the other man. “That cricket” replied the first man. “There is no way you could hear a cricket in all this noise”, the other delegate responded. But the Native American man walked across the street to a discarded paper cup and when he picked it up, sure enough there was a cricket inside the cup. “That’s amazing. How did you do that?” “It’s really not that difficult. One hears what one wants to hear.” He continued, “Watch this”. And he proceeded to take a handful of change from his pocket and dropped the coins on the sidewalk. As soon as the change hit the pavement, every pedestrian within 35 feet stopped dead in their tracks and turned toward the men. “See what I mean? We notice what we’re listening for.” My guess is that for all of us here this morning, there are times in our lives when hearing God is just as difficult as it would be for us to hear a cricket on the noisy streets of New York City. I know I certainly feel like that at times and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Am I right? That is why this morning’s message is so important for all of us. Whether you are not yet a disciple of Jesus or you have been a Christian for a long time, learning to listen to God is one of the most important skills we will ever develop in our lives. So this morning, we’re going to see what we can learn about how to do that from a 12 year old boy. But before we do that, I want to stop for a moment to put this morning’s passage in its overall context, since we haven’t really done that for a while. As most of you know, this year we’re taking a journey through the Old Testament. And now that we’re roughly half way through, it seems like a good time to recap where we’ve travelled so far. The dates I’m going to give you are very approximate since it’s difficult to determine exact dates or even general time periods prior to the time of the kings, since neither the Biblical accounts or historical records are very precise prior to that time. • We began with in the book of Genesis and looked at the Beginnings of mankind and of God’s people – the nation of Israel. We learned that God called a people to Himself for the purpose of blessing the entire world through the Messiah who would come from among their descendants. That period ends in roughly 1800 BC with the death of Joseph. • In the next series, we saw how God delivered His people from bondage in Egypt through the leadership of Moses and Aaron. We also learned about the purpose of the law and the design of the tabernacle, both of which pointed forward to the coming of Jesus. That period ended in roughly 1400 BC with the death of Moses. • In our third series, we focused on the people of Israel as they entered into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. • After Joshua’s death, the period of the Judges begins and lasts for about 300 years until the time of the kings. The prophet Samuel, who we’ll focus on this morning, comes on the scene around 1100 BC and is considered by many to be the last judge and the first prophet, so he serves to transition Israel between these two periods. At the beginning of the book of 1 Samuel, we learn about the birth of Samuel. His mother, Hannah, had been barren, and prayed to God for a son and promised to give that son to the Lord all the days of his life. God answers that prayer and Hannah fulfills her vow and brings her son, Samuel, to Eli, the priest. This morning, we’re going to look at 1 Samuel 3, where the story of Samuel picks up when he is probably around 12 years old. [Read 1 Samuel 3] This chapter begins on a very depressing note. The word of the Lord was rare in those days and there was no frequent vision. Why would that be? Why would God refrain from speaking to His people like that? It is not that God didn’t want to speak, but rather that the people weren’t interested in hearing from God. During the period of the judges, they had demonstrated over and over again that they wanted to live life on their own terms and they really didn’t care what God said. So at some point when the people kept refusing to listen, God quit speaking. I am afraid that we are rapidly approaching a similar situation in our culture today. Although many people claim that they want to hear God speak, the truth is that most of them are self-absorbed and want to live life on their own terms so they really aren’t interested in hearing God speak because to listen to God would require them to change the way they live. The one thing that is different today is that we’re no longer dependent on prophets or some miraculous appearance of God, like His appearance to Moses in the burning bush, in order to find out what God wants to say to us. Today we have His revelation in written form in the Bible and we also have some other ways to hear from God that I’ll talk about a bit later. But the main idea here in 1 Samuel 3 is still true for us today: If I want to hear God speak I must learn to listen This chapter is all about how Samuel learned to listen to God so we’re going to see what we can learn from his example. Samuel was helping out Eli with his priestly duties in the tabernacle. Late one evening or early one morning when the lamps that had been lit before going to bed were still burning, Samuel heard a voice and assumed that it was Eli calling him. But Eli told Samuel that he hadn’t called him and sent him back to bed. The same thing happened a second time and Eli once again sent Samuel back to bed. In verse 7, we’re given an important piece of information that is a key to what we’ll learn this morning. We find that even though Samuel had been serving God in the tabernacle, he did not yet “know the Lord”. That is why he could not discern that it was the Lord speaking when he heard the voice. So one of the first things we learn here is that if we don’t know God, we aren’t going to recognize His voice, even if we’re busy doing ministry in His name. Not surprisingly, Jesus revealed this same truth to His followers: Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47 ESV) Jesus makes it clear hear that those who don’t know God can’t hear Him. But just a short time later, he also encourages His disciples by explaining that for those who do know Him, they will recognize His voice and follow Him. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:14, 27) ESV) Samuel is about to learn this lesson firsthand. The third time that God speaks to Samuel, Eli finally figures out that it is God speaking and he tells Samuel to go back to bed, but the next time he hears a voice, he is to respond and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears”. And that is exactly what Samuel does when God calls out to him again. And the very first thing that God reveals is some really bad news for Eli and his sons. Because Eli had failed to restrain his sons from blaspheming God, God was going to do what He had revealed to Eli earlier and take away the priesthood and those two wicked sons were going to die. It’s pretty easy to understand why Samuel is reluctant to tell Eli what God had revealed to him. It’s never an easy thing to give bad news to someone. I’m sure that Gerald and Amanda have had that experience when they have to convey bad news to a patient. And as a pastor I can certainly understand that, too. Sometimes, in my role of communicating God’s Word to you, I have to share some things that might be uncomfortable or hard for you to hear. But I wouldn’t be obedient to God if I failed to share with you what God has put on my heart. Fortunately, Eli is still tuned into God enough that he encourages Samuel to share what God had revealed, even though he sensed that was not going to be good news for him. And because a 12-year boy was willing to listen to God, the Lord was with him and for the rest of Samuel’s life, God was going to use him to be His mouthpiece through whom He would speak to the entire nation of Israel. Samuel’s encounter with God reminds us that… If I want to hear God speak I must learn to listen So with our remaining time, I’d like to do a couple of things. First, I’d like to share some things we can learn from Samuel about how to learn to listen to God. And then, since in our culture today, God normally doesn’t speak to us with an audible voice or through some of the miraculous types of encounters we see in the Bible, I’m going to talk about the ways that God commonly speaks to us today and some characteristics of the way God speaks that we can use to make sure it really is God speaking. I know that’s a lot to tackle in our remaining time, but all of this is so important that I just couldn’t bring myself to leave any of it out. So I’ll try to be brief with each point and we’ll have some more time to discuss some of these things in more detail during our Bible Roundtable. HOW TO LISTEN TO GOD There is obviously so much we could talk about here, but I’m going to share just four of the most important things we need to do if we want to listen to God. 1. Be available Samuel put himself in a place where He was near to God. In this passage, we see that Samuel did that in a couple of ways. First, He was serving God in the tabernacle. And second, we see that at night, he slept there in the tabernacle as well. Even though Samuel did not yet know God at that point, he put himself in the place where God chose to manifest His presence in the midst of His people and also a place where the priests, who at least had some idea of who God was, were hanging out. So the very fact that you’re here this morning means that you’re already doing that to at least some extent because you’re in a place where God is present and speaking. As we’ll talk about in a moment, two of the ways that God reveals Himself are though the Bible and through other people who love God. And at this very moment, you are experiencing both of those things. So congratulations, just the fact that you’re here means you’re off to a good start on applying this first principle. Just make sure that you don’t stop being available to God when this service is over and that you keep putting yourself in a place where God is near throughout the week. 2. Get rid of distractions While a Native American who has been trained to do so might be able to hear a cricket in the middle of New York City, most of us have a really hard time hearing from God when we have so many distractions around us. It’s instructive here that God didn’t speak to Samuel during the day while he was busy serving God and there was a lot of activity in the tabernacle. Instead, He came to Samuel at night, when there were no other distractions around. For us, finding a place that is free from distractions is probably much harder than it was for Samuel. And the fact is that unless we are intentional about setting aside a time and place where we can be free from distractions, we’ll probably never find ourselves in that situation. That’s especially true in this world of technology where we have emails, texts, phones, and all kids of apps constantly vying for our attention. I’d encourage all of us to set aside some time each day where we just unplug from all that technology and find a quiet place where we can just be with God. There is a reason that the Bible instructs us to… “Be still, and know that I am God... (Psalm 46:10 ESV) That verse leads us directly to our next principle: 3. Get to know God If Mary calls me on the phone, even if I didn’t have caller ID, I would immediately recognize her voice because I know her. But when someone who I only knew about through a series of emails called me this week, he had to identify himself because I didn’t recognize his voice. I mentioned earlier that one reason Samuel did not recognize the voice of God is that he did not yet know God. I’m sure he knew some things about God from his time with Eli, but he did not know God personally yet. We’ve talked a lot lately about the need for us to approach our time with God with the right mindset. As we spend time in His Word and in prayer, we need to ask God to reveal Himself to us and help us to get to know Him – not just know about Him – better. It’s only as we get to know God personally that we begin to recognize His voice. 4. Obey I am convinced that it was Samuel’s obedience to what God revealed that made it possible for God to continue to speak through Samuel for the rest of his life. Even though he was understandably reluctant to do so, Samuel was obedient to reveal to Eli what God had told him to say. Because Samuel was obedient at that point, God knew He could trust Him with even bigger and more far reaching revelations later on. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote these insightful words, to which I really have nothing to add: All God’s revelations are sealed until they are opened to us by obedience…Obey God in the thing He shows you, and instantly the next thing is opened up…The tiniest fragment of obedience, and heaven opens and the profoundest truths of God are yours straight away. God will never reveal more truth about Himself until you have obeyed what you know already. So once we put ourselves in a position to listen to God by being available, removing distractions, getting to know God, and obeying what we already know, how do we know it’s really God speaking? I think that’s a fair question to ask. After all, how many times have you heard someone say something like “God told me…”? Perhaps you’ve even done that yourself. Let me just share a word of caution here. If you’re going to claim that God said something, you need to be really sure that it was Him speaking, because if it wasn’t you are essentially attributing things to God that are just not true. And that is a dangerous place to be. I’ve often heard people say something like this: “Well if God spoke to me audibly or in the form of a burning bush, or if He sent an angel to speak to me, then I’d listen for sure.” But the fact is that God is already speaking to us, but sometimes we’re just not listening. And if we aren’t willing to listen to God through the way He is already speaking to us, what makes us think we’d listen just because He did it in some more dramatic fashion? My intention this morning is not to put God in a box, or to suggest that He can’t speak in any way that He chooses. But in today’s world there are some ways that God consistently speaks to us and I want to share a few of the most common with the hope that knowing how God generally speaks will help us know when He is speaking to us. HOW GOD SPEAKS TODAY 1. Through the Bible Without a doubt, this is the most prevalent way that God speaks to His people today. It is also the most reliable and clear way that God speaks and it is the standard by which we must evaluate the other 5 ways that I am going to mention. God will never speak anything that violates what He has revealed to us in His written word in the Bible. The practical implication of that fact is that you can’t rely upon any of the remaining five ways that God speaks until you’ve first spent enough time searching the Scriptures to listen to God through the pages of Scripture. 2. Through the Holy Spirit Every disciple of Jesus has been gifted with the Holy Spirit who resides permanently in his or her life. We obviously don’t have time this morning to even begin to scratch the surface about how the Holy Spirit operates in our lives. But what I do want us to remember is that the Holy Spirit does constantly communicate with our human spirit. Obviously He doesn’t do that by means of an audible voice. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t discern what He is communicating to us by being open to His leading every moment of our lives. Often what we might call a “gut feel” or a strong sense that we should or shouldn’t do something is actually the Holy Spirit speaking to our spirit. And as we get to know God better, we become more proficient at hearing God speak that way. 3. Through other godly people In Ephesians 4, Paul reveals that God has gifted the church with godly men whose purpose is to equip all of us for ministry. So one of the things that I pray each week is that God would guide me as I prepare my message so that I would speak exactly what he wants to say to our body that week. And that is a prayer that I’ve seen God answer over and over, but most of the time I’m convinced that God does that without me ever even knowing how He has done that. But God can also speak through all of you. The Bible speaks about the value of an abundance of wise counselors. And in 2 Corinthians 1, Paul reveals that sometimes we go through trials so that we’ll be in a position to help others in their trials. I know that every Monday morning when I get together with a group of men to study the Bible, God uses those other men to speak to my heart. This is just one more reason, among many, why we need to be living life together as the body of Christ. 4. Through circumstances I almost didn’t include this one since it is probably the most difficult of all to use as a guide. That’s because Satan can also use circumstances – think of Job for example – and it’s so easy for us to interpret our circumstances only from our perspective, like we saw last week with Naomi, and completely miss out on what God is trying to speak to us about. But throughout the Bible we also see God using circumstances to guide people in their lives. Certainly the apostle Paul would fit into that category. So about all I can really encourage you to do when it comes to circumstances is to ask God to help you evaluate them prayerfully in light of the other ways that God speaks to us. 5. Quietly God does not normally speak to us like a used car salesman. He is rarely pushy, aggressive, loud and boisterous. Instead, like we see with Elijah, He speaks not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but rather in a gentle whisper. God tends to speak with gentleness and to give us time to consider what He has said before we act. 6. Clearly We tend to think that God is trying to hide the things He is saying from us and make them difficult to discover. But exactly the opposite is true. God is not the author of confusion. So when He speaks, He is very clear about what He wants us to do. When he reveals some sin in our lives, He is very specific about that sin so that we can confess it and move on with our lives. Satan, on the other hand, wants us to have a haunting sense of guilt that does not arise from any specific sin because that makes it impossible to get rid of. As we’ve seen this morning, we’ve learned this about ourselves: If I want to hear God speak I must learn to listen But before we wrap things up, I want to emphasize one important thing that this passage points out about God. We clearly see here that even when God’s people refuse to listen to Him, God never gives up on pursuing them. Even though the Israeli people had refused to listen to God for the better part of several hundred years, God was still pursuing them. So He steps into history and weaves the story of Samuel into His story to give His people another chance to listen to Him. And it’s very possible that this morning, God is pursuing some of you and calling you to take the next step in your relationship with Him. [Show discipleship path] • Perhaps you have refused to listen to God for a long time as He has been calling you into a relationship with Him. And because He loves you so much, He is speaking to you once again in the hope that this time you’ll say “yes” to His invitation and commit your life to Him through faith in Jesus. • For others maybe God has been speaking to you about making a commitment to be baptized or to join this church. • For still others God has been speaking to you about the next step to grow in your relationship with Him. That might take many forms – everything from committing to set aside some distraction free time to spend with Him each day to joining a small group or giving regularly. • I believe that God has been speaking to some of you about serving Him here at TFC. If you’re not doing that already we have lots of places where we can get you plugged in if you’ll just let us know you’re willing to serve. • And I know that God is speaking to all of us about sharing what Jesus has done in our lives with others and inviting them to come and meet Jesus. In just a moment, I’m going to give all of us some time to pray and to ask God to speak to each of us personally. And as God speaks to you, I’ve given you some space to write down whatever that might be so that you can do whatever is required to be obedient to Him. God is speaking to me about: I’m amazed that anyone, no matter how well trained, could ever hear the sound of a cricket on the busy, noisy streets of New York City. But I’m also encouraged by that because it gives me hope that all of us are capable of hearing God speak if we’ll just learn to listen. Can you imagine what God could do in our midst if we had an entire body of people who are hearing God speak and then acting according to what we hear? [Prayer time] Discussion Questions for Bible Roundtable 1. What are some examples – either from the Bible or from our current culture – where God ceased to speak because people refused to listen? What can we do to make sure that doesn’t happen to us, either individually or as a church? 2. Although it takes discipline, it’s relatively easy to set aside a time that is free from distractions at some time during the day to listen to God. But how do we get beyond those distractions during the remainder of the day so we can hear God then? 3. What is the difference between knowing God and knowing about God? What are some practical things we can do as we spend time with God to move beyond just knowing about Him? 4. What are some things we can do to become better listeners when we are praying? 5. Give some examples of times in your life when God used other godly people to help you discern what He was saying to you.
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