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Listening to God

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1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20) Year B

Listening to God

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (NIV)
The Lord Calls Samuel

3     The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple a of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

8 The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Christmas is not that far behind us that we’ve already forgotten about it.  Although I’d venture to suggest that it is fast fading from memory as we get into 2009.  We have heard that contrary to the general decline in the rest of the world, retailers in Australia have had one of their best Christmas’ yet.  However, I fear that the ‘chickens will soon be home to roost’ with credit card statements starting to arrive in mail boxes and the realisation that it is now time to ‘pay the piper’. 

We splurged out and purchased a lot of presents; I heard an average of $1,400 was spent for every man, woman and child in Australia in Christmas gifts this year.  We still seem to think that we need to spend big to really appreciate Christmas.  Until we can free ourselves from the need to spend we will forever be shackled to the truly unimportant in life. 

I spend a fair bit of my time with people – listening to them.  That’s what I find people appreciate the most – someone who will simply listen, without the need to tell their own story.  Some of the people I visit will literally speak non-stop for about half an hour, with only the occasional, “I see”, or “Really” escaping from my lips.  It appears that as a community we are suffering from a shortage of people who will simply listen to what someone else has to say. 

I’ve discovered that in listening to another person you are giving them a gift of reliving some of their life experiences.  I believe it is in telling a story that people relive an event in their life.  When we listen to another person we are giving them permission to indulge themselves in a life experience they had or a passion of theirs.  People will disclose stories that are significant to them – even if it is a painful memory that they are sharing. 

Listening – truly listening to another can be difficult with the cacophony of noise that fills our world of today.  However, this is nothing new.  Some three thousand years ago, about 1100BC God had a similar difficultly getting the attention of young Samuel.  I’ve always felt that the reason God gave us two ears and one tongue is so that we can listen twice as much as we speak! 

Young Samuel (we surmise he was around twelve years of age) came to live with Eli, the priest at the shrine in Shiloh.  Recall that Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was barren and she had prayed for a child.  She promised that she would dedicate the child to God if He would grant her heart’s desire.  When her prayer was granted and Samuel was weaned, she sent him to live with the priest Eli where he became in essence a priest-in-training and assisted the elderly man. 

Now Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas.  They were greedy and corrupt, for they’d turned the shrine into a virtual brothel.  Eli chastised them[1], but it was too little, too late.  As a result, God did not allow them to continue in Eli's place[2].  In fact, the death of Eli's sons was predicted and came to pass[3].  God then promised to raise up a “faithful priest.”  This is the setting for the call of Samuel in today’s passage. 

Verse one is interesting.  It talks about how rare it was then to hear a word from God or see a vision.  Is this because God was not speaking or rather that no one was listening?  Certainly the sons of Eli were not listening.  The images throughout this passage suggest a dimness or inability to see or hear God – for example, the image in verse three of the lamp of the Lord’s not having gone out (a lamp lit to burn through the night).  Eli's eyes are said to be dim; but Samuel would need him in order to understand what was about to happen.  But the light has not yet been extinguished.  Samuel would see it!  He would listen.  He was in a spiritual state, open to hear God.  That’s a key thing in the gospel lesson for today[4] – a receptiveness, an alertness to God’s voice, a desire to be called and used by Him. 

The story is relatively simple and straightforward.  Samuel is sleeping one night in the shrine at Shiloh (Shiloh had long been a sacred site for the Israelites, though it was probably just a tent).  It was not uncommon at this time for persons to sleep in shrines, especially when they were seeking a vision.  Samuel is near the Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred object Israel had.  It represented the very presence of God.  Samuel, in other words, is close to God, even if he’s asleep.  The implication seems to be that the closer you are to someone, the easier it is to hear them when they speak, to know who they are and what they want of you.  When one lives each day and spends each night with a deep desire to be close to God, it will not be difficult to hear His call when it comes.  Of course, the real message here is that God knew Samuel, even though Samuel may not have known God[5]. Still, Samuel’s heart must have been a seeking one, open to God’s call.  Note the significance that in the morning Samuel “opened the doors of the house of the Lord”[6] which may mean more than just the literal act – a spiritual act of opening a new access to God. 

Young Samuel is awakened by a voice calling his name.  He thinks it’s Eli, so he goes and asks Eli what he wants.  Eli says that he didn’t call him.  This happens two more times and Eli eventually suggests that it must be God who is calling.  Eli recommends that Samuel respond by asking God to speak.  God answers and confirms that all He had said about the fall of the house of Eli.  It’s interesting that nothing is said about Samuel taking over from Eli.  Perhaps this is implied in that it is Samuel who God speaks to and not Eli.  It would be the first of many times when Samuel would be used as God’s messenger. 

The next morning Eli forces Samuel to tell him what had happened. Samuel is reluctant as you can imagine – the news was not good. Eli, however, accepts it.  Chapter four shows how God’s word came true in the deaths of Eli and his sons.[7] 

You know, it occurs to me that attendance at Church should come with a warning.  You know, the sort of warnings you see when new swimming pools are being constructed, “Danger do not enter – pool under construction”.  Or where road works are under way, “Danger – men working”. 

What about a sign on the Church which said, “Danger – you may encounter the living God”.  You see the dangerous thing about coming to Church is the fact that God takes your presence seriously and if you listen carefully, you may hear Him calling out your name.  The real peril is that you just might encounter the living God.  You may “wake up” to the sound of a voice making claims on your life, calling you to difficult tasks, to make life transforming changes in you as a person and to make a difference in your world.  Could you answer with Samuel, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening”? 

We should expect God to speak to us because that’s the reason we come to Church – isn’t it?  Surely we are here today because we are seeking God?  Surely we are here now because we are not satisfied with the current state of our life, the depth of our relationship with God and our spiritual growth to date?  We are here today because we need to both connect and reconnect with the Divine.  When we come into the House of God we should as a matter of course expect to encounter the Lord. 

This I feel is the very reason so many choose not to come to Church.  It is a Spirit inspired phenomenon to come to Church and to seek God.  When we choose to seek God we realise something that may have escaped our conscious to date – that God is already seeking us and has been speaking to us – simply waiting for us to listen to Him and to respond as Samuel did; “Speak Lord for your servant is listening” 

Not only is it risky for us to come to Church because God may call us into service – but as with Hannah He may call our children to also serve Him. 

Our prayers should always be that God would use us and indeed our children to serve Him.  For in serving God’s purpose for our life[8] we are fulfilling our reason for creation.  It is in listening to God that we begin to understand that we were not created for ourselves, we were created for a purpose and that purpose is not for selfish ends.  We were created for a relationship with God and that can only begin when we with Samuel can utter these words, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening”. 

We can speak these words with meaning and conviction when we are remaining still and silent long enough for God to speak to us.  We speak these words when our lives and minds are not so full of chaos that there is not time to be still and know that He is God[9]. 

These are the words we need to pray when we enter God’s Church, fully expecting to leave a different person from the one that entered. These are the words we pray before we begin to pray.  These are the words we say before we open Holy Scripture and begin our daily Bible reading. 

“Speak Lord for your servant is listening.[10]”


X The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. X

Information, illustrations, literature and themes, for this sermon are gleaned from a variety of sources.  If I have violated copyright held by an individual, then please contact the writer of the sermon and your source will be acknowledged, or removed at your request.


 a  That is, tabernacle

[1] 1 Samuel 2:22 (NIV)

[2] 1 Samuel 2:27ff (NIV)

[3] 1 Samuel 4:11 (NIV)

[4] John 1:43-51 (NIV)

[5] Note v 7

[6] 1 Samuel 1:15 (NIV)

[7] Adapted by JOK from Emphasis January 19, 2003

[8] Acts 13:26 (NIV)

[9] Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

[10] 1 Samuel 3:9 (NIV)

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