Hearing God’s Call

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Samuel 3:1-10
2nd Sunday of Epiphany
SMAS (15.1.2012)

Today hardly anyone ever says anything about God, and most certainly no one ever tells you what God has said to them. Does God speak today? Probably most of us would say that God uses many ways to communicate with us, - the Bible, prayer, nature, Christian friends, sometimes an inner conviction that’s very insistent.

In the Bible there are lots of examples of God speaking to people. Remember Elijah who God spoke to in a still small voice. Moses where the voice came out of a burning bush. Isaiah where there was an incredible glory in the temple complete with a voice saying “Who shall I send?” Saul saw a bright light and heard a voice on the road to Damascus. God’s voice in John’s gospel is described as being like that of a shepherd, in Revelation it is like a trumpet and also rushing water, and in Job it’s like thunder. So God in the past has revealed Himself in different ways to different people.

Sometimes a voice, sometimes a vision, often another person, even Saul got sent away from the blinding light to Ananias so he could tell him what God was saying.

Sometimes even nature is like God speaking (Psalm 19 ‘the heavens are telling’). And all of this is good because we are all different. Our Old Testament reading today started by telling us that the word of the Lord was rare in those days. And so it is appropriate for today and has a lot to tell us about the way that God speaks to us and more importantly as to why we sometimes don’t hear very well.

Firstly it is easy to be in a position where we can’t hear. Have you ever had that awful experience when you are out shopping when a small child is having screaming hysterics because it wants something - a toy or some sweets? You know when it is absolutely screaming and although the parent may be shouting like crazy at it, the child can’t hear because it’s screaming too loudly.

Sometimes we do that to God. Well not exactly the same, we may not be screaming and shouting exactly, more like telling God where He’s going wrong! We can’t hear if we are doing all of the talking - ‘speak Lord your servant is listening’ becomes ‘listen Lord your servant is speaking’!.

Sometimes we are unable to hear because our lives are too busy. Lives full of worldly concerns which leave little room for the Divine. Shopping, television, working to earn the cash we need. Not that these things are wrong. But if we never make a bit of space and have some quiet we can’t hear. Samuel was able to hear because he was in the right place. I’m not suggesting that everyone takes up sleeping in their church in the hope of hearing God calling to them. But our lifestyle does actually need room and space to hear God when He calls.

And so too does our prayer time, we need a space at the end to listen. Do NOT think this either doesn’t work or you are a failure when you don’t hear a reply. Think of it as being like charging your mobile phone. When it is plugged in to the wall you are not usually listening to it – you are building up the reserves to listen later when it is needed.

The second reason for thinking that God does not call and speak today is because we won’t hear. This usually happens when we are aware of God calling but we choose to ignore Him. Sometimes because we know that to respond will change our entire lives, some of those things we love doing might have to go. Sometimes it’s because we might not believe that we are worthy of God’s call, surely I’m not good enough for God to speak to personally? And sometimes it’s because it is too frightening. Whatever it is that God is asking of us we think is much too hard.

It’s incredibly sad when we won’t hear because the little voice that tells us not to hear, that we’re not good enough or don’t know enough about our faith, or that God is asking is too much or tells us about all of the things we’d have to give up for God, (usually not true either) is invariably not God. You see just as God can call us so can the devil and it is amazing how much his words can sound just like common sense as he tells us we don’t need all this God business.

But we all have a need for God, we need to respond to Him. We all have a God shaped hole that can only be filled by Him. It can never be filled with things like possessions, money, achievements, popularity, friends. The only thing that will fill that God shaped hole in each one of us is Jesus.

And that’s the last thing that the devil wants to happen, so he tells us all sorts of things to stop us from responding to God’s call. And he will be the one that sounds like common sense. Think of the reasoning he gave Eve which convinced her to eat the fruit. Then think of God’s call to Noah. Which sounded the more ridiculous?

I expect a similar thing happened to Samuel, because when he started to respond to God, God told him he had to tell Samuel some bad news about punishing his wayward sons. I bet a little voice said to Samuel, don’t tell Samuel that it’s unkind. God wouldn’t really want you to say that. Or, no I can’t say that I’ll be embarrassed. I bet his heart went to his boots. But the voice that says don’t respond however sensible it sounds is the one that wants to stop our little God-shaped hole being filled by Jesus. And we might need then to find something else to fill the hole. Fortunately Samuel was obedient.

The third thing that can kind of stop us hearing God’s call is that we mishear and just don’t recognize God. And this is something we saw most clearly in the Bible reading with Samuel thinking that God’s voice was that of Eli’s.

There’s a fairly well-known story about this: A flood deluged a small town and everyone was evacuated except for one old man who refused to leave because he said he had faith in God. Instead he would pray and God would save him. The water rose higher beginning to make roads impassable. A man in a four-wheel-drive truck stopped and told the man to go with him to safety. But he refused.

Later when the water had risen considerably the man, standing on the kitchen table continued to pray. A rowing boat came to the window with an offer of rescue. ‘No’ the old man said, God will deliver me from this flood.

As the water got deeper he climbed up on the roof. A helicopter hovered over and lowered a ladder. ‘Go away’ he yelled, ‘you’ll blow me off the roof - God will save me. Go and save someone else.’

Eventually he drowned. Arriving at the gates of heaven he asked if he could have a word with God. ‘Oh, Lord he said I prayed and prayed for the rain to stop and for you to save me but you let me drown - I don’t understand.’

God replied, ‘My child I heard your prayers. I sent you a four-wheel-drive truck, a rowing-boat and a helicopter. Why did you send them away?’

You see we don’t, like Samuel, always recognize God. Sometimes it comes through a conversation with another Christian, sometimes its through the Bible, sometimes its in the quiet of prayer. It might be the first time - it might not - it might be Him calling us back because we’ve wandered away. Perhaps calling us again because we didn’t hear Him before? Perhaps calling us on to the next stage in our journey with Him. Perhaps He is calling us and we are mistaking what we are hearing? Maybe we think it’s just nonsense, our imagination or emotion?

 

Sometimes it’s clearer and feels like God putting a finger on something in our life, perhaps touching a raw nerve. Perhaps pointing out a problem we know we should have addressed. Perhaps pointing us forward in one some way. Whatever, and however, we must respond to God’s call, which may sound like a still small voice, or a resounding trumpet.

What if you think you hear and are not sure it is genuinely God? Or you hear but are not sure what to do? What did Samuel do? He went and spoke to someone else about it. Someone he knew would know more than he did - Eli. Someone who was able to recognize that it was, indeed, God calling Samuel. I suppose in days when God’s voice is not heard much it’s a bit like a hearing-aid. Someone helps us hear God’s message. Eli was also able to advise him how to respond. And it was in the responding that Samuel was later able to see that the call had indeed been a genuine call of God.

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, the only book set in the future interestingly contains 20 references to God’s voice speaking. So perhaps as we get nearer to the end times we will hear God’s voice more? And it is in Revelation that Jesus calls to us, saying “Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and eat with him, and he will eat with me.” The call of a lover calling to his beloved, “Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and eat with him, and he will eat with me.” Amen