2nd Sunday after Epiphany
1 Samuel 3:1-10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know how to listen? One key skill that every person needs to develop in order to have healthy relationships with other people is something that is called “Active Listening.” In other words, you’re actively listening and actively engaged paying attention to what the speaker is saying. Here are some tips that people have come up with to assist in active listening: face the speaker and maintain eye contact, be attentive but relaxed, keep an open mind, listen to the words and try to picture what the person is saying, don’t interrupt and impose your solutions, wait for the speaker to pause before you ask clarifying questions, ask questions only to ensure understanding, try to feel what the speaker is feeling, give the speaker regular feedback. So, are you a good listener? Certainly we all want to learn good listening techniques when we’re dealing with other people. But what about with God? Are we active listeners when it comes to what God has to tell us?
In Samuel’s day we’re told that the Word of the Lord was rare. It seems that for about 300 years during the period of Israel’s history while they were ruled by people called judges, there were only 2 prophets from God that we know about. You see, one of the greatest judgements from God on a certain people is that when they no longer appreciate his Word, He takes His gospel from them. That doesn’t surprise us. A few weeks ago we saw how King Herod and the religious officials from Jerusalem heard the Magi message, saw the prophecy in Scripture where the Christ was to be born, but they didn’t appreciate the message, so only the Magi got to see their Savior and their salvation. The same is true today. Let us continue to appreciate God’s message!
How do we do this? By continuing to listen to our Lord’s voice, His speaking to us, to keep saying with our thoughts and words and actions, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” That’s what Samuel did. When we find Samuel in our text this morning we’re not exactly sure how old he is, but some have supposed he was around 12 years old. If you remember Samuel’s background, he was the son of a woman named Hannah. Hannah had been barren and prayed to the Lord that if he would give her a son, she would give him over to the Lord for service in God’s house. In mercy, the Lord granted her request and she brought Samuel up in the training and instruction of the Lord and taught him to honor, respect, and obey. Then, when he was very young, she brought him to the house of the Lord and stayed there day and night. He probably did things like open the doors for people to come in, replenish the oil in the lamps, and so on. Part of his job was also helping out the aging priest, Eli, who was getting quite old and we’re told was not able to see well anymore.
One night, as Samuel was in his bed sleeping and it was probably very early in the morning since the “lamp of God had not yet gone out,” Samuel heard someone call, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel dutifully jumped out of bed and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Now, I’m a parent and I have young children, now, when I try calling them in broad daylight, in the middle of the day, when they are wide awake, it may take 4, 5, 6 times of calling before they slowly and sluggishly come or say, “just a minute.” But Samuel was different. Three times he was called and each time he came running to Eli to see what he wanted and Eli kept telling him, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now we’re told that “Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” It would be terribly naïve of us to think that means Samuel didn’t know who the Lord was. He had been brought up by a God-fearing mother, he was working in the house of the Lord day and night. He knew the Lord. But what had never happened to him before was that the Lord was speaking directly with Samuel, he didn’t recognize the Lord’s voice and that’s why he kept thinking it was Eli who was calling him.
Well, finally the third time Samuel went to Eli and Eli finally realized what was going on. He “realized that the LORD was calling the boy.” So, Eli correctly told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” There is nothing better in all of life that Eli could have directed someone than to say those words. So, Samuel went back and lay down as before. And then the Lord Himself came and called to Samuel the fourth time: “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel would go on to become a great prophet leading the nation of Israel through the transition of having judges to kings. Yet, what made Samuel great was not so much that he could speak to people, but that he would listen. Listen to the Lord speaking to him. And I would say to you that no matter what you strive for in life, what will make you or me someone great, isn’t so much how well we speak, but how well we listen, and not just how well we listen in general, but how well we listen to the Lord.
And notice something else. Samuel had no idea what the Lord would require of him or what the Lord would ask of him. He didn’t know the ins and outs of what God was going to tell him. He didn’t know where the Lord’s direction would lead him. He didn’t know what his future held. But notice his response, his attitude: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
The truth is that’s what God calls each of us to as well, to actively listen to Him. And how do we listen to God’s voice? When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt he was studying in the library when he came across a Bible and he happened to open it up to this account and began reading. He was fascinated and thought how great it would be to be like Samuel and to hear God’s voice. But the truth that he rediscovered is that God DOES speak to us! He speaks to us through the words of the Bible.
So, are you listening? Am I? Do we have the same attitude as Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening?” What is our attitude toward God’s Word? Is listening to our God’s Word the most important thing we do each day? If someone was objectively watching your life or mine on a day to day basis would they be able to tell that the most important thing to us is listening to our God?
And it’s not just listening either, is it? God also wants us to be ready to do whatever it is that he tells us to do no matter the implications. God asks husbands and fathers to lead their homes by being the greatest servants and putting their family before their own interests. “But, but, I just need time for myself, I work hard all day isn’t that enough?” No. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God asks wives and mothers to be servant helpers to their husbands and families. “But, how could I possibly submit to my husband, when he rarely shows me he loves me?” “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God wants children to obey their parents. “But, I want to do my own thing, I know what’s better for me than they do.” No. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” How often are we not all guilty of presuming to know more about how to run this universe, what would be best for our lives, what God should be doing than God does. How much don’t we say, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking?” “Listen Lord, I could sure use more money in the bank account, a better job, a new car, more obedient children, a more understanding spouse, etc, etc.”
But remember Samuel. What made him such a good prophet of God wasn’t so much what he said, but that he listened, listened to God. But why? Why would Samuel characterize his life by listening to God? Why would we ever want to conform our lives to listening to God? It’s because of who our God is. You see, we have a God who listened to us and to our needs far before we were even able to speak. We have a God who planned out our eternal rescue from horridness of sin’s slavery, the fear of death, and the punishment of hell, long before we were even born. We have a God who listened so intently to our every need that He came in this world. Jesus came in order to be the perfect listener, to listen and to do perfectly everything that God wanted from you and me in our place. Jesus even listened to the point of going to the cross and assuming in Himself God’s righteous wrath for all of our sins. Why would we ever want to listen to our God? Because again and again through God’s Word He reminds us of the precious good news of His endless love for us, of His joy in rescuing us eternally, of His plan to bring us home to heaven.
So what do you do? Where do you start? First, make it a habit, schedule a time every day where you can say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Open the Bible or if you have an audio Bible listen to it. Second, meditate on it. Take a short section and ask yourself over and over again, “What does this mean? What is my Lord telling me here?” What’s amazing is that in the Hebrew the word “meditate” is also used for the word “growl”- it’s like what a dog does with a large bone. It takes it to a quiet place, it chews on it, relishes it, turns it over. Do that with God’s Word. Thirdly, keep at it. Chinese bamboo is very interesting. When you plant it, it spends over 4 years underneath the ground, nothing is seen, but then in the fifth year it grows some 80 feet in just 6 weeks. Perhaps we’re tempted to stop listening to the Lord because something is difficult, but don’t give up, keep at it, the Lord will bless it. And finally, don’t just listen, do what the Lord tells you. Why? Because you know that the Lord who loved you so much to rescue you eternally, will only tell you what will bless you eternally. May you have such a Samuel attitude, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Amen.