Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living

“Practicing Spiritual Disciplines:  Listening to God”

Decatur Presbyterian Church

I Samuel 3:1-11

March 20, 2022

 

 

In a time when a word from the Lord was rare, and visions were not widespread, God spoke to a young, inexperienced servant of the temple, a boy who had been dedicated to the Lord even before his birth,  a boy whose birth itself was an answer to a desperate prayer from his mother, Hannah. 

Throughout history, especially at turning points in history, God has spoken to God’s people. God’s voice has come through many forms – dreams, visions, prophets, natural wonders – and has been offered both when sought after and when least expected. 

I Samuel 3:1-11

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” 

So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”  Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 

Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.”

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

Listening to God…

When Abram stepped out of his tent one night and looked up at the stars, he listened to God and heard the promise that he would become the father of a multitude. 25 years later, when God’s messengers arrived at Abraham’s tent, he and Sarah welcomed and fed them graciously, then Sarah laughed out loud when the messengers told them that they would finally have a son, even at their old age. 

When Abraham’s grandson Jacob fled into the wilderness to escape the wrath of a twin brother, Esau,  Jacob had a dream in the night, a dream in which God told him that God would be with him, wherever he journeyed, and that God would one day bring him back to his father’s land, and that all the families of the earth would be blessed in his offspring.

Many years later, Jacob found himself in the same wilderness, alone, and he wrestled with God in the night. In the morning, God gave him a new name, Israel, which means “the one who wrestles with God”. 

When Moses stepped aside to stand in awe before the burning bush, he took off his shoes and listened to God, and ultimately when went to face the Egyptian Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world at the time, in order to deliver his people from slavery.

Years later in the wilderness, when Moses was having a crisis of leadership with the former slaves, he listened to God speaking through his father-in-law, Jethro, who told him to appoint elders from among the tribes in order to handle the many disputes among the people. 

After the boy Samuel finally listened to God in the night, after the third time that God called him, Samuel began to speak the word of the Lord, even when the words were difficult and unpopular to hear, and Samuel became a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. 

Years later, when the kingdom Samuel had helped establish under Saul was not going well, Samuel arrived at the house of Jesse and, after listening closely to God, Samuel passed by seven of Jesse’s sons in order to find the eighth son, David, out in the fields, whom Samuel anointed as the next king. 

King David, a man after God’s own heart, after years of success, but then having Bathsheba’s husband killed at the front lines of a battle, finally listened to the voice of God through a prophet, Nathan, and the powerful David was moved to confess his sin of adultery and murder. 

Years later, when David wanted to build a temple in Jerusalem, he listened to God through a prophet again and heard that it would be his son, and not him, who would be worthy to build a temple to the Lord. 

The prophet Elijah listened to God. God called Elijah to go and face the powerful King Ahab, and so Elijah confronted 450 prophets of Baal, and defeated them in grand fashion. Only weeks later, the same Elijah was found hiding out from Queen Jezebel who had promised to kill him. There, hiding in a cave in the wilderness, Elijah faced earthquake, wind, and fire, but God’s voice was not in the earthquake, wind or fire. 

God showed up in the sound of sheer silence on the mountain, and asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?”

Young King Josiah came to power over Judah at a time of great corruption and worship of false gods.  One day, while the temple was being renovated, his workers broke through a wall and found the scrolls of ancient scripture. Josiah listened to the Word of God found in the Scriptures, and tore his clothes.  Then he called an assembly of all the people to listen to the Word of God, sparking a period of reformation and renewal and a removal of that which was unfaithful. 

Jesus, having begun his ministry in Galilee, went out alone one night to walk on the hills of Galilee listening to God. The next morning, he called twelve of his followers by name and bid them become the core group of his disciples. 

Three years later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, after a Passover dinner with those same twelve, Jesus listened for God’s response after he cried out, O Lord, take this cup from me… yet not my will, but thy will be done… 

The Apostle Peter, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, received a vision of a sheet descending from heaven with all sorts of unclean animals, and Peter heard the voice of the Lord:  Get up, Peter, kill and eat. After three times, the sheet was suddenly taken up to heaven.  Soon after, Peter began to reach out to Gentiles, break bread with them, and welcome them into the Way. 

John, on the island of Patmos, many years into the life of the Church, during a violent persecution under a Roman Caesar, listened to God’s voice from exile. There, in exile, John wrote down his revelations about the mysteries of life and death, about seeking to remain faithful and look toward the time to come in the midst of great distress. 

Martin Luther listened to God as he wrote 95 theses and posted them on the door at Wittenberg, sparking a dramatic turn in the history of Western Europe. 

John Knox, the father of Presbyterianism, listened to God as he and others wrote the Scots confession in only five days to present before the Scottish government assembly. 

Dietrich Bon Hoffer listened to God as he and others wrestled over the decision about whether to participate in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. listened to God on the steps of the capitol building in Washington, DC, when the woman behind him on the stage cried out to him:  Martin, tell them about your dream, tell them about your dream Martin.  

Students at a seminary in South Africa listened to the voice of God as they began listing on a blackboard the theological points which would become the core of the Belhar Confession, which would later be adopted by Church denominations throughout the world, a confession which affirmed – in the midst of apartheid – that people of all races belong to God and one another. 

Listening to God…

sometimes happens despite ourselves, when we are just going about our daily business. Other times, the word of the Lord comes to us after mulling on a decision for several months. 

Listening to God…

sometimes results from very purpose-filled discernment, paying attention to the voice of God speaking through Scripture, through the voice of others, through the community. 

Other times, the word of the Lord comes to us in the sound of sheer silence, asking us questions like: What are you doing here?  Will you come and follow me?

Listening to God…

requires openness – open ears, open minds, open hearts, the willingness to confess our sins. 

Listening to God…

can lead to a turn in human history, or at least a dramatic turn in our own little histories.    

We listen to God through Holy Scripture. 

Our service of worship – our sermons, anthems, liturgy, hymns, prayers, sacraments – are all centered on the Bible. The Holy Spirit is at work in this worship we celebrate today – and God is speaking to us, if we but have ears to hear.  Sometimes God speaks through the words and anthems and hymns chosen,   sometimes God speaks despite the limitations of leaders. 

We listen to God when we study the Bible together.  We listen to God through the voices of teachers and one another,  trusting that you will hear something in the Scripture that I did not hear. 

We listen to God through prayer and meditation, through walks in nature, through morning prayers at sunrise, through thoughtful reading and reflection. 

We listen to God when we are discerning vocation, discerning what to do or say next.  We ask of God:  does this make sense? as we listen to our heads.  We ask of God: what do people who know us best and love us most say? as we listen to others.

We ask of God:  what does my gut say about this?  as we listen to the murmuring of our own hearts. We listen to God through friends and family in conversations that matter, in courageous conversations, in those times that we seek to move beyond the limitations of our own imaginations. 

We listen to God as we look back, noticing those times when God was carrying us, recognizing those times in the past when God was saving us or directing us, and we did not know it. 

We listen to God as we review the course of human history and, through the eyes of faith, we recognize God’s fingerprints in the events that happened. 

We cannot yet see the end of this tragedy in Ukraine. 

When we grieve over the images of empty strollers in a city square, representing all the children lost to the scourge of war and violence, we wonder: Where is God? Is God listening to our prayers and the prayers of the people of Ukraine?

Why does the all-powerful and all-loving God allow so much suffering and violence?

And we keep praying…

and we keep listening…

And we trust that one day we will be able to look back and recognize the hand of God, even in the midst of such horror. 

Surely, even now, God is speaking…. to Vladimir Zelensky, granting him courage and strength beyond his own.,,  to Polish families, who walk up to train stations in order to greet a family of refugees and invite them back to their home for food and shelter for an uncertain period of time… to members of the NATO Alliance, calling for unity and mutual support in the face of evil.

When a word from God seems rare, and visions are not widespread, we cry out once again….Speak Lord, for your servant is listening… 

Amen. 

 

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia

March 20, 2022