What Does God's Voice Sound Like?
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.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, "Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries."
"Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord and the word of the Lord had not been revealed to him." I don't remember when I did not yet know the Lord. My first church experience was at Stelton Baptist Church, an American Baptist church in central NJ. I was a child of the nursery and then the preschool. I learned the books of the Bible before I was 5. I can still remember Uncle Charlie teaching me how to say Habakkuk. Uncle Charlie wasn't a blood uncle, he was one of the many adults in the church who introduced me to the Lord.
Isn't that what Eli is doing? He's introducing Samuel to the Lord. He's nurturing him into a relationship with the living, speaking, loving, judging God. Samuel, meet God. God, well you know Samuel already. You two talk.
There's a scene from the TV show the Newsroom where they are arguing about political candidates saying that God told them to do something, run for office, vote a certain way, etc... I'd show the video here but it takes down a tangent (a funny one but a tangent nonetheless.) The questions I've got is "what does God's voice sound like?" Not for Samuel, not for Moses, not for Abraham but if I'm honest for us.
Yesterday was the first preschool chapel at my church. I play the guitar for them. This allows me to get to know the parents a little bit and be available to people who do not attend my congregation. We always say a prayer at the end of chapel. I say a prayer and they repeat after me. But yesterday was our first chapel and part of the lesson was learning what it means "to pray." Very simply, the preschool director who was teaching the lesson said, "when we pray we are talking to God. Sometimes we say thank you for things; sometimes we ask God for things."
When I read this text about the young Samuel hearing God's voice for the first time, I wonder had he also learned that definition of prayer when he was a 3 or 4 year old. "Samuel, when we pray we talk to God." It's not surprising then when he heard a voice talking back to him, he didn't consider it to be God. Because after all, when we pray, we talk to God. When do we learn that God talks back? How do we teach how God talks back?
Father Thomas Keating says, "Silence is God's first language, everything else is a poor translation. In
order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God." Samuel offers us a beautiful, childlike picture of that kind of "talking to God" when he said, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening."
Samuel was taught to listen to the Lord. What does that mean? What exactly are we listening for? And how do we know it is God's voice?
For the Presbyterian that I've become, wisdom is found in the collective of God's people. Discernment comes when many listeners engage prayerfully listening together.This text causes me to stop, find silence and dare to utter the same words as Samuel, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening."
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