Wisdom dictates we listen more than we speak - but I have to honestly ask how well we are doing on that one? Listening is an art - learned not because we really want to learn it, but because if we don't learn how to listen, we will eventually get life pretty much as we like it, but we might just be the only ones left in the picture once we do! I suspect there is much to this listening "art" which many of us have yet to perfect. In fact, learning this "art" of listening requires we not only learn how to "tune into" the voice we hear, but we learn to "recognize" the voice. I think many of us hear those "voices" in our heads - hopefully not too many of them - but we don't always know which one is the one we should be listening to. If you have ever seen the commercial where there is a little guy in white on one shoulder and a little guy in black on the other and the lady is trying to figure out if she can give her kid chocolate milk or some other treat, you probably understand what I mean. We hear "sides" to the stories in our head, and then we find we must determine which "side" we will respond to. Were that life was so simple as to only present us with the lily white side and the ugly dark side, but alas, it is not! In fact, there are probably "shades" of white and grey on both sides - not just the lily white and the deep, dark black. It is the "shades" of white and grey which present us with the difficult challenge of sorting out the voices inside our head.
Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.” (I Samuel 3:10 MSG)
Samuel was a young boy, probably in his early teens, or just about to enter his teens. He has been dedicated to the work of the Lord in the Temple, doing daily tasks within the Temple right alongside the priests. One day, he hears a voice call out to him. Thinking it was the head priest, he hustles off to see what Eli wants. He is surprised to find the "voice" was not Eli's, but did you ever stop to consider why even the head priest didn't recognize the voice Samuel was actually hearing until the same thing occurred the third time? The first and second time, Eli just sends him away, telling him it was not him who called. The third time, it "dawns on" Eli that this might just be God trying to get through to Samuel - to have a personal conversation with him or give him direction for his life! I wonder how many of us are kind of like Eli - just drifting along, getting all kinds of reminders of God desiring to speak with us, and then one day it finally dawns on us that he has been the one speaking all along - we just didn't recognize the voice!
Samuel, on the other hand, knew he was hearing something - yet he didn't have clarity about what it was he was hearing. This was explained to us in the account as being the case since God had not yet revealed himself to Samuel. In the Old Testament times, the revelation of God's voice came to very few - those anointed to be his spokesperson were often the ones to receive the revelation. Now the voice of God is really something we can ALL hear - since Jesus opened the way for ALL of us to hear God's voice plainly and on an ongoing basis. The purpose of God's voice is to bring revelation - to disclose or uncover something not previously known. It might come in the form of direction, or perhaps as words of encouragement. There are times when God speaks directly to us to keep us safe - as when he gives us a quick warning which alerts us to pay attention to the traffic when we are drifting a little into daydreaming. It that split second of moving from daydreaming into attentive awareness, we narrowly avoid the collision which could have cost us dearly. Other times, he speaks to build us up or to encourage us to move ahead despite what we see on the outside - as he does when it seems we aren't getting through to our kids, but he knows we are touching something deep within which will carry them through life many years down the road.
I am encouraged as I read this account of Samuel trying to respond to the voice he hears. Why? I guess it is because I see a little of each of us in him. Simple folks, trying to fulfill our everyday tasks, ready to learn what we can as we move through this life - yet sometimes just a little confused as to what we are to do with what it is we are hearing. There are probably many times we hear God's voice, but because we aren't sure of the source, we go to what is familiar to us - as Samuel did when going to Eli. His was the voice he was most familiar with - to go to Eli was a natural response. Some of us get the impression someone is speaking to us - but we don't know it is God himself pulling us toward himself in order to reveal himself in or through us. So, we go where we are most familiar - friends, family, small group members, etc. Not an unrealistic response, when you really think about it. We use them as the sounding boards - bouncing what it is we are "hearing" in our heads until we get to a place of clarity.
I don't necessarily think this is wrong, but sometimes God just wants us to respond directly to him - to answer him with, "Speak, Lord. I am ready to listen." The idea of speaking directly "with" God is frightening to some, but it is the plan God has for each of us. Notice I did not say it was us speaking directly "to" God, but "with" God. Sometimes we initiate the conversation - at others God does. Either way, it is a conversation. If one party speaks and the other just listens - it is a lecture! If both engage, it is conversation - sometimes filled with good cheer and warm feelings, other times with hurt, sorrow, and the words which express how deeply we need each other. God desires direct and frequent conversation with us and I am grateful he doesn't stop with the first call! Some of us take a little longer to figure out it is his voice calling us - others will get it on the first try. The good news is that God calls!
At first, God may initiate the conversation a little more than we do - until we become more comfortable with this idea of listening to his voice and hearing his revelation. Then, little by little, we grow "comfortable" with picking up the conversation right where we left off, anytime and anywhere. I have a good friend who comments often about a relationship she formed when she was younger. She sees this friend only on occasion now, but as she describes it, they always just pick up where they left off, like no time had passed at all. God wants this closeness with us - entering into relationship with him isn't for the lazy or half-hearted. In fact, if we look at Samuel again, we see he arose from sleep to respond - not once, but three times! I don't know about you, but when I finally get asleep - something escaping me in a little as I age - I really like it when I can stay asleep until my rest has been reached. When I awaken in the night, one of the first thoughts I have is to turn my attention to listening. Sometimes I only hear the faint snoring of my mother in the next room, giving me assurance all is well in her direction, but at others, I hear words of a psalm beginning to fill my heart, or the needs of a dear friend beginning to bring me to the place of prayer. Either way, it is in listening that we discover the moment of revelation.
Maybe God has been calling to you a little more frequently these days and you may not have been as "aware" of the voice you were hearing. Next time you hear it, try doing as Samuel and saying, "Speak God. I am listening." You might just be surprised what conversation might just ensue. Just sayin!