"And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent" (1 Samuel 3:1).
I grew up with a God who was silent--at least that's the way that I learned it. I was told that it was very important that I do the "will of God" and yet I never learned how to discern God's seemingly mysterious will. The stories from Scripture are of a very personal God who speaks, who listens, and who relates to us in a way that can be understood. That's not the God that I grew up with. My God was silent. Ironically, the Bible makes sport of silent Gods--idols who need a creator, who need to be propped up so that they don't fall down, idols who have the image of a mouth, eyes, and ears but yet can neither speak, see, or hear.
And then I met Henry Blackaby--at least I met his writings. Dr. Blackaby's masterpiece, "Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God" is a must-read for anyone who wants to discover and accomplish the will of God. I first worked through the EG workbook when I was preparing to teach it to my youth group in Monterey, Tennessee. It was absolutely life-changing! In "Experiencing God", Henry Blackaby insists that our God still speaks and that he has always been speaking--it's just that we have forgotten how to listen. I won't outline the course of the book in this post but I will highly recommend that you get a copy and study it for yourself.
1 Samuel 3 details an interesting occurence of God speaking to a young boy named Samuel. God was about to do something new. He was rejecting the priestly ministry of Eli and his sons who had become corrupt and he was placing the mantle of ministry upon Samuel. Allow me to walk through the text with you and make some application.
"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli" (v1). This is always a good place for us to begin. Like Samuel, we can find a place to, "minister to the Lord". This wasn't a perfect place for Samuel. The scripture records that Samuel's son's were doing evil things. You can read about it in chapter two. And yet Samuel was ministering to the LOrd--not to Eli, not to his sons, but to the Lord! Have you ever left a church because of people that you didn't approve of? Have you ever moved on because of people who didn't meet your standard? Fortunately for Samuel (in spite of the shortcomings of Eli's sons), he stuck around. We don't belong to the church that we necessarily like--we belong to the church that God calls us to! And none of us has the right to "move on" unless God clearly tells us to move on.
"And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent" (v1). Not unlike our day, people had perhaps grown accustomed to a silent God--a God who does not speak. Certainly in the churches that I have served, "visions have been infrequent" and "word from the Lord" has been rare. Let's see what happens.
"It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well)" (v2). Eli could not see well. How many of our church leaders "cannot see well"? I have to confess that there have been times when my eyesight has grown dim. There have been stages of my life where I was just going through the motions of ministry--doing the things that I knew to do without ever seeing any fresh visions. Some of the most religious people that I know are spiritually blind--doing religious work for all of the wrong reasons. You can always tell because God's work will produce God's results. Man's work will produce man's results. There is an undeniable difference between the two.
"and the lamp of God had not yet gone out" (v3). There is hope! God's light has not yet been extinguished. No matter how dead the church may appear to be--the lamp of God is still lit.
"And Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was" (v3). Don't miss the fact that young Samuel chose to dwell as close to God's presence as humanly possible. He slept near the ark. If we want to hear from God--maybe we should move closer to God. Look for God's activity and get there as fast as you can.
The rest of chapter three describes how God literally spoke to Samuel. Three times He called for him. Samuel at first believed that it was Eli calling him. It's interesting that Samuel could not tell the difference between the voice of the Lord and the voice of Eli. It was Eli who discerned that the Lord was calling Samuel. It was Eli who taught Samuel how to hear and how to respond to the voice of the Lord. Perhaps God spoke in a voice that mimicked Eli's because he was teaching an important lesson. Even though Eli is about to be judged by God--the voice that Samuel hears God speak through sounds like Eli's to him. God can and does speak through any voice that he chooses. Eli was the imperfect priest of God--and yet he was the priest of God. God continued to use his voice. Let me say it more clearly--God speaks through anyone he chooses--including sinful, prideful, wandering, and rebellious priests. We must learn to hear the voice of God even when it comes in a simple clay jar.
"Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor had the word of the Lord yet been revealed to him" (v7). I love the fact that we don't have to reach some spiritual milestone in order to hear from God. Samuel did not even know the Lord. He was certainly a seeker and yet he was not one of the spiritually elite. He was just a boy.
Eli taught Samuel a simple phrase to use in response to the voice that he was hearing, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening" (v9). One of the main reasons why we might not hear from God is because we are not yet listening. I tend to get caught up in just living my life and I find myself on autopilot. I quit making decisions and thinking about my circumstances--I just go through the motions of living. We have to wake up and listen! The voice of God may come in a still small voice and if we are not listening--then we will miss it.
I've found four biblical qualifiers for hearing from God. Maybe these will help you in your quest to hear from God. Look up the passages that that accompany each qualifier and ask the Holy Spirit to make application for you.
#1--Belong to God (John 8:47).
#2--Believe in God (Matthew 13:58).
#3--Bring to God (Matthew 7:7-8).
#4--Obey God (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
Finally, let me give you a very practical resource that God gave to my wife, Tina several years ago. I'll give you a very brief outline. If you would like to know more than you can visit my wife's website and order the workbook that she has written. Her site is http://www.tinasamples.com/.
A great way to get off of autopilot and learn to listen to God in the details of life is through the acrostic "JOURNEY".
J-esus: Read a verse, a paragraph, or even a chapter from the Bible asking Jesus to speak to you through the words.
O-thers: Notice and listen to what others may be saying. Be present in each conversation as if God was present and speaking to you.
U-nusual events: There are no coincidences! Every event in your day may be the voice of God. Consider why things happen as they do.
R-esources: God blesses us with extra resources many times for a reason. Learn to ask God why He has given you resources? He may speak through them.
N-eeds: In the same way that God speaks through plenty--He also speaks through our lack. Consider why you have a need.
E-motions: The way you feel can be influenced by the Spirit of God. Allow Him to speak through your emotions.
Y-our response: This is the most important part. The voice of God always requires a response. What is He saying? What do you do about it?
I'll conclude by reminding you that the Bible is full of instances of God speaking to people. Let the Bible be your authority and your guide on this and all other issues. People have opinions--but God's word is truth. Read it--Believe it--Live it! Learning to hear from God for most of us is a process. Don't grow impatient and don't give up.