Learning to Hear

Learning to hear and obey the Voice of God is one of the most important parts of the Christian life. In a sense, it is the process of discipleship, of learning to actively follow Him. The call of Samuel outlines important steps towards that goal, and we can use it to see in our own walk where we need to grow into better listeners.

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli. And word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent. 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), and 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, that the LORD called Samuel; and he said, “Here I am.” Then he 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 yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he answered, “I did not call, my son, lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him. So the LORD called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli discerned that the LORD was calling the boy. And Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. (1 Samuel 3:1-9 NASB)

Although Eli is often maligned, here we see him offering very good instruction to Samuel. In essence, Eli tells Samuel to simply wait on the Lord with an open heart, and listen for what God has to say to him. The simple sentence he gives Samuel is like an index of practical instruction about listening to God.

Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.”
We must seek the Lord. Ask Him to speak to us, and expect Him to answer. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask in faith…” [James 1:5] This must be intentional, and will often require effort. We need to knock and keep knocking, so that we are more like someone seeking treasure than someone watching TV [Proverbs 2:3-5]. The more we deliberately seek God, the more we will discern His presence in our lives and hear His Voice.

“Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.”
Listen to the Lord; not other people, not the world, not the devil, and not our own hearts. Read the Bible more, rather than books about the Bible. Spend time talking with God in prayer, not just other people. Be aware that the enemy will try to deceive us, so we must test what we hear (Gideon was an example). Samuel was mistaken in running to Eli. Now God may speak to us in different ways, such as through music and other people, but He also speaks directly. We need to hear Him speak directly, and learn to know His voice [John 10:4].

“Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.”
Note that Samuel served God even before he knew Him. Serving God with humility softens our hearts to hear His voice, and transforms our minds (note). This is because to hear His voice, we must be willing to set aside our own desires, opinions, and preferences. It’s better to serve with a willing and humble heart, than a resentful and bitter one. The former brings us into relationship with God, the latter leads to cold religion [Matthew 7:21-23].

“Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.”
We need to be still, and listen for the Lord to speak. Being still implies stopping our own effort, knowing that He is God, and waiting on Him [Psalm 46:10]. When we spend time still, listening for His voice, He will reveal to us what we need to hear.

Of course, discernment is required to apply these properly. How do we actively seek, yet remain still to listen? How do we serve diligently without service becoming an idol? Perhaps fellowship and instruction have a place here.

Samuel follows Eli’s advice, and the result is that God speaks to him. This is the start of Samuel’s prophetic ministry, and as a result “the LORD appeared again at Shiloh” [1 Samuel 3:21]. Isn’t that what we all need more of in our lives?

Note: In Romans 12:1, the Greek word often translated “service” or “worship” in general means cultic religious duties. The word sometimes translated “spiritual” can also be translated “reasonable” or “rational”. Hence, one way to look at that passage is that Paul is teaching the importance of allowing our minds to be transformed through proper religious service. Not important in itself, but as a tool for transforming our minds, it helps us become open to the unity that comes from hearing God directly. But exploring this properly is really for another post.

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