4. Heart Preparation for Listening to God (1 Samuel 3:1-10)


Audio (25:44)

Edward Burne-Jones, detail of 'Samuel' (1873), Vyning Memorial Windows, Christ Cathedral, Oxford.
Edward Burne-Jones, detail of 'Samuel' (1873), Vyning Memorial Windows, Christ Cathedral, Oxford.

If you're not used to it, listening for and hearing God's leading can seem overwhelming. In this lesson we'll consider how you can prepare yourself to listen, with some simple guidelines that will help you be more receptive to God's whispers.

Samuel: "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:1-10)

We begin with the story of Samuel hearing God's voice for the first time in the temple. As you recall, Hannah who had been barren, is given a child.

"So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, Because I asked the LORD for him.'" (1 Samuel 1:20)

The name Samuel (shemûʾēl) sounds like the Hebrew for "heard of God," shāma<ʿ, "hear, listen to" and ʾēl, the generic word for "God."

Little Samuel is dedicated to the Lord, and after Hannah weans him, he lives at the tabernacle (sometimes called "the temple" or sanctuary) at Shiloh under the care of Eli the priest. Every year his mother brings him a new ephod to wear.

He seems to be sleeping in the temple itself when he is awakened by the sound of his name being called. He runs to Eli, who says he didn't call him and sends him back to bed. It happens again with the same result. Then the writer tells us:

"7  Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word (dābār) of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

8  The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, 'Here I am; you called me.' Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9  So Eli told Samuel, 'Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening."'

So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10  The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, 'Samuel! Samuel!'

Then Samuel said, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'" (1 Samuel 3:7-10)

Eli is correct in discerning that Yahweh is calling the boy, and his instruction of what to say is right on target:

"Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening." (verse 9b)

"Speak" is the Piel imperative of the common Hebrew verb dābar, "to speak."[35]

"LORD" in caps designates God's specific name, Yahweh.

"Servant" is ʿebed, "servant, slave." The term is used as a polite and humble way to refer to oneself (Genesis 33:5; 2 Kings 8:13). In the case of a king, all his subjects are considered his servants, including all who serve him directly -- his officers, officials, and ambassadors. The expression "your servant" is frequently used when addressing God in prayer.[36]

"Is listening" (NIV, NRSV), "hears" (ESV), "heareth" (KJV) is the Qal participle of shāmaʿ, which, you remember, is the word from which Samuel's name is formed. Shāmaʿ has the basic meaning "to hear." This is extended in various ways, generally involving an effective hearing or listening, "hear, listen to, obey."[37] Samuel places himself in the position of a servant whose master has called him, so he comes ready to listen to his master's command, and then obediently carry out his command.

Once Samuel has answered in this way, Yahweh tells this young child of the awesome judgment that He will bring against Eli and his sons for their terrible sins, a message that Yahweh has previously spoken to Eli through "a man of God" (1 Samuel 2:27-36).

In the morning, when Eli asks Samuel what Yahweh has told him, Samuel is too frightened to say. But when Eli threatens him, he spills out the prophecy. When he has finished, Eli confirms that Samuel has heard correctly:

"It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him." (1 Samuel 3:18)

Eli recognizes Yahweh's message all too well. He hadn't responded with repentance the first time he heard it, nor does he do so now.

What We Can Learn from Samuel's Call

The story teaches us several things:

1. You can worship but not know God, at least not know him intimately. Verse 10 tells us: "Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him." Samuel has been worshipping[38] Yahweh in the sanctuary (1 Samuel 1:28b) and ministering[39] before Yahweh (1 Samuel 3:1) -- that is, assisting in the priestly duties -- without knowing God!

2. You can hear God speaking, but not recognize that it is God. We may not recognize God's voice the first time we hear it. It wouldn't surprise me if you who are reading this have heard God speaking to you, but haven't recognized it as God himself speaking. Perhaps you identified it as your conscience or your own thoughts.

3. Sometimes a mentor can help us learn to recognize and respond to God's voice. Eli recognizes what is happening and instructs Samuel on what to say if this happens again (1 Samuel 3:9). Then the mentor confirms that it is indeed God's voice that Samuel heard -- "It is the LORD" (1 Samuel 3:18) -- though Samuel is already well aware that God has spoken to him. We'll talk more about mentors in Lesson 5 .

4. We must come before God as humble and obedient servants if we want to hear what he is saying. It is quite possible to hear without listening. In each of the four Gospels, Jesus quotes Isaiah to explain his reason for teaching in parables:

"'Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed." (Isaiah 6:9-10)

As I mentioned before, it's possible for husbands to develop "selective hearing" towards their wives, only tuning in to what they want to hear. And so we can be with God.

Q1. (1 Samuel 3:1-10) What was Eli's counsel to Samuel, when he recognized that God was calling to the boy? Was it good counsel? What is the significance of Samuel recognizing that he is a servant?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1775-q1-listening-servant/

It Is the Relationship, not the Voice, that We Seek

Samuel's story reminds us that for us to hear God, there are some things in us that need adjusting. Earlier we read, "Samuel did not yet know the LORD" (1 Samuel 3:7), speaking of intimate personal relationship.[40] Now he does.

First and foremost, our goal must be knowing God himself, not just experiencing the supposed novelty of hearing his voice. Hearing his voice is not a gimmick or spiritual token to attain so you can brag about it. Hearing his voice is part of a conversational relationship. Indeed, it adds greatly to the receiving part of communication.

As we studied Jesus' prayer life in Lesson 1 it becomes clear that spending time with God enables Jesus to see and hear what the Father was doing, so he can do it also. It maintains his relationship with his Father. Hosea exhorts us:

"Let us know;
let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth." (Hosea 6:3, ESV)

"Know" (ESV, NRSV, KJV), "acknowledge" (NIV) is yādaʿ, "know," with many shades of knowledge, from intimate sexual knowledge (Genesis 4:1), to 'discern,' as well as the most intimate acquaintance, such as Moses, whom Yahweh knows "face-to-face" (Deuteronomy 34:10).[41] Hosea calls on us to "press on to know the Lord." The verb is rādap, "be behind, follow after, pursue"[42] We are to chase after God, pursue him, so that we might know him well. You can sense Paul's passion to know Christ better:

"I want to know Christ.... I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.... Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:10-14)

The Greek for "press on" in Philippians 3 has a similar idea to that of the Hebrew, "to move rapidly and decisively toward an objective, hasten, run, press on ...to follow in haste in order to find something, run after, pursue."[43]

A.W. Tozer wrote a powerful book, The Pursuit of God (1948), still valuable today for those passionate to know Him. Tozer cites a wide variety of Christian leaders, and then asks, What vital quality ties them together?

"I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which they had in common was spiritual receptivity. Something in them was open to heaven, something which urged them Godward.... They had spiritual awareness and ...they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives. They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response.... Receptivity is ...an affinity for, a bent toward, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have."[44]

David, a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22), wrote,

"You have said, 'Seek my face.'
My heart says to you,
'Your face, LORD, do I seek.'" (Psalm 27:8)

Developing a relationship with God comes before seeking to hear God's voice, because a relationship is based on trust. And trusting God is necessary or we won't follow through with the hard things God will be asking us to do.

When Jesus moves beyond feeding multitudes with bread, and speaks of people eating his own flesh and drinking his blood, "many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." Those who stayed, remained because of a relationship, a receptivity to Jesus. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:66-68).

Hearing God's voice flows out of a relationship. It is wed to our life of prayer before God.

Q2. (1 Samuel 3:7; Hosea 6:3; Philippians 3:10-14) Why is a desire for a relationship with God more important than seeking to hear his voice? How does hearing his voice contribute to the relationship? Why are we commanded to "press in" to know the Lord? How does Paul's passion for a relationship with God inspire you?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1776-q2-to-know-god/

Learning to Follow Orders without Questioning

We learn from Samuel, that a willingness to obey is an important part of being receptive to God's voice: "Speak, LORD, for your servant hears." A servant hears with the intention of obeying what his master tells him. It is insulting to ask God what we should do if we have no intention of doing anything else than what we want to do.

Part of a willing and submissive spirit is a willingness to obey:

  1. Even if we don't understand why, and
  2. Even if we don't know the final result.

Too often there is in us an insistence on being in control. Explain it to me, God, and if I agree that it fits my objectives and plans for my life, then I'll be happy to obey. How silly! In the military, the importance of following orders is drilled into soldiers -- and officers. Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Charge of the Light Brigade" (1854) contains the immortal words:

"Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die."

In war, if the lowliest private demands to know all the details of the strategy before he or she obeys orders, then the unit loses its ability to move quickly as one.

Only if a soldier receives what is an illegal order or command should he or she refuse. In the same way, when we become familiar with the Bible, we know the kinds of commands that God would never give, and thus discern that it is not God's voice telling us that. More on discerning God's voice in Lesson 5 .

Jonah is an example of a person who hasn't surrendered himself to God. He hates the compassion and mercy that God stands for, so when God commands him to prophesy to his nation's enemies at Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, he rebels against God, going the opposite direction. Even after God uses him to bring a revival and repentance to Nineveh, he is selfish and petulant. Finally, God sets him in his place, by saying, "Do you have a right to be angry, Jonah." It isn't your plant, it's mine. Nineveh isn't your people to decide their fate, they are mine and they don't have a clue spiritually.

God Leads by Seeing the Whole Picture (Psalm 32:8-9)

God sees the whole picture, as a reconnaissance pilot who watches the battle from a spotter plane high above the action, and radios down the instructions for battle. God speaks through David in Psalm 32:

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you." (Psalm 32:8-9, ESV)

God is our instructor and teacher on what way or path to take. From his vantage point -- seeing the past, present, and future -- God sees what we cannot see, and "counsels us with his eye upon us."[45] If we will listen, God is our wise counselor.

Notice that God doesn't want to force us to obey -- like some animals that won't obey unless you put a bit and bridle on them. Rather he seeks to speak to us in counsel. As we have faith in him, we begin to obey. He desires a more mature relationship based on trust rather than force. If we fight him, we can't serve him.

We'll Only Know When We're Willing to Trust

There's a sense that only when we do obey what God shows us will we find out what he is planning to do through us. When we resist, we'll never know. When faced with the his enemies' unbelief, Jesus said:

"If anyone chooses to do God's will,
he will find out whether my teaching comes from God
or whether I speak on my own." (John 7:17)

As an old folk proverb puts it, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." You'll never know what God is doing unless you obey. Even then you may not know how your small act of obedience fits into his larger plan. But occasionally you'll be able to see the fruit, and can rejoice. I only wonder what other things I could have rejoiced about if I had only listened and obeyed always.

Q3. (Psalm 32:8-9; John 7:17) Why is a willingness to obey without understanding the reasons for God's commands so important? How does obedience sometimes help us understand God's workings.
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1777-q3-willing-to-obey/

Waiting on the Lord (Psalm 27:14)

The desire for control keeps us from humble submission to God. We don't have to know everything.

In Lesson 2 we studied Paul's reaction to the "thorn in the flesh." He pleads with God three times to remove it. God doesn't answer his prayer. But God's reply gives a hint of why he didn't answer Paul's prayer. He is teaching Paul the strength that comes with full dependence upon God.

In Lesson 3 we examined the series of frustrating "noes" from God as Paul and his party travel across Asia Minor, seeking God's leading about where to evangelize (Acts 16:6-10). God only speaks to them after weeks of travel -- and then in a dream. God is fully able to speak to you. Don't try to force him to speak. He'll speak in his good time. That's part of being a submissive servant -- the place that Samuel assumed before God. "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:9-10)

This is what it means to "wait on the Lord."

"Wait for the LORD;
be strong,
and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14, ESV)

"Wait" is qāwâ, "to wait or to look for with eager expectation."[46] I ran across something from Lynette Haigen that describes this kind of submissive waiting on God that is part of servant obedience. We pick it up where she asks God about a particular situation.

"...Then I rest in peace. I may not have direction at the moment, but I am confident that the answer will come. I do not worry or fret about it. When I am tempted to be anxious or concerned, I simply remind the Lord that I need an answer.

That answer may come days, weeks, or even months later. I may be worshipping and praising the Lord when suddenly, out of my spirit will come thoughts that are the answer to what I have asked Him. At that moment I may not be thinking about the request. Therefore, I know that these are not my thoughts but the thoughts of the Lord. He is enlightening my spirit and giving me the wisdom I asked Him for."[47]

The Subtlety of Pride

We've already considered the importance of an attitude of a servant vs. our natural desire to control outcomes. Now we need to consider another motivation that we must deliberately avoid when listening for the voice of God -- pride. It is subtle, but it is often lurking to contaminate our motives.

When you say confidently, "God told me to ....," people are often impressed. Since they haven't heard from God and we have, it tends to elevate us in their eyes. Woe to us humans, who often walk before God with mixed motives! Forgive us, Lord! I'm not saying that leaders shouldn't declare what God has told them as they lead the people God has put in their charge. But:

  1. Don't publicly claim God's guidance unless it is clear.
  2. Don't say, "God told me," unless he has really spoken.
  3. When you talk about God's guidance, do it with humility. It is God you are trying to promote, not the servant whose ears got cleaned out enough to hear Him.

Remember Simon the Sorcerer, who wanted to purchase the power to confer the Holy Spirit so he could retain control over people (Acts 8:9-25). Peter's retort should caution us:

"You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart." (Acts 8:21-22)

Q4. How can pride corrupt our hearing from God? How do we protect ourselves from being deceived by our pride?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1778-q4-pride-corrupts/

Lessons for Disciples

We've talked quite a bit about heart preparation and pure motives so that we can hear God well.

  1. You can worship but not know God, at least not know him intimately (1 Samuel 3:7)
  2. You can hear God speaking, but not recognize that it is God (1 Samuel 3:4-6)
  3. Sometimes a mentor can help us learn to recognize and respond to God's voice (1 Samuel 3:9). The mentor might then confirm that it is indeed God's voice that we heard (1 Samuel 3:18).
  4. We must come before God as humble and obedient servants if we want to hear what he is saying (1 Samuel 3:9-10).
  5. It is the relationship with God, not his voice, that is primary. We are seeking to know him intimately! (Hosea 6:3; Philippians 3:10-14; Psalm 27:8).
  6. We need to cultivate spiritual receptivity, an affinity for, a bent toward, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have ...God (A.W. Tozer).
  7. We must be willing to obey God quickly, without demanding to understand why -- as soldiers who serve in an army under the direction of the general who sees the whole picture (Psalm 32:8-9).
  8. We'll only know God's will when we're willing to follow him in trust (John 7:17).
  9. Waiting for the Lord means that we trust him without demanding that he do something for us now! (Psalm 27:14).
  10. We must beware of being filled with pride because God has spoken to us; humility is much more appropriate.

Week 4 Assignment. Ask God Questions and Listen for His Response

  You may have started doing this already, but if not, after you have quieted your spirit before him, begin to ask God questions about what's going on in your life. Then be silent and listen to see what God might say to you.

You may receive some distinct impressions, thoughts he may put in your mind -- or not. When you feel God is saying something to you, write it down in your journal. Just the act of writing down what you think God might be saying will help clarify it for you. Then ask him about what you think you're hearing. Perhaps you'll hear more. This is a conversation.

You won't always hear God say something. That's okay. Don't try to force God to speak to you or to answer you! He is the sovereign God, not you. Content yourself to be humbly silent in his presence where you can find your spirit renewed.

Nevertheless, you may find him putting thoughts in your mind. If so, praise God. That's a good start.


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Your assignment this week is -- every day in your Quiet Time -- to ask God questions and then be still and listen. If he puts something in your mind write it down. Then share this with your spiritual partner, who may be able to help you discern if this is, indeed, God. Eventually you'll learn to discern God's voice on your own. But in the beginning, feedback from a sympathetic friend is helpful and encouraging.

Prayer

Father, please teach me to seek obedience and trust along with my desire to hear you. Make my heart pure so I can be a servant in whom you are pleased. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word (dābār) of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, 'Here I am; you called me.' Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, 'Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening."'
So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, 'Samuel! Samuel!'
Then Samuel said, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'" (1 Samuel 3:7-10, NIV)

"Let us know;
let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth." (Hosea 6:3, ESV)

"I want to know Christ.... I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.... Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:10-14, NIV)

"You have said, 'Seek my face.'
My heart says to you,
'Your face, LORD, do I seek.'" (Psalm 27:8, NIV)

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you." (Psalm 32:8-9, ESV)

"If anyone chooses to do God's will,
he will find out whether my teaching comes from God
or whether I speak on my own." (John 7:17, NIV)

"Wait for the LORD;
be strong,
and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14, ESV)

Endnotes

[35] Dābar, TWOT #399. The word has a wide range of meaning, from "declare" to "command," from "promise" to "threaten," and all in between. From the verb dābar, "speak," comes the noun dābār, "word," found in verse 10.

[36] Walter C. Kaiser, ʿebed, TWOT #1553a.

[37] Shāmaʿ, TWOT #2412.

[38] "Worshipped" is now understood to be the Eshtaphal stem of ḥāwā. (Edwin Yamauchi, shāḥā, TWOT #2360). "The commonly occurring form hishtaḥăwâ, 'to prostrate oneself' or 'to worship,' which was analyzed as a Hithpael of shāḥā, is now regarded on the basis of Ugaritic evidence as an Eshtaphal stem (the only example) of ḥāwā (Edwin Yamauchi, TWOT #619). Holladay sees this as an Histafal stem (pp. 97a, 365b).

[39] "Ministered" is the Piel stem of shārat, "minister, serve," used to describe (1) personal service rendered to an important person or (2) the ministry of worship on the part of those who stand in a special relationship to God, such as the priests (Hermann J. Austel, TWOT #2472).

[40] Paul R. Gilchrist, yādaʿ, TWOT #848.

[41] Paul R. Gilchrist, yādaʿ, TWOT #848.

[42] Rādap, TWOT #2124.

[43] Diōkō, BDAG 254, 1 and 4.

[44] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (1948), chapter 5.

[45] "Counsel" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "guide" (KJV) is yāʿaṣ, "advise, counsel" (TWOT #887).

[46] John E. Hartley, qāwâ, TWOT #1994. In Psalm 24:14, the Piel imperative of qāwâ appears twice. See also Psalm 33:20; 130:5; Isaiah 8:17; Habakkuk 2:3; Luke 2:25; Romans 8:25.

[47] Lynette Haigen, "Hearing God's Voice." Lynette is the wife of Pentecostal teacher Ken Haigen. This was found on the Kenneth Haigen Ministries website. www.rhema.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1882

[48] "Save" (NIV, KJV) or "deliver" (NRSV) is the Hebrew verb yāsha`, "save, deliver, give victory, help; be safe; take vengeance, preserve" (John E. Hartley, TWOT #929).


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