Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sunday Sermon 5/21

Hearing God’s Voice—1 Samuel 3
Back when the telegraph was the fastest method of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse Code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the office address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.

The young man filled out his form and sat down with the seven other applicants in the waiting area. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. They muttered among themselves that they hadn’t heard any summons yet. They assumed that the young man who went into the office made a mistake and would be disqualified.

Within a few minutes, however, the employer escorted the young man out of the office and said to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled.”

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and one spoke up saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand. He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That’s not fair!”

The employer said, “I’m sorry, but all the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. The job is his.”

Many Americans wish their relationship with God would be so clear, direct and straightforward. But there is such a confusion about God’s voice and His call, such a misunderstanding about who God is that we wouldn’t know what to do if God actually “spoke” to us—other people wouldn’t know how to respond either, they’d think we were crazy.

Even as believers, we listen with a healthy skepticism when someone says to us, “God told me to…”
Or “God spoke to me and gave me direction.” As if it doesn’t count unless WE hear it.

Reggie White, the Pro-Football player was once asked how he came to his decision to go play for everyone’s favorite GB Packers. He was honest enough to say that he asked God about his decision and God responded; God spoke back. In other words he talked not just to God but with God.

He said, "I spent a lot of time praying about this," White said. "And one day as I prayed, I heard God say, ‘Reggie, go to Green Bay.’ So that’s what I did."

White saw something in the way the interviewer looked at him at that point because White said this: "You know, when you tell people you’ve been talking to God, they don’t have a problem with that. That’s praying. If you believe in that sort of thing, it’s okay. But when you say that God talked to YOU, then they think you’re crazy or something! Isn’t prayer supposed to be a conversation with God? And in a conversation, don’t BOTH parties talk?" (Illustration from Scott Hippler, Sermoncentral)

Wouldn’t you rather talk with God rather than just to God? Many people claim that they want to hear from God, our biggest problem is that we have a hard time recognizing God’s voice when He does speak. Life is often too noisy, too busy, our minds are too cluttered and thinking of what we’ve got to do that day. God could be speaking, but He might be one voice among many, He might be drowned out by our thoughts, our worries and agendas. Very rarely do you see God shouting in the Bible, very rarely does He even try to raise His voice to get people’s attention. Many times, He merely speaks their name.

If you struggle hearing from God—Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It is part of the journey of faith, part of the growing process—Learning to Listen even to Silence. Even within the Church, there is confusion about hearing the voice of God and answering His call. 1 Samuel 3 is an example.

1. Hearing Problems—v. 1
a. For the Nation—the entire chosen people God were not experiencing the Presence and Power of God—they were not hearing from Him—
they were not listening or recognizing the voice of God. It was if they had tuned Him out.
b. The Word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. How sad for them. For a people established, rescued and maintained by God this must have been a horrible situation to be in. Sadly, they probably didn’t even realize or think twice about it.

c. Does this not sound like America today? Does not America on one hand yearn to hear from God while at the same time try to cram Him back into the church? Does not America Tune Him Out and then hold His “silence” against Him?

d. How about within the Church? When was the last time you can say you heard a Word from the Lord, when was the last time He gave you a vision to reach the lost, to minister in some way? When was the last time University Baptist Church had a vision to have as many visitors in our worship service as members? When was the last time God laid something on your heart and you were so moved that you had to respond to Him?

e. I’m afraid words from the LORD and His visions are far too rare, even among us.

f. I remember when my family and I were moving back to Texas from California. I was about 16—there was a stretch of highway that I quickly named “the Dead Zone” that was where you hit scan on the radio and it never stopped, just kept circling through all the channels.
The only thing you could listen to clearly was static and that didn’t help the time pass very quickly. We know something is missing yet when we tune in to the Station that God speaks from—we don’t like the content, the music or the message so we want to turn it to something else or we’d rather turn it off than hear from Him.

g. The Nation wasn’t hearing from God. It’s also difficult For the servants of God; those “ministers” in “Church”—think of Eli, a man ministering for years at the altar of God—even He did not recognize God’s calling. God had been so tuned out that not even the priest at the Tabernacle was hearing from Him. And it’s the same at churches all across America this morning—Baptist and otherwise. Many people are there, but few are hearing from God and many don’t really want to.

Those that do so often leave thirsting for something more because not even all the ministers have a true relationship with Him. Some are living a vocation instead of living the call of God. It’s not as if God isn’t speaking, or that He doesn’t desire us to know His will… it’s that we are not hearing, we are not listening, or we are not responding to the true Word of the LORD. We are not obeying the Words we do receive. We don’t recognize the voice of our Good Shepherd to follow His leading.

h. If you have a hard time recognizing and hearing the Voice and Direction of God just know that you’re not alone. It is not always easy—Faith is Pursuing the Heart & Voice of God—whether you get it or not. We live by faith & not always by sight.

i. If you’re honest with yourself, at some point God has seemed distant and silent—it may be a brief time for some or years of drought and dryness in your walk. Just know that God desires to speak to your heart. He is trying to speak to you right now. He was speaking to you yesterday—He will be speaking to you tomorrow. It may not come with big fanfare, maybe just your name, it may just be the still small voice, the inner peace that speaks, “I am here. You are mine”. You may have what Samuel displayed in his life.

2. Comprehension Problems—v. 2-10
a. V. 7—Samuel, a boy between 10-13 years old, did not have personal experience of God despite years of worship and service at the Tabernacle. He had not received a revelation from Him, he had not been taught how to recognize God’s voice or what that voice was like. There was little personal experience for him to learn from.

b. This is proof that you can go to church for years without ever really Knowing God

c. If you’re having trouble hearing from God, then this may be the obvious problem—you may not KNOW THE LORD—you may not have a relationship with Him at all. If that’s the case you’ll only be hearing the same message from Him over and over again—a broken record, or in modern terms a skipping CD. Your message from God won’t change until you respond to His voice asking—“Do you know My Son Jesus?” Come to Jesus—Come to Jesus—Come to Jesus. His first call will be a call to make a decision and receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord—

d. Jesus is the Great Translator to the voice of God. If He is not a part of your life, then you won’t be anything but confused about His voice.

e. What’s worse is that Samuel had no one to turn to. Eli’s eyes (v. 2) were weak more than just physically—they were unable to see the kind of education he was giving and he was unable to recognize when God began working in Samuel, likely b/c there was little personal experience on his part to pass on.

f. When the Call of God came, one thing in Samuel’s favor was that he was Eager to respond even for 3 or 4 AM.

g. But he was quick to respond to what he knew—his human master. He didn’t comprehend what was happening to him. He ran off to the wrong person, place or thing. Samuel thought the voice of God was someone else. Don’t be too hard on him, though.

h. You and I often do that. We attribute the voice and call of God to something else. Too often we pass off the real thing for our guilty conscience, an upset stomach or a bad dream. We talk ourselves out of obeying Gods voice.

i. It’s easier for us to mistakenly identify our own wants, desires, plans for His will, then we dismiss anything that suggests otherwise. We are confused and don’t recognize the voice of our Shepherd—and so we follow another voice, most often our own.

j. Too often, when God speaks, instead of running to God, we run to something else. At least Samuel responded and didn’t dismiss it as a bad dream or his imagination.

k. If only we as His people would respond as quickly to our Heavenly Master. That kind of quick response—running to the Master—eager to serve—is exactly how God would like to see in us.

l. Instead, we respond to God like we do the alarm clock—or at least how I respond to it—“ughh, it’s not time already is it? Where’s that snooze button? I need 5 more minutes.” And when that doesn’t work, the alarm clock gets moved further away to the other side of the room to force us to get up, and even then, we throw it across the room and shatter it into a thousand pieces. We respond to God with tired hearts, with groggy and grumpy—“what is it now” attitudes. Is it any wonder that the Word of the LORD in our lives is rare—that there aren’t many visions, many miracles?
That when we try to answer the question, “what has God done in your life lately” we struggle to think of an example within the last year.

m. Do you recognize the moments in your life when God is calling you to something or are you more like Samuel running around knowing he heard and felt something but not knowing what to do about it? He ran searching for someone to explain what was happening.

n. I guarantee You will have moments of God’s call as well—and no, God’s call is not always a call to Full Time Ministry. Your call may be a moment of ministry to a person—bringing them food, a kind word, or sharing the Gospel. You may receive a call to prayer, your call may be to deal with some sin in your life that must be dealt with before you can be fully used by Him later. He may be calling you to spend more time in His Word. Those calls are much more common than the call into full time ministry. Have you heard and responded to those calls? You may not receive another call until you are proven faithful with these. The “little” things before the “greater things”

o. We need Samuel’s eagerness—not to serve our human or earthly, tangible masters but our spiritual master. My goodness—I run to answer the phone faster than I respond to God calling me to pray. Why? Because I can see, hear, and touch the phone.

p. The first time, Samuel was essentially told to “Go back to bed”. After 3 such moments, Eli finally realized what was going on—v. 8-9. The priest of God—serving before the Ark of the Covenant couldn’t recognize the working of God right in front of him. That’s why I need your prayer, b/c I certainly don’t want to miss something that God is saying or doing.

q. So Eli told Samuel to lie down again and say—“Speak LORD, for your servant is listening.” If anything should be the desire of our heart it is this right here.

r. Is this your prayer for your life, for those you love—that you, that I would have this desire to hear God’s voice above all the hustle and bustle of life? That we would be willing to hear from Him, that we would be willing to truly serve Him and lay your life down at His feet. Can you say honestly that this describes your heart—“speak LORD for your servant is listening”? If it does, then without a doubt, God will speak—b/c He already was speaking—just now you might be ready or willing to hear.

s. How is God calling you? What vision for ministry, for UBC is He giving you?

t. There can still be confusion. V. 10b—let’s us know that Samuel still wasn’t buying into who was doing the talking yet. Eli had told him to say, “speak LORD for your servant is listening” but Samuel doesn’t say that, he simply says, “speak for your servant is listening.” Samuel wasn’t sure who he was hearing from—and we all struggle with that today.

u. How does God speak? How does He call? God speaks in Various ways. And this is not a complete list.

First, God speaks through His Word. This is the clearest and most direct line of communication.
Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
You first learn how to hear from God by following His written word. If you can’t follow what He’s written in His word, chances are, you can’t follow His audible word.

v. He uses others-- Ephesians 4:11-12 “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” God gifts His children and crosses their paths in order to communicate with us. How many of you can look back at a friend’s word and direction? How many of you were won to Christ, not by a “professional” minister, but by a friend or family member?

Whenever you sit in a service like this, for example, you’re hearing from God. When we are gathered together as the Body of Christ—God is speaking——more than just ministers, to convey His Word and speak to your hearts.

w. God uses circumstances to speak to us—to remind us of His love or our need of Him, to give us opportunity to obey or minister, to discipline. Events in life cause us to seek Him and pray for His wisdom and understanding of what is going on.

x. God speaks through the inward voice or the conscience through the Holy Spirit. Paul knew this:
Romans 9:1 “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,”

This is also known as the inward witness or inward intuition. The Holy Spirit will verify that you’re doing the right thing or going the right way. If you’re going in the wrong direction, or making the wrong decision, you’ll feel an uneasiness on the inside, and that’s the Holy Spirit letting you know something’s up.

y. Sometimes that voice is very authoritative, Like Paul being told to go into Macedonia, and sometimes it is that still small voice of prayer.

z. I know you’ve had the opportunity to hear God’s voice at some point or another, but still, the question remains, “Are you listening?” What call does God have for you? What vision do we need at UBC?

(our morning services wrapped up here and the following material was “talked” through in our evening study.)

3. Obedience Problems
a. Eagerness is an indicator--Obedience is another necessity in order to truly hear from God. v. 11-18.

b. Even though Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the Word of the Lord—v. 15, Samuel did so. He was obedient, he did not close his mouth and think more of Eli’s feelings than of obeying God. Samuel was obedient to proclaim the message God had given him.

c. Many times we are afraid of hearing from God b/c we don’t know if we’re going to like the Word, or the answer. But our attitude cannot be—“Speak Lord, and I’ll listen if I like or agree with what your saying. OR Speak Lord, so long as you say what I think you should say.”

d. Too often we don’t want to hear from God b/c we are afraid of what He’ll say—we don’t trust Him to do or say what’s best for us.

e. The choice of obedience to the message is what Samuel faced. Can you imagine having a message from the Lord and being unwilling to share it? What does that say of your love for Him? Is He really your master at that point? See, as a Believer, you walk around everyday with a message from God that you are called to share—it is your faith—it is the Good News—it is the powerful testimony of your life that has been changed by the power of God.

Who was the Great Commission given to after all? Just to clergy or professional ministers? No, the Commission was Given to the people of God, all His disciples, His kingdom of priests. As YOU go—YOU make disciples, YOU Baptize them, YOU Teach them to obey everything.

And being obedient to that life changing message is much more important than our fears of rejection, fears of hurt feelings, fears of popularity, you name it.

f. If you are not hearing from God it may be more than just not listening—Maybe you have heard and said “NO”. You’re not eager to respond and then not obedient when you do hear from Him. In other words, we’re too interested in running our own lives and not submitting to any other “Lord” other than ourselves.

g. But Samuel was both eager and obedient despite his fear, even though he was a boy, even though he didn’t understand everything. Even though he was afraid and nervous. But Samuel was able to experience wonderful benefits. Look at how God became a part of Samuel’s life after this experience.

4. The Presence of the Lord—v. 19-4:1a
a. God was with Samuel as he grew. As a parent, there’s nothing more I could want than this: God welcome and active in every stage of my son’s development.

b. None of his words fell to the ground—Samuel’s word was reliable, he was recognized as a prophet of God that ministered to the people and changed lives. Everyone knew he had some wonderful relationship with God. That is what I hope people can see in my life—what you should hope for yours.

c. “all Israel” heard and recognized God’s call on Samuel’s life. And God continued to “reveal” Himself to Samuel throughout his life. The Presence and power of God was available to Samuel because he was willing to listen, eager to respond and willing to obey. Is there anything more you want out of life than His presence?

d. If you’ve never asked Jesus to come into your life as your personal Savior, then know that God is speaking to you today—are you listening, are you eager to respond to Him, are you obedient to His call on your life?

e. As a Believer—do you hear the voice of God or is the Word of the Lord rare in your life. That needs to change—you must have a living and vibrant faith where you hear God’s voice and can point to His workings in your life.

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