April 7, 2018
Samuel was still a youth when he first heard God calling him. The message he heard was shocking. It was scary. It prophesied the demise of his mentor, his father figure. It was not the type of message that any of us would want to deliver. But Samuel was faithful to God’s call and delivered the message. From then on he was known throughout Israel as a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. We want to be like that. God has called us to speak His word. Whether we preach to thousands or dozens, whether we teach in a classroom or speak through music, or witness to our family or to people on the street, we know that God has called us to speak His word. We want to answer His call and we want do it faithfully and completely. We want to be known as trustworthy prophets of the Lord.
So how do we do this? How do we answer God’s call to speak His word? I think we can learn from Samuel’s response. Samuel recognized God’s voice. He was in the right place. He responded to God’s call and invited Him to speak, and finally, he spoke the entire word that he was given. We answer God’s call in the same way; by recognizing His voice, by being in the right place, by responding and inviting God to speak, and finally by speaking the entire word we are given.
We begin to answer God’s call when we recognize His voice. But what does God’s voice sound like? To Samuel, we know that it was a voice of authority. In other places we read that God’s voice was like thunder, and in still others, we hear that it is a still small voice that we must be quiet to hear. How do we recognize His voice? Technology is little help. An internet search on the term recognizing God’s voice, yields over 79 million responses, with many of them contradicting each other. We are fortunate since we have the Bible, God’s Word to help us, but even there we need to be careful. There are over 500 English language translations of the Bible, some good and some not. And we have all heard examples of people using the words of the Bible to support some very unbiblical points of view. Even the devil was able to quote the Bible while he tempted Jesus. But still, God’s voice speaks to us through the words and stories of the Bible. We must read it critically and studiously. We must struggle with the text listening carefully for the authentic voice of God. We need to remember that Samuel did not recognize God’s voice when he first heard it. He had to ask Eli for help in discerning who it was that was calling. We too can rely on the insight of faithful elders and mentors to help us to recognize God’s voice. But there is one more thing. Research in Canada and China has shown that a baby recognizes its mother’s voice even before it is born. Jesus said, “the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:4b. The more time we spend with God, through prayer, Bible study, and other disciplines, the better we will be able to recognize His voice and begin to answer His call.
We also answer God’s call by being in the right place. Samuel was sleeping in front of the Ark of God when hear heard God calling. The Ark was where God spoke to Moses face to face so it was a good place to be to hear the Word of God. But the Ark was not the only place that God spoke. God spoke to Moses first in a burning bush. He spoke to Elijah on Mt. Horeb. He spoke to Jonah while he was in the belly of the fish, about as far from the Ark as you could get. While their physical locations were diverse, they had something in common. They all needed to hear God, and their hearts were in the right place to listen and to hear what God had to say. We need to have our hearts in the right place if we are to hear, and to speak God’s word. We need to humble ourselves and put aside our desires in favor of the work of God. We need to be committed to doing God’s will. Here again, Christian disciplines, or means of grace, prayer, Bible study, fasting, partaking in the ordinances or sacraments, helping others, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and other acts of mercy, help to prepare our hearts, help to put them in the right place, help to put us in the right place to hear God’s voice. When we are in the right place we can hear and answer when God speaks.
We answer His call by responding and inviting Him to speak. Our words here are simple, “Speak, Lord for your servant hears.” But if we want to answer His call, we need to say them. God is patient. He will not force Himself on us, but He will wait patiently until we are ready to listen. Neither are these words to be said lightly, because they come at a cost. They may cost you time. After Samuel responded to God, the Bible says he lay until morning. It does not say that he slept. I imagine that he lay awake pondering the message he just heard and wondering how he would tell it to his mentor. They may cost you family. Abraham responded to God’s call and he was told to leave his family and home and go to a place where God would tell him. It may cost your prejudice. Jonah answered God’s call, reluctantly, and was sent to preach to a people he deemed unworthy. It may cost you parts of your belief system. Peter, James, and John saw Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets on the Mount of Transfiguration. But instead of listening to them, they were told, “This is my son. Listen to Him.” When we respond to God’s call, it will cost us. We will be asked to put away our old lives and live new lives submitted to Him. But we answer God’s call by responding and listening to Him.
Once we have responded and God has spoken to us, we answer God’s call by speaking the entire message we hear. There are many reasons not to do this. We may be afraid of offending others who are important to us, as Samuel was. We may be afraid that the people will not listen to us because of our youth or inexperience, as Jeremiah was. Or we may be reluctant to speak because we are afraid that the people will listen to us as Jonah was. There are many reasons we may be reluctant to speak the whole message God has given us, but there are good reasons that we should. When we speak God’s word, we reflect our character. If we are going to be true to ourselves, we must speak the message we’ve been given by God. Second, when we speak God’s word, we receive the blessing of being a faithful prophet of the Lord, and we become a blessing to others. It is sometimes risky to speak God’s word. But it is worth the risk. The Apostle Paul took the risk and proclaimed the good news to the Gentiles. He suffered arrest, death threats, and imprisonment, but we received the blessing of the Gospel for all people. Martin Luther took the risk and spoke against corruption and false belief in his church. He suffered excommunication and death threats, but the world was blessed with the Gospel translated into languages that the common people could understand. John Wesley took the risk when he spoke about personal holiness and spoke against injustices of his day. As a result he was barred from preaching in many churches, including the one his father had pastored, but he took his message to the street corners and mines and England and America were blessed with the Gospel and with social change. Martin Luther King took the risk and spoke against injustice in our time. He paid with his life, but the world was blessed with a greater desire to overcome the social problems of today. But we don’t have to stop with the heroes of our faith, all of us know someone, a parent, a friend, a teacher, a preacher who has blessed us by speaking the whole word of God.
Will you answer God’s call? Will you recognize His voice? Will you take the time to put your heart in the right place? Will you invite God to speak? And Will you speak his whole word? When you do, God will bless you by making you a faithful prophet of the Lord, and you will be a blessing to others. So my final question is, will you take the risk? Who will you bless?
Let us pray: Father God, Give us the strength and wisdom to answer your call. Amen