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May 21, 2017

Hearing from God?

Hearing from God?

Passage: 1 Samuel 2:12-3:21

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Becoming a Person of Blessing

Keywords: direction, god's voice, hearing god, listening, presence of god, quiet

Summary:

From the impact of one mother we move to the impact of one child on a nation. This message looks at how God speaks and who he chooses to speak to.

Detail:

“Hearing from God?”

Becoming a Person of Blessing, Part 2

I Samuel 2-3

 

REVIEW:  If you were with us last week, you know that we started into the book of 1st Samuel and a new series we could have entitled “Becoming a Person of Blessing.” 

Most of us…hopefully all of us…want to be a person who brings blessings into the lives of everyone we meet or ever know. In 1st Samuel 1-2, we saw that God heard the cry of just one woman, Hannah, who was desperate to have a child.  And in hearing her, he turned her into a woman who changed the course of an entire nation. 

            Today’s text picks up from God using a woman to God using a boy.  Both were unlikely candidates for national impact during that time in Israel.  But that seems to be how God likes to work:  finding people the culture and world doesn’t notice or think are that important and turning them into nation-changers and world-shapers. 

INTRO:  Ladies, have you ever tried to carry on a conversation with your husband while the TV is on…or he’s going through the mail…or playing a video game…or reading a book or magazine? 

What you have to understand is that our powers of concentration are so finely honed that we’ve taught ourselves how to filter out any distractions such as screaming children and smoke alarms. 

ILL:  Sometime early on in Joanna’s childhood, she picked up on the fact that male hearing loss had something to do with eye contact.  I’ll never forget the first time she discovered that.  Having apparently tried to rouse my awareness of her presence to the level of consciousness… and having failed by every other respectable means… she grabbed by face between her two little hands and proceeded to forcibly turn my head in her direction in order to make eye contact.  From there on out, I was doomed.  She had discovered the great difference between making noise and being heard.

There is something very wonderful about knowing that you are being heard… truly heard…not just that someone is listening to you long enough to ‘buy’ equal air time in the conversation. 

In any real love relationship or friendship, it is equally wonderful to know that your partner desires to let you into the inner recesses of their soul enough so that they will share those deep things of life with you through communication.  Whether it is a note left on the dashboard or a phone call in the middle of the day or a quiet talk just before calling it a day, it is wonderful to be included in someone’s life by hearing their soul-talk.

Conversely, one of the most damaging weapons in any relationship is to stop listening -- tune out the soul-talk of the other person or stop talking/sharing -- refusing to open up the door to your soul through silence and isolation.

 

Bumper sticker I once saw:  “God Listens”.  I am so thankful he does.  I am also so deeply grateful that he not only listens – “God Speaks” too!  Both components are essential – listening and speaking.  The text of this morning focuses primarily upon God’s speaking part in his relationship with us. 

You see, we serve the God who loves to speak into the lives of those who love to hear his voice.  How does it happen?  Who does God speak to?  How do we discern God’s voice from our own thoughts or ‘hearing voices’ that is usually a sign of mental illness. 

I’m not talking about just “hearing” the sound waves of God speaking.  As we are going to see, God is no more fooled into believing that we are really listening to him than a wife is fooled into believing that her husband is really hearing what she says when he grunts “Uh ha” while staring at the computer screen.

When relationship is what you desire, real communication from heart-to-heart is what is required.  God not only loves to hear our voice; He loves to speak into the lives of those who love to hear His voice.  That is the clear message of I Sam. 2-3.

[PRAY – for open ears and listening souls]

A.W. Tozer, in his classic devotional The Pursuit of God, writes about this issue of God speaking and its relationship to the Scriptures.  He says,

“I believe that much of our religious unbelief is due to a wrong conception of and a wrong feeling for the Scriptures…. A silent God suddenly began to speak in a book and when the book was finished lapsed back into silence again forever.  Now we read the book as the record of what God said when He was for a brief time in a speaking mood.  With notions like that in our heads, how can we believe?”

God has not been in a “non-speaking mood” for the last 2000 years.  Throughout human history, God has been very much in a speaking mood… to those who are truly open to hearing him and serious about responding to His voice and direction.  God does believe in ‘economy of words’ – he will not waste his precious word on those who have no ears to hear or hearts to embrace it. 

Such was the condition of things in the days of the boy Samuel.  3:1“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” 

It wasn’t that the people of God didn’t have any written Scripture.  They had the Pentateuch – the first 5 books of the O.T.  The writer here is not referring to a shortage of written copies.  He is referring to a shortage of fresh, pertinent, living communication from God.

Just what are THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THOSE WHO HEAR GOD’S VOICE.

  • People who hear from God are people who PRACTICE SELF-SACRIFICING, NOT SELF-SERVING, WORSHIP.

Eli’s sons, the sp. leaders of Israel, were in a “self-service” mode of ministry.  They had somehow come to believe that worship was about getting their own personal appetites and desires fulfilled.  They came to the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle, asking, “What is here today that can satisfy my desires.”  It was a ‘self-service’ attitude towards worship. 

The last half of 1st Sam. 2 tells us what it looked like(Read 2:12-18)

12 Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord. 13 Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled 14 and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. 15 But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”

16 If the person said to him, “Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.”

17 This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.

18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod. 

Priests were to live off the offerings that were made.  But they were to do so after God had first been honored with the act of offering a sacrifice and a consuming of a portion of the offering (the fat) by the actual fire of the offering.  Something was to be consumed simply because God was worthyIt was not to be held back because it had some functional value.  Sometimes we are too utilitarian in our approach to worshipping God.

ILL:  How would you feel if the leaders of Mosaic were to come forward with the offering today, grab a handful of bills...and light them on fire!!!???  Some of us… perhaps most of us… would be indignant! We’d be running for the fire extinguishers.

            “What a waste!”  “I didn’t give to watch you waste it!”

How easy do you think it was to watch offerings just ‘go up in smoke’ when what you were watching burn could have fed your family or gone to buy some piece of equipment for your business? 

To think of offerings only in terms of what they can do for us is to be self-serving in worship.  God deserves worship that costs us something and gives us nothing in return except the joy of knowing that we have been obedient to walk by faith in the face of a culture that trains us to live by selfishness.

APPS:

  • Worship ought to include giving to God alone something that cannot be at the same time consumed functionally by man. (Here is where praying & praise of our lips is such an important ‘offering’ of worship – it is made directly to Him, not meant to be consumed by me or those around me.)
  • Worship must not be about ‘getting my needs met’. Eli’s sons thought that was what it was all about.  (Contrast Eli’s son’s worship with that of the boy Samuel.  See 2:11, 18, 21, 26, 3:1.)
  • Worship is about giving my whole being to God. It’s about hearing and heeding the call of God on my life and everything I own in such a way that I offer up to God what is rightfully his for the asking as well as what I desire to give simply out of gratitude.

APP:  What in our worship of God (not just during a “worship service”) can be truly self-sacrificing?  What periodically in our lives can be used to show our wholehearted abandon to God by a wholehearted giving of something to God?  [Responses?]

 

Q:  How many years did Samuel do all that before God ever really spoke to him?  One?  Five?  Twelve? 

Here’s a second thing about people who hear from God:

2.)  Hearing from God involves learning to wait upon God.  Saul, as we shall see in a few weeks, never learned to wait for God…not even 3 days.  As a result, he failed miserably by taking matters into his own hands, making God fit into his own expectations. 

            But Samuel learned, even as a boy or young man, that hearing and doing God’s will TAKES TIME…often years.  Hearing from God takes TIME. 

APP:

 

3.)  Those who hear God’s voice in their life know that hearing from God involves obeying God.   3:1

God’s people have gone through numerous periods when the word of God that is to “burn like fire” became ‘cold as ice’.  God’s people have been through numerous ‘famines’ of hearing God’s voice because they stopped wanting to heed God’s voice.

Whenever an individual… or a church… or a nation… ceases to take seriously God’s word already given, God will simply withdraw any fresh word and relationship until there is a change of action.  The single greatest impediment to fresh encounters with the Living God is stale responses to the truth of God.  When we stop obeying, we stop listening… and God stops speaking. 

That is why God has always given both his word and his prophets to the people of God. 

--His word provides the objective standard by which we must all measure our heart and behavior. 

--His prophets/sp. teachers and leaders are there to bring a specific application, rebuke or reproof to us for things we may otherwise be blind to or temporarily deceived about. 

APPLIC: 

  • Have I been disregarding a clear call of God to obedience in something in my life?
  • Have others in my life – the sp. leaders and prophets – been calling me to account to God’s word and I haven’t been heeding? It is so easy to just run from rebukes.  I’ve done too much of that in my life. 

But Proverbs 9:8 is still true:  “…rebuke the wise and they will love you.”  Or Proverbs 17:10—“A rebuke impresses a discerning person more than a hundred lashes a fool.”

God stops speaking fresh words of truth into my soul when I stop listening to the words He’s already spoken, whether in the Book or through a wise word from a friend.

ILL:  When I’ve sinned against someone and don’t want to humble myself and ask their forgiveness.  Until I humble myself and do my part to get that horizontal human-plain relationship, the vertical relationship just shuts down.  (ala Mt. 5:23, 24)

 

4.)  3:2-4 (read) -- Those who hear God’s voice in their life learn that God often speaks loudest when life is quietest,

  • When did God walk and talk with Adam and Eve?
  • How did Elijah hear the voice of God after that amazing ‘power encounter’ with the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18? I K. 19:11ff“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heart it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” 

Then the Lord spoke to him!

God spoke to Isaiah about quietness when he said in Is. 30:15--“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says:  ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

I don’t think that life has ever been so noisy as it is today!  We are awakened by noise, we shave to noise, we listen to noise in the car on the way to work, we study by noise, we buy I-Noise devices, have Ear Bud-noise makers, and we listen to people all over the world make noise. 

But when are we quiet before the Lord?  When do we cultivate quietness and rest, silence and stillness?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – wrote of this kind of stillness before God when he says in his book on fellowship entitled Life Together,

“As there are definite hours in the Christian’s day for the Word,…so the day also needs definite times of silence – silence under the Word and silence that comes out of the Word.  These will be especially the times before and after hearing the Word.  The word comes not to the chatterer but to him that holds his tongue.  The stillness of the temple is the sign of the holy presence of God in His Word.”

       “Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God.  We are silent before hearing the Word because our thoughts are already directed to the Word.  We are silent after hearing the Word because the Word is still speaking and dwelling within us.  We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep because the last word also belongs to God.”

       “Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing.  But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails.  Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness.”

I fear that the art (and discipline) of Chr. meditation has been buried under layer after layer of noise and activity in the church today.  We almost fear silence and stillness. Perhaps it confronts us with our own emptiness too often. 

            That is precisely what silence is supposed to do – lead us to our own emptiness in order that we might seek after God’s fullness. 

            Usually the hardest thing for me to do in ministry in the church is to be stillquiet before God. 

APPLIC

--Are there quiet minutes in my day devoted simply to hearing God speak, not even interrupting with my speech?

--How do I handle periods of corporate quietness in worship

 

5.) Those who learn to hear God’s voice in their life know God on a first-name basis…and he knows them. (3:4, 6, 8, 10)

The point I want to make here is that those who belong to Jesus, the Great Shepherd of God’s sheep, are on a first-name basis. There is a personal relationship, not a ritualistic relationship.   

Jn. 10:3“The sheep listen to his [the shepherd’s] voice.  He calls his own sheep by name…”

Jn. 10:14 -- “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…”

QIs Jesus truly the Shepherd of your soul? 

Your answer will betray whether you know about Jesus or really know Him

  • Is He “a good teacher…the Son of God…Savior of the world” OR
  • Is He“MY Savior… MY Lord… MY God, MY teacher, etc.”

God longs to know you on a ‘first-name basis’.  He wants you to know him the same way. 

[CALL to FAITH in CHRIST.]

 

6.) Those who love to hear God’s voice are open to direction through others, 3:4-9

Oh for a teachable heart like young Samuel’s!  Why is it that when we get about 13 or 14 years old, from there on out we feel we either know everything we need to know to run our life or must pretend like we do???

Q:  How many of us would have felt that a man like Eli, a “sp. wimp” like Eli, could have much of anything to teach us about knowing the voice of God?  He hadn’t heard it for years!  He was practically blind in both eyes and deaf in both ears, both physically and spiritually! 

ILL:  Young man released from prison who seemed to have a very passionate heart to do God’s will but who wouldn’t submit to spiritual or civil leadership or accountability when asked of him.

Danger for young = they will not seek out or listen

Danger for the older = they will not recognize that God may have stopped speaking to them about leading his church and may have started speaking to someone younger, someone they perhaps see as ‘just a kid’.

APPLIC:

  • What spiritually mature saint do you turn to when you think you are hearing the voice of God?
  • Do you trust the sp. leadership God has placed in your life enough to listen to their counsel, even though you know they are not perfect? Do you trust God enough to work through them?  [If you don’t then either the leadership is in grave error and you are in the wrong place or you are were God wants you and your heart attitude is in the wrong place.]
  • What about your life evidences a ‘teachable attitude’?
  • Joe Aldrich -- “Poor people ought to take rich people to lunch… and listen.”
  • Pastor Ed – Sitting around a breakfast table during a missions conference when we were green missionaries asking for input and ideas for how 4th could improve our missions ministry.

Those who love to hear God’s voice in their life are open to direction from others in learning to respond to God’s voice

 

7.) Those who hear God’s voice in their life know that hearing the voice of God can be a surprising & sometimes uncomfortable thing, 3:11-14

Get the picture.  This is the 1st time God has spoken to Samuel.  It’s his first encounter with the living God.  Wouldn’t you expect God to talk about Samuel’s call to the ministry or the state of the Hebrew people or something other than what he did talk about?  This is not what I would have expected God to say to his new, budding prophet.

Story:  It reminds me of a story Bob Benson tells of a Chr. conference speaker in Canada who had brought along his four-year-old grandson.  One evening the little fellow had misbehaved nearly the entire time his grandfather was preaching. 

So when they returned that evening to their cottage, the grandfather-preacher sat the boy down and said, “I don’t know what your mother and daddy would do about this, but I will tell you what I am going to do.  You go into the bedroom and I do not want you to come out until you have talked to God about your conduct and until he has talked to you about it.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” was the tearful reply, and he made his way into the bedroom.

After a while the granddad began to think that perhaps he had been a bit hard on his grandson and so he went into the bedroom and asked, “Have you told God about it?”

“Yes, sir”, the answer came out between the sniffles.

“And has he talked to you about it?”

“Yes, sir,” was again the sorrowful answer.

“Well, what did he say to you?”

“God told me you aren’t even saved!”

[Bob Benson story – p. 60, See You At The House]

Have you had the experience of being surprised at what God chooses to speak to you about at any given time?  In one sense, that is almost more God-like to bring something to us which may be the last thing we would have naturally thought about

A message of impending judgment for your boss is not my idea of something you would normally expect God to give a young boy on his first experience with God.  But God usually does the unexpected.  Eli at least had the maturity to recognize that fact and not to reject the messenger.

As one who would often hear the voice of God in the days ahead, Samuel understood that sharing the message God gives can be an unsettling thing, 3:15-18.

Notice – doesn’t say that he slept!  Neither did he panic.  He waited until morning and began his service once again in the House of God. 

APP:  One of the most difficult things that any servant of God must do is bring a message of rebuke, discipline or judgment to anyone around them.  Samuel obviously had a very good relationship with Eli.  Eli obviously felt the same towards Samuel (vs. 6 – “my son”).  Yet here was Samuel, a boy, bringing a deeply troubling word of God’s impending judgment upon Eli and his entire family.  There is no eagerness in his voice.  There is no satisfaction in his countenance. 

Hearing the voice of God, particularly when it has to do with other’s lives, does not make obedience to God somehow easier.  Hearing from God never eliminates the need to act upon the word by faith.  It merely increases the responsibility to do so in the face of what is usually increased challenges to obedience. 

Praise God for an Eli who, though weak in determination to reign in his own lack of discipline and the excesses of his own children, was humble enough to recognize that God sometimes speaks through little boys and that grown men sometimes need to simply listen.

Vs. 18 --“He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

 

Close w/ corporate prayer by A.W. Tozer:

“Lord, teach [us] to listen.  The times are noisy and [our] ears are weary with the thousand raucous sounds which continuously assault them.  Give [us] the spirit of the boy Samuel when he said to [You], ‘Speak, for [your] servant is listening.”  Let [us] hear Your Voice, that its tones may be familiar when the sounds of earth die away and the only sound will be the music of Your speaking Voice.  Amen.”

 

________________________________________________

 

SMALL GROUP STUDY QUESTIONS:

  • This is a passage of great contrasts, particularly between several sets of people. List as many contrasts as you can between:
    1. Hannah and Eli
    2. Samuel and Eli’s sons
  • What do those contrasts have to say about who God blesses and chooses to use and who he disciplines or punishes?
  • For all his faults, Eli had a few positive characteristics. Piece together as many as you can from this passage?  What were his biggest failures?  What must it have been like to know that God was no longer speaking to him?  What should or could he have done to change that outcome?
  • What might Samuel’s service to God looked like before God spoke to him? How significant is that? ( See also Ps. 84:10; 2 Kings 22:4 & 23:4) 
  • What did “self-service” worship look like in Eli’s day (see ch. 2:12-36)? How might it look today?
  • What sort of message would you have expected God to give for his first message to Samuel? Does anything about God’s first words to Samuel surprise you?  Why do you suppose God chose this particular message as Samuel’s first?
  • What have you learned through the years about hearing and understanding the voice/word of God? How, when and where does God usually speak to you today?  Back up your belief with Scriptures (such as Jn. 10:16; Rm. 1:20; Heb. 1:1-2; I Pt. 4:11 or 2 Pt. 3:2).  How and when has God spoken most powerfully and clearly to you in the past?  Do you think God wants that to be a common or rare experience with His children?  Why is it that there are periods of our Christian experience when God seems to be silent?  What would you say to someone who is trying to ‘hear’ God speak?