Saturday, January 21, 2012

Calling in the Night

Seeing as there was only a handful of people at church last Sunday, I thought I'd transcribe my talk on the call of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3, for the wider world to ponder.

Have you ever heard the joke about the burglar and the curiously named parrot?
A burglar broke into a house one night. He picked up a CD player to place in his sack and a strange, disembodied voice echoed from the dark, saying, "Jesus is watching you."

He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his flashlight off, and froze. When he heard nothing more after a bit, he shook his head, clicked the light on, and began searching for more valuables. Just as he pulled the stereo out so he could disconnect the wires, he heard, "Jesus is watching you."

Freaked out, he shined his light around frantically, looking for the source of the voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his flashlight beam came to rest on a parrot. "Did you say that?" he hissed at the parrot "Yep," the parrot confessed, then squawked, "I'm just trying to warn you."

The burglar relaxed. "Warn me, huh? Who in the world are you?"

"Moses," replied the bird. "Moses?" the burglar laughed.

"What kind of people would name a bird Moses?"

"The kind of people that would name a rottweiler Jesus."
At church last Sunday we were looking at the calling of Samuel. Now Samuel held a unique position in the history of Israel; he was considered to be the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. In his adult life he would be responsible for the anointing of both of Israel's first two kings and would wield great influence among his people on behalf of God. However, the Samuel we meet is not that Samuel yet; he's only just beginning his journey and all those things ahead of him?  He probably would not even begin to conceive any of it happening. This Samuel is a mere boy who had been raised in the house of God in Shiloh ever since his previously barren mother kept a promise to dedicate her first child to the Lord 12 years ago.

I think that Christians who have been raised in a denomination that supports infant baptism can relate to that part of Samuel's story a little, because in the same way that Hannah committed Samuel to God before he was of an age to choose for himself, many of us have been the beneficiary of a similar act of commitment through baptism (albeit less drastic for our parents).

What is interesting about the first part of the passage is that even though Samuel had clearly spent  several years in the presence of God's most learned representatives; even though he has been involved in the service of God all through his childhood and even slept in the house of God, despite all these things... verse 7 tells us that Samuel still didn't know God.

Then late in the night, Samuel heard a voice calling him in the night... and it wasn't a parrot.

The first real point I want to make stems from this. Like Samuel we need to to be prepared to listen for God's voice... even if like Samuel, we don't feel we really know him ourselves on a personal level (there's no shame in admitting something like that to yourself, in fact I'd argue that it's a good, honest place to start your spiritual journey from). We are told in the passage that in that particular time in the history of God's people, it was spiritually speaking a barren and quiet time - there were very few visions and revelations. There are times when we all feel like that ourselves... you may be experiencing it in the church you worship at yourself at the moment. Yet, in a world that doesn't get any quieter and demands more and more of our time and attention, it's all the more important to find that oasis in the desert, a quiet time of contemplation where we can make ourselves available to God. Even if we can't hear him speaking consciously, it is good to build this discipline within us because God always speaks to us on an unconscious silent level too.

Samuel had his own close encounter with God during the night... so can we.
Samuel in response to what he heard, sought out Eli thinking it was he who called him. Eli, probably feeling quite grumpy about being woken in the middle of the night (an experience I'm sure those of you with children will only be too aware of), tells Samuel to "shut up and go back to sleep!" Eventually though, even Eli realises that Samuel isn't being random or annoying for the sake of it... he understands that it is actually God who is summoning Samuel.

This is the second point I want to make. We need to communicate with one another and take each other seriously when it comes to the things that God says to us and lays on our hearts. If you feel God has spoken to you or otherwise inspired you, you should take courage and share it with someone you spiritually trust and pray through it with them or a small group. Similarly if someone comes before you and is brave enough to share something they feel God has given them with you, it is important to listen... to hear them out and show respect. Let's be honest, it is not always comfortable for us to share such things, as they are often deeply personal and there is always the threat of that nagging doubt "did I make it up?" That is why it is all the more important that we treat one another with respect over such things. We need to build one another up in love.

At the end of the passage, Samuel heeds Eli's advice and responds to the voice that has been calling him... and there the reading at church stopped. However if you know this passage and you read on a little further you will know there's a little more of the tale to tell. You see Eli's sons (priests in their own right), were wicked men who had been embezzling temple offerings and prostituting the women who served at the sanctuary. Eli was the high priest and responsible for the spiritual leadership of his people. The fact that he stood by and tolerated his sons' terrible behaviour (he did criticise them but he never committed to a course of action that would have stopped them), put his whole household on a collision course with God. The message God gave to Samuel was a prophetic word of judgement on Eli's family line.

My final point is this: if we feel God has laid a clear course of action before us, or placed a calling on our hearts... the just like Samuel we need to have the conviction and courage to act upon it. Samuel was a 12 year old boy who was challenging the authority of the most powerful man he knew... it can't have been easy, yet he obeyed God anyway... because having finally discovered who God was in a very real personal sense, he trusted his source.

We may question the value God places on us in a given situation. Why does he ask us to carry a particular burden? Our human frailty and insecurities can often tell us that we aren't good enough, we aren't capable of the task or journey set before us. Aren't we the wrong choice?

However the gospel and psalm readings set for the same day remind us of God's omniscience. He knows our hearts; he knows our thoughts and feelings; he knows our deeds; he knows our limitations and most of all he knows what we are capable of if we turn from our obsession with effort and rely on the abundance of his supreme grace.
I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency].
Philippians 4:13 (AMP)
Some questions for you...
  • Do you feel God is calling you at the moment?
  • How do you find time to listen to God?
  • Do you often share (either listening or speaking) with others about what God is saying?

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