'Tales of the Unexpected'
Last month, we thought about a man called Joseph who heard God's voice speaking to him in his dreams on more than one occasion. This month we are considering Samuel who, in childhood, heard God's voice speaking to him in the temple. He lived in this holy place because of a vow which his mother had made in a state of childlessness.
After showing much promise at first, as the years passed, Saul lost the Lord's favour and Samuel was told he must be replaced by another king. The prophet was sent to Jesse in Bethlehem because the Lord had chosen a king from among his sons. In order to avoid Saul's anger, Samuel had to claim his purpose in going there was to sacrifice. He invited Jesse and his sons to join him at the sacrifice. Samuel met the seven sons present at the sacrifice. At each encounter, the Lord said, I have not chosen him. Samuel asked Jesse, Have you no other sons? He replied that the youngest was out in the fields, looking after the sheep. When David arrived, ruddy and beautiful we are told, the Lord said, This is the one I have chosen.
Old Testament prophets always seemed to be confident in their proclamation of God's will and his purposes. They claimed to be told to say what they passed on. But how did they know? Samuel, as a child, thought he heard a human voice in the night and presumed it must be that of Eli. Later the stories do not make it clear quite how he determined what God was saying. Perhaps it was when he was praying that he felt close to God or perhaps he was so tuned in that he knew by his own reactions.
Many people are anxious to find out what is God's will for their lives. Perhaps one of the first things to do is to be assiduous in making time for God; time for prayer, meditation, Bible-reading, worship. Every Sunday morning in St Cuthbert's, the first Bible reading is prefaced by the words 'Listen for the word of God.' We must not allow the noise of the world and the busyness of our daily work to drown out God's voice. We must be open to the possibility that guidance can come in very different ways. It can emerge from reading, prayer, chance encounters with people of similar interests and conversations with trusted friends.
To hear God's call is terminology which we use nowadays almost always regarding a call to the ministry. Once, many worthwhile professions involving commitment and dedication were known as a 'calling'. Some people know that they have a calling from their youth onwards and are confident that they are doing God's will. Others follow different career paths, serving God to the best of their ability, but later on begin to wonder if they are indeed in the right place. A friend began to hear a call to the ministry in this way. Having spent years in teaching, he wondered if he should make a change and thought increasingly about the ministry. When at least two friends, quite independently and on different occasions, asked him 'Have you ever thought of .', he was sure it was God calling.
Hearing is an important faculty. What we hear makes such a difference to our lives. We can be bombarded with sounds which are grating and upsetting but also we can be soothed, comforted, uplifted and inspired by beautiful sounds, flowing water, birdsong, a Bach chorale prelude. We have learnt so much in life by listening and some of us regret not having listened enough.
One of the Bible Society's programmes for bringing the Bible to parts of Africa where people only understand their own language is called 'Faith Comes by Hearing'. People gather to hear the Bible in their own tongue broadcast from a portable radio. Everything they learn about God depends on listening.
Let us take time today to be thankful for the gift of hearing and to
appreciate the value of listening.
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