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Jun 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 14, 2015 – 1 Samuel 3:1-9

Listening At God’s Door

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli. And word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent. It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well), and the lamp of God had not het gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was, that the LORD called Samuel; and he said, “Here I am.”
Then he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The LORD called yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he answered, “I did not call, lie down again.” So he went and lay down.
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him. So the LORD called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli discerned that the LORD was calling the boy. And Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, taht you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
1 Samuel 3:1-9

Intro: As a child, every time I heard this story I thought, “This is how I want God to speak to me”
– audible, clear and direct (today I’d be happy to receive an email or text from him)
• although God has never has spoken to me this clearly, my role remains the same as Samuel’s
• to sit with God, silence my heart and say, “Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening”

God has never stopped communicating with humankind in general or his people in particular
– we just have to work harder at hearing his voice than Samuel did
– “spiritual listening” is like other forms of listening
• a skill that we can develop with practice
• like music lovers who can:
◦ identify each instrument in an orchestra
◦ or tune in to the bass line in rock music

For the last few weeks I’ve talked about forms of meditation that require mental focus
– this morning we are going a new direction and I’ll be talking about prayer
• so why begin with listening as an introductory stage to prayer?
◦ first, because we already know how to ask for stuff

Joan Chittister, “It would be impossible to have spirituality without prayer, of course, but it is certainly possible to have prayer without having spirituality at all.”

◦ what she describes is religious practice that amounts to no more than an empty shell
• Samuel’s story illustrates the importance of listening
– although Samuel heard God’s voice he did not know it was God who spoke
• the reason for this is given in  verse 7, “the word of Yahweh” had not “yet been revealed to him”
◦ he began his apprenticeship in prayer (and prophecy) by listening to God and getting to know him
◦ it was through his word that God “appeared to Israel” and “revealed Himself to Samuel” (v. 21)
◦ this is still how we come to know God and put our faith in him

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Ro. 10:14, 17)

• anyone can learn to “say prayers”
◦ but the real conversation doesn’t begin until we know God
◦ Paul certain “said prayers” (many, no doubt) prior to his conversion, but not until he had met Jesus could the Lord tell Ananias:

Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying (Acts 9:11)

◦ Paul’s first real prayer did not consist of requests or petitions, but two questions:
“Who are You, Lord” and
“What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10)

We come to know God better the same way we come to know other people

By listening to him (how his sheep learn to recognize his voice; Jn. 10:3-5, 14-16, 27)
– if we observed the body language of an audience during a lecture,
• we could not distinguish between
◦ a person listening intently and
◦ a person in love with the speaker
listening is what lovers do – in is how we enter the soul of another
◦ a way we express love and love at same time
– love does not merely listen to the words spoken, but to the person who is speaking

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking (He. 12:25)

◦ this was Israel’s undoing

They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments (Neh. 9:16)
They did not listen to the voice of the LORD (Ps. 106:25)

To listen in love is to unlock a gate to our own souls
– it is to allow ourselves to be influenced by another person
• if we’re not ready to change our mind, then we are not truly listening
◦ for example, “You can say what you want, but I’ve already made up my mind”
– listening to a man, for instance, relate an experience he had affects the activity in our brains
• the same basic structures in his brain when re-experiencing the story as he tells it are activated in our brains as we hear him relate it
◦ if we get overwhelmed by the events he reports, we might say, “I can’t imagine how that felt”
◦ that is because we have no past experience that corresponds with what he describes
• Someone may say, “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me”
◦ but if you have a sad story, others can’t help feeling sorry
◦ the brain does this automatically (thanks, in part, to its “mirror neuron system)
– this is how attentive listening forms bonds between people
• we’re not merely informed of the person’s situation or emotional state
◦ we imagine it – we experience it to some degree
• through attentive listening that we build:
closer relationships – more intimate
deeper relationships – fuller commitment

How listening becomes a skill for our spiritual journey

When we listen to sounds directly
– to listen directly implies an immediate experience
• the experience is not first routed through the brain’s rational “filters” and labeled
– awareness is like looking through a telephoto lens
• we can focus it on a specific object, motion or event
◦ and we can also choose to observe it through one specific sense
◦ for example, we may close our eyes to savor the taste of a favorite morsel of food
• listening directly (to what enters the ears) is more than hearing a sound and asking, “What’s that?”
◦ it inovlves bringing this-moment awareness to the experience
◦ then we notice both the sound and its effect within our bodies and emotions

When we listen to understand
– this is different from studying diligently to pass an exam
• we may know how to drive a car without understanding anything about a combustion engine
– knowledge may or may not produce any significant changes in our lives
• understanding, however, can be a catalyst for, a process within, or a result of significant change

When we listen in openness and receptivity
– I do not listen to God for what I want to hear or what makes me feel good
• but for what God wants to tell me
• therefore I try to free my mind as much as possible from expectations and limitations

When we listen responsively
– responsive listening is preparedness to act (cf. Lk. 12:35-38)
• however, we must distinguish this from reactive listening
◦ reactive is usually visceral, pointless (like a muscular reflex) and hasty
responsive listening is simply having the willingness to do whatever God says
◦ in fact, a good follow up to “Speak, LORD, Your servant is listening” is “Here I am. Send me!” (Is. 6:8)

When we listen through and beneath words and sounds
– we never know through whom or what God will speak to us
• he sometimes speaks through the voice of “the people” (2 Ch. 10:15)
• he may even speak through a pagan king or Pharaoh (2 Chr. 35:22)

When we listen for something in particular; namely, God
– then we can tune out other sounds: “No, not that. No, not that one either.”

And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. (1 Ki. 19:11-13)

What do we put our ear against to hear God?

Obviously, we put our ear to the Scriptures to hear God

Sometimes, we must listen to others to hear what God has to say
– as God told Abraham, “Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her . . .” (Ge. 21:12)

We can put our ear to the world to hear God
– this is easy, of course, when we are talking about the natural world
• but it can be true also of the world that has been manufactured by humans

Frederick Buechner, “There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak–even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God that speaks at all anywhere. He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys.”

We can listening to our bodies (“from the neck down,” as Frank Firmat has said)
– a problem in prayer is the distraction created by all the radio stations playing in our heads
• a few days ago, when I tried to sit in silence with God, all these troublemakers came to mind
◦ anxious thoughts began swirling in my brain:
“What should I do about this person’s actions?”
” Should I say something to him/her? Would it make any difference?”
◦ and then God broke through, “Would you rather spend this time with them or with Me?”
• it is within our control to change stations in our heads
– our bodies can give us insight into our own feelings, emotions and moods
• God’s Spirit, who lives within us, speaks through our viscera, nerves and bones (Ps. 32:3-4; 35:10; 38:3; etc.)

Then, we can integrate what we hear from these different sources
– as we do, a pattern may emerge or a message may come into focus

Conc: When we pray, we want to listen in a way that lets the Spirit in

So if this week we catch ourselves fake listening, resisting, or refusing
– let’s make a point to pause, turn toward God and listen

He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Mk. 4:9)

• when should we start listening?

. . . while it is said,
Today if you hear His voice
Do not harden your hearts . . . .” (He. 3:15)

I can think of no better way to conclude this talk than with the words of Fredrick Buechner:

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

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