Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 28. The Epitome of a Listener
Heb 11:32,33 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised;
It is a strange thing but I have never thought of Samuel as a great man of faith but of course he was. The story from his childhood reveals someone who heard God – audibly! That doesn’t seem to happen very often; indeed it only seems to happen in extraordinary circumstances where God wants the individual to be under no illusions about their calling. Because Samuel was still a child, unfortunately that was what almost did happen. You find the story in 1 Samuel 2 & 3 where, as a boy, Samuel ministered in the Tabernacle, overseen by old man and chief priest, Eli. Up until this point Samuel probably knows about the Lord – he would have been taught something – but he doesn’t know the Lord personally, which is why he can be excused when something happens which many people today wish fervently would happen.
When teaching people to learn to listen to the Lord, the comment so often comes, “Oh, if only He would speak out loud!” Well He did with Samuel but Samuel didn’t recognise who it was – well, why would he? It needed Eli to guide him how to reply before Samuel was able to join in a conversation with the Lord (see 1 Sam 3:1-14) Part of the ‘conversation’ was a judgement on Eli and his family and in the morning Eli made him repeat what he had heard and when he did Eli responded, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.” (v.18).
In the verse that follows we then find, “The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground.” (v.19) The Message version puts it in an interesting way: “Samuel grew up. God was with him, and Samuel’s prophetic record was flawless,” while the Living Bible puts a slightly different slant on it, “As Samuel grew, the Lord was with him and people listened carefully to his advice.” (which only goes to show how you can interpret things differently!) Put them all together and we would have, Samuel held onto all he heard from God through the years and faithfully passed it on to his people, letting nothing get lost along the way. That’s what makes a prophet and that is faith. We’ve said it again and again, faith comes through hearing God, and Samuel heard the Lord and that formed the basis of his ministry.
Now I think our danger is having heard that the Lord spoke to Samuel audibly, that one time when he was a child, we assume that that was how He continued speaking to Samuel, but I doubt that very much. As we said earlier, the audible voice of God – the voice out loud – is reserved for special occasions. Apart from identifying who is the speaker, hearing the audible voice doesn’t need faith, you just hear it. No, I suggest that as the years went on Samuel heard the Lord speaking into his spirit and that is what he conveyed to his people.
Indeed I believe this is confirmed in the following words: “And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (v.20,21) It is the “through his word” God’s ‘word’ came to Samuel, not God’s ‘voice’. In the many prophetic writings of the Old Testament we find this similar language: “The word of the LORD came to me.” (Jer 1:4) and there is no indication that it was an audible voice. Don’t expect an audible voice but do expect the Lord to speak into your spirit via your mind when you are listening for Him.
I have given examples in past studies of how I have experienced this but one more might help here to encourage you. One day I was quietly minding my own business reading about the church and came across a record of how some American evangelists had been operating in a way that was somewhat without integrity, shall we say. Without thinking I found myself thinking, what was tantamount to a prayer, “Lord, how could you use such people?” Quick as a flash came back into my mind came, “The same reason I use you.” I paused in surprise. I had not expected that. A second passed and then came, “Son, I use you because you are available, not because you are right.” I tell you, that released me in a whole load of ways. I shouldn’t be careless but God would not be marking me to see if I was ‘good enough’ to serve Him.
A more recent addition to that was a revelation I had as I was about to lead a session teaching people to listen to God, a lovely bunch but with one or two fearful people in it, fearful of getting it wrong. “Don’t think me a heretic,” I started, “but did you know that God is a God of the second best?” Some of the stronger evangelicals looked startled if not affronted. “No,” I explained, “you can never guarantee to always get it right but God still loves you and will use you. Best is you being perfect, but this side of heaven, if I may put it like this to anchor it in your minds, you are second best. We will each of us try to get it right and do and say what is right, but sometimes we’ll miss that target but your second best will not stop God using you.”
You see Samuel didn’t always get it right and we know that because when he was getting old, we read, “When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.” (1 Sam 8:1-3) Did that stop him hearing God and being a prophet? No, but it did open the way for the people to complain and use his sons as an excuse: “So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (v.4,5)
Later on Samuel challenged the people: “Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right. You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand. “ (1 Sam 12;3,4) Samuel had behaved righteously through his life. That was an act of faith, living for God. He couldn’t control what his sons did and possibly parental limitation made him less than perfect.
So here is today’s lesson: you can be a person of faith but not perfect. This side of heaven that’s how it will be. Don’t let your imperfections stop you serving the Lord and following your calling. Just allow it to work humility into your package. Be blessed, imperfect man or woman of God. The Bible is full of imperfect faith-filled people. Live it, even if you stumble over your feet from time to time!