8. To Samuel

“God turned up” Meditations: 8 :  To Samuel

1 Sam 3:4-6 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Over the years I have come to a conclusion. I’m not sure I can prove it from Scripture (I suppose I’ve never tried to), but it very simply is that God talks to everyone. I’m sure the Lord speaks to everyone on earth. Now it’s very obvious listening to people that the vast majority would say that they never hear from God; they just aren’t aware of Him speaking – and this includes Christians too! But one of the things that comes over loud and clear in the Bible – and we’ve seen it in these studies – is that God is a communicator; He is constantly making contact with individuals and speaking to them. I’m sure many of us hear things in our thoughts but shrug them off or reject them, yet in eternity we will find it was the Lord.

Samuel’s is a unique start – I suppose each of them we’ve considered is really – but this one stands out in its strangeness. The Lord seems to call out loud to Samuel (or at least he thinks it is out loud – it may just be in his mind). Samuel is so sure he’s heard a voice he gets up and goes to Eli who is the chief priest who he works for. Samuel is only a young person and so when Eli calls, he goes – except it is not Eli. For the first couple of times Eli doesn’t realise what is going on. It is only after the third call that Eli realises that Samuel isn’t just dreaming but must be hearing from the Lord.

Now the description of Samuel is interesting: “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” (v.7)  In other words Samuel did not yet have a relationship with the Lord and did not realise that God speaks and, even more, had not yet learnt to discern the Lord’s voice.  As we said, it is only after the third call that Eli realises what is going on: “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.(v.8,9)

So what has Eli told him to do? He told him to stay where he is when he hears the voice again, to reply to the voice and then stay still and listen. I think those three things are good guidance.

If you think you might be hearing the Lord, first of all stay where you are. Many people who do hear the Lord immediately jump into action or even more, they focus more on the wonder of God speaking than what He actually said. I know this is something that I have struggled with over the years. When God turns up we get all excited and our minds start running ahead and we lose the rest of what He is trying to say.

Now the second thing is to reply to the Lord. I think this is important too. It is a sign of your acknowledgment of the Lord and a sign that you are positively going to listen to what He has to say. It is a faith statement. I can look back on one or two very memorable conversations with the Lord, but a conversation is a backwards and forwards speaking, first one person, then the other, then the first person and so on. But for a conversation to ensue you need to acknowledge the first words. As I said, it’s a faith issue.

Now the third thing is to stay still and listen. This is perhaps the hardest. You’ve had the initial excitement of sensing the Lord speaking and then you’ve responded. But what we said in the first response is equally true here for I find that I have a mind that can suddenly get full of junk and go off at tangents, and before I know it a number of minutes have passed and I haven’t heard a thing from the Lord. At that point I apologise to the Lord and sit quietly and He graciously starts again. This is a real experience but because of the nature of the lives we live, so full of voices and information, I believe it is a very difficult experience and one we need to discipline ourselves in.

I have also noticed that I have a tendency to interrupt the Lord. He speaks and I join in. What I mean is that I cut across Him and I have to apologise. He graciously reaffirms His love for me and tells me He will not give up on me. This is a major learning experience and I am the learner. I have been learning to listen to God for probably over thirty five years and the only thing I can tell you is that I am obtuse and a slow learner – but still God loves me and still God keep speaking – just like He did with Samuel. He doesn’t give up when He sees our slowness to hear, our slowness to pay attention, our slowness to learn. No, He loves us and understands us and one of the things the story of Samuel tells us is that He will keep on speaking until we hear.

But then I hear you saying, but not everyone does hear. Yes, I agree. I believe He does speak again and again to everyone so no one will face Him in heaven and be able to say we didn’t know. But there are some that I believe the Lord knows will never heed and so He gives up speaking (I may be wrong), but with others He knows that if He keeps on speaking we will eventually hear. I am sure, when I look back, that the Lord was speaking to me long before I came to Him. That’s how I eventually came to Him. He spoke to me and stirred a hunger in me and then drew me and saved me. Isn’t He wonderful!

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60. Lessons in Love

Meditations in Job : 60. Lessons in Love

Job 33:14,17,18 For God does speak…… to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword

Now I know the word ‘love’ is not mentioned in this chapter but I would suggest that everything the Elihu says about the way God works, describes God as a God of love.  Elihu has listened (33:8) and heard Job say that he is pure and without sin (v.9) yet Job has blamed God for finding fault with him and for making him an enemy (v.10), the way He has dealt with him (v.11), and with this Elihu has a problem (v.12)

Now the truth we know from earlier in the book is exactly the opposite: God hasn’t found fault with Job, He has praised him for his righteousness and there is no way that God considers Job an enemy.  In fact, without realising it, he is God’s emissary, displaying faithfulness on behalf of God in the face of Satan’s attacks.  There has been a wrong assessment of the situation by Job.

But then comes Elihu’s second complaint: Job says he’s cried to God but the Lord hasn’t answered him. Elihu launches into a declaration that God does speak again and again, “though man may not perceive it.” (v.14b)  The Lord speaks in a variety of ways (v.14a), in dreams or visions (v.15) or directly into our ears (v.16).  The REASON God speaks is then given: to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (v.17,18)  When God speaks He is trying to get man to turn away from those destructive attitudes and ways of behaving so that he will be saved.  If we refuse to heed his voice we may simply end up in hell, and we may even go there through a violent means brought on by our own folly.

Another way that the Lord ‘speaks’ to us is through personal suffering that brings us to the edge of death (v.19-22), yet Elihu is aware that God sends angels as personal messengers “to tell a man what is right for him” (v.23c) and also to remind the Lord that He has provided a ransom to save this man (v.24) so that this man might be saved and restored (v.25).  Now whether that ransom is reference to the sacrifices made for sin (see 1:5) or whether it is a prophetic reference to the Lamb of God, Jesus, is unclear.  Such a man will pray and be restored (v.26) and then he will go and confess to others that he had sinned but had not received what he had deserved (v.27) because God has redeemed him (v.28).

He reiterates that God does this sort of thing, “twice, even three times– to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.” (v.29,30)  Yes, God uses this sort of thing to bring people to their senses.  We see this exactly in Jesus’ parable to the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:14-17) where the bad circumstances drive the son to his senses.

Elihu concludes this chapter with a call to Job to answer up if he has got an answer.  Now the only trouble with all this is that, of course, Job doesn’t have an answer because neither he nor Elihu know what has gone on in the courts of heaven (ch.1 & 2) and they don’t know that this actually has nothing to do with Job’s sin.  Everything Elihu has said has been absolutely correct – except it doesn’t apply to Job, because he is a special case and he is going through trials for no other reason than God has chosen him to go through them – and that because he IS righteous!

So, having looked at this chapter, there are various things we need to check out in ourselves.  Elihu maintains that God does speak to us in a variety of ways.  Are we open to believe that?  Do we believe that the Lord speaks to us personally – and if so, what have we done with what He has said?

Second, are we aware that in God’s sanctifying processes, making us more like Jesus, He uses physical suffering and circumstances generally?  Can we, therefore, when things aren’t going well, be open to learn from Him?

Third, do we realise that whenever God ‘speaks’ it is to extend our experience of salvation and keep us away from things that would harm us or draw us away from Him?  Are we so aware of God’s love that we can be utterly secure in all that happens to us, secure in the knowledge that He loves us and is working to bless us?

Finally, can we learn that lesson that we have observed previously but which arises again here, that unless we have had revelation from God we should be slow in assessing people negatively (judging them).

Moses asked the Lord, “teach me your ways so I may know you.” (Ex 33:13). In this meditation new have been touching on the ‘ways’ of God, the way He works and why He works as He does. May we learn these things!

18. Communicating God

God in the Psalms No.18

Psa 12:6 the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times

In this Psalm in our verse today, we find something that seems so obvious and yet is something that few of us really believe. God is a God of communication. The Bible is all about God communicating. Verbal communication, communication with content, is a feature of humanity because we are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26,27) and the Trinity communicates between themselves, or God communicates with Himself if you prefer that. (Even in our minds we talk to ourselves).  Even to bring the world into being the Lord spoke a word and it was (Gen 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26), and then he spoke to man and gave instructions (Gen 1:28-30, 2:16,17). Even in bringing Eve into being, God spoke about it first (Gen 2:18). Thereafter we find records of God communicating with men of His choosing – after the Fall to Adam and Eve (3:9-19), subsequently to Cain (Gen 4:6-15), then in respect of the Flood and Noah (Gen 6:7 on), then to Abram (Gen 12:1 on), etc. When John refers to Jesus, he initially calls him “The Word” (Jn 1), a means of communications. The writer to the Hebrews starts his letter-book by, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (Heb 1:1,2). Here is a wonderful truth – God speaks to His people.

Today God speaks to us through His word, the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16,17) and directly by His Holy Spirit (e.g. Jn 14:26, 16:13). Why is it therefore that some of us are surprised at this thought and fear the thought of God speaking to us? Is it perhaps that we’re not sure about His nature?  Have you ever read C.S.Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”? If you have, you may remember the talk about Aslan the Lion, who Lewis uses to portray Jesus. One of the children, Lucy, asks, “Is he safe?” to which the reply is given, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  Some of us have the same fears as Lucy. We fear the Lord in the same way she feared Aslan – but, of course, that was before she knew him. She had yet to meet him and know that he was ‘good’. Everything about the Lord is good. You can be safe with Him. You can trust Him. Indeed when it comes to all that he says, you can trust it, because it is good and right – it is flawless!

When we talk about a diamond that is ‘flawless’ we mean it is completely without defect of any kind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Now do we realize that the same is true of all that the Lord says?  He makes no mistakes. He is totally truthful and therefore never lies. He never distorts the truth.  In fact, says David, God’s words are like the most purified metals. Imagine the purifying process, taking out all the impurities from silver. Imagine the process being repeated and repeated until eventually there is absolutely nothing more of impurity to be removed, and it is now totally pure silver. That is what God’s words are liked. There is nothing, but nothing, that is impure about them. They are perfect and they can be utterly trusted. So, if the Lord says He will protect the weak, He will!  God never says anything that He will not do.  If He’s said it, He will do it! You can utterly rely on what he’s said. Now this is vitally important to understand as we read God’s word. We can believe it, we can trust it, and we can rely upon it. Remember, what God says, He will do. If it’s conditional, remember, we may have a part to play.

31. Harms Way

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.31

31. Out of Harm’s Way

Matt 2:14,15 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

The world in which we live today seems increasingly unstable. Three or four years ago, terrorist threat became a very real feature of modern life and that has continued. In the past years the forces of nature have also wreaked havoc in many parts of the world, and it seems that no area of safe from possible natural catastrophe. Fear has become a very real part of many people’s lives as society has changed out of all recognition from fifty years ago. Where is there some source of stability?

As we look into these verses today and yesterday, we find our answer. Hollywood has produced various films where rogue government groups hunt the hero. This could be one such story and the rogue authority is Herod. He is shortly going to have every child under the age of two killed in an attempt to purge the land of a potential competitor to his family dynasty. Very soon the land is going to be very unsafe for this little family; their lives are under a very real threat, even if they don’t realise it fully yet.

And that’s where God’s intervention comes in. God has bound Himself to permit us free will – and that includes allowing evil men to be evil, so the murder of the infants will happen. As terrible as that is, it cannot be avoided. This is what sinful men do! However, while the plans of Herod are being made, the Lord speaks to His servant, Joseph, in a dream, knowing that this is a man who has proved that he listens and obeys. Possibly God was speaking to all the other parents with young children, but few if any heard.

Where does Joseph and Mary’s security come from? It comes from hearing God’s words of guidance and protection and responding to them. Note the twofold aspect of that. God speaks AND they obey. God could have spoken and they refused to go. In such a case Jesus would have been killed! No, their security came from obeying what God said to them; it was that which put them out of harm’s way. Does God not move sovereignly to protect His children? Yes He does, but more often than not, it seems that He wants our co-operation. The story of Peter’s escape from prison, from the plans of a later Herod (see Acts 12), is a classic example of this. God’s angel told him what to do and opened up doors for him, but he still had to get up, get dressed and follow the angel, step by step, out of the prison. Do you see this? Our security is not some passive thing, whereby we just sit back and let God pander to us. He wants us to be an active part of His plans and so He involves us in our deliverance from harm.

Is this easy? Is this easy, this listening to God and responding to Him? In as much as it requires us to learn to listen to Him, and the old natural ‘us’ would prefer to reason out our own lives, no, it’s not easy, but this is how it works! It’s what we’ve been saying again and again: this Christmas story is not a comfortable soft and mushy children’s story; it is an account of how God actually moved in the affairs of men and women, and it challenges us who call ourselves His children, to walk in the same way as them – the way of faith. When we learn to do this, we can be at peace, in the strong assurance that God is for us, and He who knows all things will lead and guide us – as much as we will allow Him to lead and guide! Maybe you have a steep learning curve ahead it you – but it’s worth it! Go for it!

14. Challenge of Revelation

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.14

14. The Challenge of Revelation

Matt 1:20-21 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Ignorance of the Law, they say, is no excuse. What they mean is that everyone is expected to have a reasonable understanding of the laws of the country. It gets worse though, because if it can be shown that you definitely knew about a law and blatantly disregarded it, you are doubly guilty. Jesus said, From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Lk 12:48) I simply remind us of this, because an interesting challenge arises behind what was happening here.

The challenge is, if God has spoken to me, dare I disregard what He has said? You see, here is Joseph who, as we said yesterday, is a good man, a righteous man, who desires to do the right thing before God, and now he’s being told to take Mary as his wife. Does he have to do this? No, there are choices before him, because he does have a free will. Will he disregard this dream when he wakes in the morning, putting it down to a guilty conscience over Mary, or even the cheese he ate last night? Or will he simply do what he was told in the dream by God.

Ah! Now there’s another question that might arise in his mind. Was that really God speaking through that dream? Does God speak through dreams? Does God ask me to do things that I feel uncomfortable about? Does God speak? There’s a whole issue here about the possibility of God speaking. Well, the Old Testament gives hundreds of examples of God speaking to people, so the last question is answered. Does God speak through dreams? Well, why shouldn’t he?

The truth is that God speaks through a whole variety of ways. He can speak through dreams, He can speak through the circumstances of your life, He can speak through the words of the Bible as you read it, He can speak through other people to you, He can speak through your conscience, and He can speak by a quiet whisper in your mind. Nevertheless the question so often arises in us, was this really God speaking? One check is to ask, does it conform to what we learn of Him and His will in the Bible, but that does mean we need to know it quite well. We can also ask about the fruit or the effect of it: does it bring, love or peace to us, does it draw us closer to God? Are we left with a sense of God’s love for us and does it leave us in a closer walk with Him? Having answered all those questions positively, we’re still left with a response of faith. We can’t be one hundred per cent sure, and so we have to step out, trusting it was God. That is faith.

That’s what confronts Joseph here. This is the challenge of revelation. Is this really God and will I trust Him and respond positively to it? For Joseph it was a major life turnaround if he was going to do that. This wasn’t just a quiet intellectual assent; this meant a total change in life, but then that’s what God’s after for us. When we step out like this we find we’re plugged in to a completely new world, the world of God, the world of goodness, the world of blessing. That’s what is at stake here!

Walk of Response

WALKING WITH GOD. No.16

1 Sam 3:6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

This is quite a delightful story of naivety. Samuel is still a boy and he lives with old Eli, the priest, at Shiloh. The situation is physically and allegorically described in verse 2. Look at Eli’s description: “whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.” Now that physically is what was happening to him in old age but it also, I suggest, describes what he was like spiritually. It is clear from what goes before and what follows on, that Eli has lost vision and has allowed his sons to run amok spiritually and there is no sense of revelation from heaven (v.1). Moreover he was “lying down” in his usual place. OK, this was night-time, but I suggest it also speaks of his spiritual state – inactive! Then we find (v.3), “The lamp of God had not yet gone out.” Yes, that was the lamp in the tabernacle that was there to give light, but light speaks of revelation and the lamp of the Lord speaks of testimony, and although Eli and his sons were out of contact with God there were still those who were (see 2:27-). Samuel was lying down (he’s inactive so far) in the Tabernacle where the ark of God was. Now the ark always signifies the presence of God and so Samuel is in a good place to hear God speak – and he does! However, the problem is that Samuel really doesn’t know the Lord yet. He hasn’t come into a relationship with the Lord and he isn’t able to recognize when God speaks.

Samuel hears a voice and, assuming it is Eli, he runs to him. When it happens a third time, Eli realizes that this must be a visitation from the Lord and instructs Samuel as to how he should respond. What follows is Samuel receiving prophetic revelation.

Now what we have here is a picture of what happens with many Christians. Ask a group of Christians how often they hear God speaking to them and some will reply ‘never’ and a large number will reply ‘rarely’ and it will only be a few who will answer more positively. Yet, when we look at Scripture we find that God is a God of communication; He is constantly talking to people!

So are you a Samuel-like person who doesn’t recognize God’s voice? So how does God speak? A number of ways! There is through His word, the Bible. In one sense all of it is God’s communication to us, from which we can learn, but then sometimes when we read a verse or a passage it suddenly seems to take on significance, or perhaps it even seems to leap out of the page to us. Then there are righteous, godly thoughts that come into our mind, sometimes an impression, sometimes a clear word. There are circumstances that can speak to us, and sometimes God speaks through other people – a preacher or perhaps a friend who feel they have something for us.

But before all this happens, there needs to be an awareness that God speaks – and that’s what Samuel had to learn first. But more than that, there needs to be a responsive heart full of faith. Samuel got up and went quickly to Eli – there was a responsiveness in him. God looks for those who will respond to Him. I’m certain that He speaks to all of us a lot of the time, but we just don’t recognize that it is Him. He’s actually looking for a people who will walk the walk of response – who will take time to listen, who will perhaps go aside to listen, who will take time to learn to listen. The key is having a responsive heart. You can afford to make mistakes in listening – it’s how we learn, but perhaps it is better to have a mentor, someone who is more mature in these things than you, to help you, to check you and help you learn to hear more accurately the sometimes ‘still small voice of God’, the gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12)

Samuel responded to something he thought he heard. He walked out to Eli to find out what it was. It was a learning walk and God invites many of us to take that same learning walk, the walk of response. This may be something completely new to you. Risk it, risk believing that because He loves you He will talk to you through the variety of ways we considered above. It’s a whole new day when God speaks – and we hear!