Let us talk about discernment

 

 

Home

Alex Tang

Publications

Articles

Spiritual writing

 

Nurturing/ Teaching Courses

Engaging Culture

Spiritual Formation Institute

My Notebook

My blogs

Books Recommendation

Bookstore

---------------------

Medical notes

Medical Students /Paediatric notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Talk about Discernment
Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-21


Dr Alex Tang


Summary

Discernment is listening with your heart to confirm God’s word to you

Text (1 Samuel 3:1-21 NIV)
1SA 3:1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

1SA 3:2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel.
Samuel answered, "Here I am." 5 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.

1SA 3:6 Again the LORD called, "Samuel!" And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."
"My son," Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down."

1SA 3:7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

1SA 3:8 The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."
Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

1SA 3:10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!"
Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

1SA 3:11 And the LORD said to Samuel: "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family--from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, `The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.' "

1SA 3:15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the LORD. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, "Samuel, my son."
Samuel answered, "Here I am."

1SA 3:17 "What was it he said to you?" Eli asked. "Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you." 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, "He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes."

1SA 3:19 The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. 21 The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.


Introduction
In May 1212, a 12 years old shepherd boy named Stephen of Cloye turned up at the Palace of King Philip of France with a letter from Jesus Christ. This was the time after the 4th Crusade failed to retake Jerusalem and the Holy land from the Muslims. Stephen said that Jesus Christ has appointed him to lead a new crusade and King Philip is to supply him with an army. King Philip refused to see him. Stephen then went around preaching his message and by June 1212, he has an army of 30,000 consisting mainly of children from 6-15 years old. When questioned about the feasibility about a children’s army, Stephen said God will provide protection. Whey they reach the Mediterranean Sea, God will part the sea and the army will march all the way to Jerusalem. They moved south and many children died on the way either by diseases or starvation. When they reached Marseilles, the Mediterranean Sea did not part. Instead they have to set out to sea in 7 boats. The 7 boats were never heard from again. Legend had it that the children were captured by pirates and sold off into slavery. This became known as the Children’s Crusade. Now looking backing back in history, we wonder how could a 12 year old illiterate shepherd boy claimed to have the word of God. And how could so many people believed him?

The question we need to ask ourselves is how do we know if God is speaking to us? This is known as discernment. Another boy in the Old Testament also faced the problem of discernment. As recorded in the part of 1 Samuel 3:1-21, the boy Samuel also face a problem to discover: “Who is calling him?” We shall learn from Samuel in three aspects:
1. Who is the caller?
2. Who is being called?
3. How do we listen?

1. Who is the Caller?
In the narrative, Samuel heard a voice calling, “Samuel! Samuel!” Initially he thought it was Eli calling him. Eli was the high priest of Shiloh where the Israelites came to worship and offer sacrifice every year. Samuel was given to the tabernacle to minister under Eli. Hannah, Samuel’s mother was barren. She prayed to the Lord so fervently that Eli thought that she was drunk! God answered her prayer and Samuel was her firstborn. In gratitude, Samuel was given by the family to work in the temple. Samuel was not a Levite so he will never be a priest. When Samuel hears a voice calling him, he quickly ran to Eli, thinking that Eli had called him. After the third time, Eli realized that the caller is God. Note his respond, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.' (v.9) Without hearing the voice, Eli assumes that it was God who is calling Samuel. Now please note Samuel’s reply: "Speak, for your servant is listening." (v.10). Even as a young boy, Samuel was cautious. Unlike Eli, he did not assume that the Lord is calling him. Hence he dropped the word “Lord” from his reply. I find this remarkable in one so young. Even though he is in the house of the Lord he was cautious not to take God’s name in vain. There is no greater sin than to call someone else Lord which means God. Unfortunately, many of us are not so cautious. We often assume that the caller is God.

There are three sources of voices that call to us. They are either from God, from our own self or from Satan.

(1) Self
Our self or heart is “deceitful above all” We are all masters in self-justification. We can deceive ourselves from believing that what we want is actually what God wants. Then we go around telling people that God wants this when secretly it is what we want. Many years ago, in my varsity days, a brother in Christ came and shared with me. “The Lord wants me to marry this girl”. I know he like this girl who is also a member of our Christian fellowship very much. In fact everyone knew except him. “How so?” I asked him. “Well, I feel strongly that the Holy Spirit is telling me that she is the one for me. One night, when I was staring at the fridge door, I saw her face! And later that night, while I was reading the Bible about Jacob and Rachel, the Lord confirmed it. The name Rachel jumped up at me (the girl’s name is Rachel).” He was so convinced but I managed to convince him to be patient and give the relationship time. Now he is happily married with three children- to Rachel’s best friend! Looking back, he was so convinced that he was hearing the word of God when he was just hearing his own desire. That’s our deceitful self.

(2) Satan
Satan is the prince of lies. He will lie to convince us that God is speaking to us. And he can be very convincing because his other name is Lucifer which means angel of light. Look at the Children’s Crusade. That aim was good- free the Holy land. I cannot help but wonder where did this 12 years old illiterate shepherd boy got his power from? Raising an army of 30,000 children. Anyone who is in ministry can tell you, getting volunteers is not easy. To get one is tough, but 30,000 in one month! I believe that there are spiritual powers behind all these. We have to remember that there is a spiritual warfare still going on. Often it is easy to forget as we sit so comfortably in our pews.

(3) God
How do we know it is from God? God usually confirms what he says. Look at Samuel’s example. 1 Samuel 3:11-15.
1SA 3:11 And the LORD said to Samuel: "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family--from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, `The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.' "
God is essentially confirming what he said about the condemnation of Eli’s household because of Eli’s two wicked sons, Hophni and Phinehas (1 Samuel 2:12-36). When Samuel heard this, he was satisfied that it was God who is speaking. Samuel must be around when he man of God came to pronounce God’s curse on Eli’s household in 1 Samuel 2:27. That’s why Samuel went back to sleep in v.15. He was convinced that he has heard from God.

2. Who is being Called?
Who did God call to? Samuel and not Hophni and Phinehas. God calls to those who worship him and to those who have a servant heart. Samuel had a servant heart.
(1) He worked hard serving the Lord as his servant.
v.1 Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli
v.15 he open the doors of the house of the Lord in the morning
(2) He has a servant attitude
Whenever Eli called, Samuel was prompt in his response and said, “Here I am”. That reflects a servant heart. This means that whatever God said to Samuel, he will listen and obey.

Sometimes, we must have wondered why God do not speak to us. Could it be we are not serving with a servant heart?

4. How do we listen?
We do not hear God’s voice because we are not listening properly. There are a few ways in which we listen:


(1) listen but do not hear
we are listening but we do not hear. We are not receptive at all.


(2) listen for what we want to hear
we have selective hearing loss. We only hear what we want to hear. Some of us have already made up our mind on what he or she wants to do for the Lord. Then we will search through the Scripture to find verses that support what we want to do. If the whole verse does not fit, we cut off half and use the only one half. When the Lord speaks to us through the Bible we hear only what we want to hear.
One of the most frustrating thing about being a doctor is explaining to parents of a very sick child. I have often experienced spending hours explaining what is wrong with their child and the prognosis. At the end, they will ask, “Is everything okay?” They do not want to hear anything else. They just want to hear me say the word “Okay”.


(3) listen enough to do something
we listen and hear enough so we can do something. “Alex, I want you to build a house…” “Yes, Lord” “Right away, Lord” So I get a contractor straight away to proceed to build a house. After the house I completed, I came back to the Lord. “Here you are, Lord, nice house, all completed.” The Lord said, “ You did not listen to my whole sentence. I was saying, I want you to build a house for your dogs.” How many of us are so eager to do things for the Lord but we do not spend enough time listening to him. That’s why we need to set aside time for prayers and solitude. God speaks in silence.


(4) listen with our hearts
The Lord is more interested in our being rather in our doing. To listen to the Lord, we need to listen not only with our mind but also with our heart. Then only can we hear the voice of God properly.


1SA 3:19 The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. 21 The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

Samuel knew how to listen to the Lord with his heart. That’s why none of God’s words fall to the ground. Everything was taken in an assimilated. People begin to recognise him as a prophet. And because Samuel is a good listener, God continue to reveal himself to Samuel by speaking to him.

Lessons for us:  Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening
How do we discern that God is speaking to us, not our self or Satan? How do we know who is calling? How do we know who is being called? And how do we listen to the words of God? John Wesley gave some guidelines in discerning God’s voice: Scripture, tradition, reason, experience.


(1) Scripture- God will not contradict himself. Whatever that contradict what is revealed in the Bible is not from God. If someone turns up saying God has revealed to him that Jesus Christ is married to Mary Magdalene and has a daughter named Sarah; that is not from God.


(2) Tradition- whatever contradicts 2,000 years of church experience. Sometimes we forget that the church has been around for 2000 years and does not start with Martin Luther. We can learn much from church history. There have been many mistakes but also great things the church has done. Tradition teaches us how to listen to God’s voice.

Tradition also includes the present church community. The Holy Spirit is common to all of us. If God speaks to one of us, he will also confirm with he says with others in the community. So if you feel God is speaking to you, ask others if they sense the same thing also. Community discernment is a powerful tool in confirming not only whether you are hearing God’s voice but also whether you are hearing him correctly.

(3) Reason- common sense. Often we do not use our common sense when we ask God to speak to us. Often we ask God whether we shall pray, read the Bible, evangelise, do mission or help another person. And then we complain that God does not reply. The reason why God does not reply is that he has already replied in the Bible. At other times, God may want us to think for ourselves.

(4) Experience- like Samuel, the more you listen to God, the more he will speak to you. After a while, you will have enough experience to recognize the Lord’s voice. You will also learn to know what pleases and displeases God.


These 4 aspects became known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in 1920. I would like to add prayer as the matrix that holds it all together.


(5) Prayer-Communion with God.

So in graphic form, we can discern God’s voice by

 

                                             Scripture

 

                              Tradition                 Reason                       Experience

 

 

                             Prayer-Communion with God

 


Conclusion
Our God is a God who wants to reveal himself. He is not playing hide-and-seek with us. If we seek him, he will speak plainly to us. He may speaks to us directly in an audible voice (as in Samuel’s case), through dreams, visions and his people. Unfortunately there are also false voices, voices that will seek to counterfeit God’s voice to mislead us. This is where spiritual discernment comes in. Discernment is listening with your heart to confirm God’s word. The more you listen to God, the more you recognize his voice and the easier it gets to hear him.


                                                                                                                                                                          Soli Deo Gloria

 

|posted 30 July 2006|                                                                                                                                          

 

return to top
 

               

"treat, heal, and comfort always"

 "spiritual forming disciples of Jesus Christ with informed minds, hearts on fire and contemplative in actions"  

 

     
Website Articles Spiritual Writings Nurture/ Courses Engaging Culture Medical Interests Social

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   
           

 

  Creative Commons License

Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is
licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

© 2006-2017 Alex Tang