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Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-21
Dr Alex Tang
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Prayer-Communion with God
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|
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