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Listen – Speak Lord, we’re listening

By Sam McDonell – UnitingCare – Connect 100

So often we begin prayer in a mode of “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking”. Don’t get me wrong, of course we are meant to pour out our prayers – praises, confessions, laments, requests, hopes and more. Scripture clearly encourages persistent, tenacious prayer that keeps knocking, keeps asking and keeps believing in faith.

Yet what if we miss what God is wanting to say to us because we haven’t stopped long enough to listen? Or if our listening is biased, and we hear answers not even given. Worse still, listening can be neglected, avoided or rejected. As a musician, I undertook years of study which included hundreds of listening tests, and countless hours of developing listening skills. These practices were non-negotiable and expected for music students. How much more then, as disciples of Christ do we need to learn and cultivate practices of spiritual listening? What are deep listening skills we need?

  1. Noticing

In 1 Samuel 3, we read the story of God calling Samuel. At the time, Eli (priest and judge of the Israelites in Shiloh), could barely see, and was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel also was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Historians suggest Samuel was about twelve years old at the time, and according to scripture ‘Samuel did not yet know the Lord’, even though he ‘ministered before the Lord under Eli’.

When I think of how Samuel could be in the same room as the very presence of God, regularly minister before God, yet not even know God – I am so thankful for Jesus! Praise God for Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law and the prophets, reconciling us to God through himself, then sending the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God to live in us.

Upon hearing himself being called, Samuel thinking it is Eli, runs to him. Eli explains he did not call him, and sends him back to lie down. This happens three more times before Eli realises that the Lord is calling Samuel. Noticing – becoming aware of something through observation or perception, paying deliberate and focused attention to various elements of conversations and interactions. Both Eli and Samuel are noticing, then Eli gives Samuel some tips – go and lie down, and if you hear it again, make sure you say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

     2. Openness

Taking Eli’s suggestions on board, when God speaks again, Samuel is ready to listen. He has prepared not just his verbal response, but his heart in openness – ready to respond in obedience as the Lord’s servant. Samuel was prepared to willingly and faithfully listen to God, regardless of what God would say. Shortly after Samuel lay down again, the Lord came, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel”. Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Deep listening involves more than just our ears, it requires a vulnerability of self and an openness of heart. The recurring narrative of scripture urges us, as God’s people, not to harden our hearts if we hear God’s voice, and recites the times when Israel refused to address matters of the heart which affected their ability to hear. From Israel’s refusal to trust God and enter the promised land, to the unbelief and rebellion of the Israelites found in Numbers (13, 14, 20), David then reminds God’s people again in Psalm 95 to not to harden their hearts, or let their hearts go astray, but when they hear God’s voice, to stay as people of his pasture and under his care. We are then reminded again in Hebrews (3:7, 3:15, 4:7) not to harden our hearts, but to have soft hearts and an openness to what God will say.

   3. Hearing

God then speaks to Samuel, beginning with “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle” (v11), and continues with clarity revealing his plans. The next morning Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision, however Eli was insistent, knowing that by hearing Samuel, he would be hearing God’s words. God wants to speak to us even though it is not always through words.

We may not hear a voice like Samuel, but a word may emerge in the stillness, or an answer, or a question, or a prompt. An image may carry meaning, or a word from the Scripture may glow with sudden vibrancy. Insights may come to us, or the gifts we have received from God may be affirmed or reinforced. Hearing God can happen in many different ways, the important thing is that we come to God and incline our ears to hear.

What is so important about hearing God? It spurs our faith – faith comes by hearing through the word of God (Romans 10:17) and it aligns us with the will of God. In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we read the same echo implored seven times – ‘Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (echoing Jesus in Matt 11:15). Hearing God’s word is vital for faith and for understanding what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church.

This text is part of the 37th Synod in Session 40 Days of Prayer

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