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How To Listen To God’s Voice

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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 house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel. 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. 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.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” 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. 10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”. Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
(1 Samuel 3:2-10)


We are currently studying the passage in which young Samuel hears from God for the first time and learns to discern God’s voice.

Samuel was called by God three times in this one evening. Each time he mistakenly believed it was Eli who had called him. Perhaps this means that Samuel heard God audibly rather than through an “inner voice”. We can’t be certain.

It took Eli himself until the third time to realize that it wasn’t just Samuel hearing things in the middle of the night. Eli figured out that it was God calling.

Eli wasn’t always the best when it came to serving God. But He knew God and here he does the right thing. He teaches Samuel how to listen for and respond to God.

It is the job of parents, especially fathers, to raise their children so they know God [Deuteronomy 11:18-19; Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4]. Eli was not Samuel’s biological father. But he was Samuel’s surrogate father. And for all his faults he did a good job of training Samuel to know God. He certainly did a better job with Samuel than he did with his own sons.

Samuel had never been in the situation of hearing from God before. He needed mentoring and Eli provided it. This is a good lesson not only for parents but any adult. Children need to be taught how to behave in new situations. They should not be left on their own to figure things out, especially when it comes to spiritual issues. Parent, uncles/aunts, and teachers should be willing to voluntarily advise the younger generation so that they know how to react in situations they’ve never been in before.

Eli taught Samuel that the way to listen for God was to go and lie down. We cannot hear God if we are all up and about. We need to be still and in a quite place. I often find that laying in bed in the morning or evening is the best time (for me) to communicate with God.

God is not going to compete with our televisions and headphones. He isn’t going to yell to get our attention. He speaks in a small, still voice [1 Kings 19:11-13]. The onus is on us to put ourselves in a position to be able to hear Him [Isaiah 55:3; Psalm 85:8; Habakkuk 2:1].

In addition to knowing how to listen to God we have to know how to respond to God, which Eli also teaches Samuel. He tells him to respond by saying “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” The right way to respond to God is to listen, not to talk.

It is also important that we not presume God is talking to us. Notice that Eli tells Samuel “if” God calls. If He does we should respond humbly, recognizing that we are the servant and God is our master.

Too often we just want to ramble on and tell God all our problems and all we want Him to do for us as if we are in charge. And while it is not wrong to petition God [Psalm 54:2; Matthew 6:11-13; Philippians 4:6;], we first have to listen to what He wants to say. He is, among other things, our teacher. Often what He has to say to us will put our problems and life circumstances in perspective.

Sure enough, God comes calling for Samuel a fourth time. Notice that He calls Samuel by name. We always feel closer to people who know our name. Not knowing someone’s name creates a distance between us. God knows our names. He wants to close any gap between us. He wants a personal relationship with each of us.

Samuel, ever the good student, does exactly what Eli tells him to do, with one exception. He did not call God “Lord“. Perhaps he was too nervous to be talking to the God of the universe. Certainly understandable.

This passage doesn’t say but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Samuel had been waiting for this day for a long time. He had been serving God in the tabernacle for seven years. He kept himself out of trouble despite being surrounded by heinous sinners so we know that he respected God’s word. But he had not yet spoken with God directly. I suspect this was a very exciting moment for Him.

Just like we’d recognize the voice of a good friend on the other end of the telephone, we can recognize God’s voice. The person on the other end doesn’t need to identify themselves. We know who they are from their voice.

We similarly learn to know when God is speaking to us by studying the Bible. The things God will say when He talks to us will line up with what He’s already told us in His word. Any message that we think is from God but which contradicts the Bible is not from God. It is from Satan.

Just like He did with Samuel, God comes calling. He’s standing there in front of everyone, calling them by name. And He keeps calling in hopes that we’ll hear and respond.

Sadly, many people, including many professing Christians, miss out on hearing from God because they never turn of their TVs or disconnect their Internet. They’re too busy filling their minds with useless information that will do nothing to help their lives here on earth let alone their lives in eternity. They’re too busy listening to Oprah and Ellen and TMZ – anyone but God.

Sadly they are missing out on the greatest experience they could ever have – the experience they were designed for.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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