Here is a game to explore hearing God
Choose one person to be the ‘right’ voice and one ‘maze rat’ to be blindfolded. The blindfolded person has to follow the instructions of the ‘right’ voice amongst all the bad advice from the other people.
Make an obstacle course out of chairs or coats or books and guide the maze rat around it be calling instructions from the side. The rat must try to pick out the ‘right’ voice from among all the conflicting instructions to get through the maze.
Yesterday, I was having a quiet day at Launde Abbey, an Anglican retreat house in England, not too far from where I live. One of the pictures there has always struck me, and it seemed to resonate with today’s passage.
It is a very broad picture of trees in a wood; one large truck near the centre dominates the view, while many smaller, thinner trunks stretch back into the distance. To me it always seems heavy with metaphor about finding one’s way, can’t see the wood for the trees, etc., but this time, with the story of Samuel’s calling buzzing around my head, a different aspect caught me, and it’s all to do with being a bit dim, a bit hard of hearing.
I don’t know about you, but I can be dim sometimes. Particularly when it comes to hearing God. I love this story of Samuel hearing God’s voice and thinking it was Eli. Now we can let Samuel off, he’s just a kid and this is the first time he’s heard God. But Eli? Eli should have known. Eli should have recognised God’s voice. It’s no wonder that God’s voice wasn’t heard very much if even a priest did not recognise it.
But I can’t be too hard on Eli. I doubt I’d have done any better. Forget the still, small voice; I need the deafening, heavy-metal-band-sound-system voice before I go, ‘Eh? Sorry, did you say something?’
I often wonder how many times God had tried to attract Moses’ attention before Moses finally took notice of the oddly non-flammable bush. Had there been a nudging of the conscience that Moses had passed off as toothache? A significant dream that he blamed on a dodgy curry? A Bible passage that smacked him between the eyes … oh hang on, it hadn’t been written yet. Scrub that one. Perhaps God had even got birds to fly in patterns that spelled out ‘Go to Egypt, Moses’ in hieroglyphs. We’ll never know. But eventually, God got Moses’ attention, and the rest is the Pentateuch.
So what does this have to do with the trees? And Samuel?
It’s all about the big trunk. The one right in the way of where I’m going. As I look at the picture it seems as if I’ve run smack bang into this massive tree trunk and I’m stuck.
I can’t keep going the same way. There is this huge, immovable object in the way and I can either go around it, one side or the other, or I can stay here – stuck – until the grass grows around my feet and the birds start building nests in my hair.
This can be hard to hear. It is not easy to alter how it has (always) been. Particularly if the ‘how it has been’, has been good. A new direction does not mean that the old direction as wrong. It may well have been right up until now, but, like running into the tree, something needs to change. And that can be difficult to hear.
For Samuel (if you continue after verse 10) it was a hard message to deliver. Mandatory retirement for Eli and instant dismissal (without redundancy pay) for his sons. Eli had been resting on his descent from Aaron, but was not hearing God.
I wonder how much we are living on the calling of a past time, trundling along on the same path without check that God is still in front?
I am often dim, and take a lot of nudges, shoves and boots up the bum before I change direction. I need to follow the example of Samuel, and shut up for long enough to hear the Lord speak.
1 Samuel 3:1-10 New Century Version
The boy Samuel served the Lord under Eli. In those days the Lord did not speak directly to people very often; there were very few visions.
Eli’s eyes were so weak he was almost blind. One night he was lying in bed. Samuel was also in bed in the Lord’s house, where the Ark of the Agreement was. God’s lamp was still burning.
Then the Lord called Samuel, and Samuel answered, “I am here!” He ran to Eli and said, “I am here. You called me.”
But Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” So Samuel went back to bed.
The Lord called again, “Samuel!”
Samuel again went to Eli and said, “I am here. You called me.”
Again Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”
Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the Lord had not spoken directly to him yet.
The Lord called Samuel for the third time. Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “I am here. You called me.”
Then Eli realized the Lord was calling the boy. So he told Samuel, “Go to bed. If he calls you again, say, ‘Speak, Lord. I am your servant and I am listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in bed.
The Lord came and stood there and called as he had before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel said, “Speak, Lord. I am your servant and I am listening.”
New Century Version (NCV)
The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.Living Bible (TLB)