Why I Don’t Want to Hear God’s Voice
In 1 Samuel chapter three we find an interesting account of a young man who is hearing the voice of God for the very first time in his life. The passage records Samuel lying down in the temple. No doubt, he was trying to get some sleep in preparation for the early morning duties that he was responsible for in the temple. So often, our plans and God’s tend to run contrary to each other and in the midst of Samuel’s peaceful slumber he was jolted as someone called out his name. Almost instinctively, Samuel runs to Eli, the priest of the temple, and the man of God in his life.
Allow me to just pause here for a moment to say that Samuel’s first reaction to hearing this voice was to run to the man of God, the authority in his life. Naturally, due to the fact that they would have been living within earshot of each other Eli had called to Samuel at some point before. It is not my attempt to “over-spiritualize” this instinctive reaction Samuel had but, no doubt, there would have been other people in, and around, the temple. Scripture records that Eli had sons, and there would have been other people who had duties in the temple. I just love the fact that Samuel compulsively runs to probably the only person spiritual enough to actually understand what was happening in his life… three times. Too many times when something different or unaccounted for, takes place in our lives we run to those who are less informed of reality than we are, and we end up neglecting the authority in our lives. The result is we miss the point, for example, what if Samuel didn’t run to Eli that night? I digress…
So, Samuel runs to Eli three times. There must have been a point around that third time out of bed when Samuel began questioning his sanity. Fortunately for Samuel, Eli was spiritual enough to see what was taking place, God was calling to Samuel. Sometimes when God has your number, it tends to lead you to question your sanity. Life is just happening too fast, and situations are unfolding so far outside of your control you just have to step back before you can realize God’s on the other end of the line. Samuel, now aware of the situation goes and returns to bed, I see him walking back in anticipation, hoping he hadn't blown his chance to talk to God! Then we read verse 10…
“And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.”
The Lord in this instance says, “Samuel, Samuel” this repetition of the name actually is significant in the Hebrew language and is exceedingly rare in the Bible, only being used fifteen times. When someone repeats a name like this, it suggests an intimate personal relationship between the two. This is not really a lighthearted figure of speech, and Samuel would have immediately recognized the point God was making. He was now communicating with the God, who had answered his mother’s plea for a child; this was the God who formed him in the womb. As the Psalmist wonderfully declared, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” Samuel was talking to God!
In academia, we are taught that there is a difference between hearing and listening. Specifically, hearing is defined as, “the faculty of perceiving sounds” whereas listening is defined as, “give one's attention to a sound.” So, an example of this could be that you have been hearing yourself quietly mumble the words of this text out loud but have been unaware of it until now (you’re welcome)… and now you are listening for it. Listening requires cognizant purpose; it is where one applies intention to hearing. And that is exactly what Samuel replies to the Lord with when he says, “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” The Hebrew word here for heareth is shâmaʿ (shaw-mah´) which literally means, “to hear intelligently.” In short, the first three instances Samuel was hearing the voice of God, but now he is listening to the voice of God.
There is a problem with listening though, and it is paramount to understand before one can properly listen to the voice of God. If we are not careful, our process of listening can become a systematic process of selective auditory attention or selective hearing. As we have all experienced at one monotonous point or another, selective hearing entails only listening to what one wants to hear. There is quite possibly no more dangerous application of selective hearing than that of listening to the voice of God because there is quite possibly no more important voice that that of the voice of God.
Further along in the passage we have been discussing after God has spoken to Samuel, we read this…
“And Samuel lay until the morning… And Samuel feared to shew Eli the vision.”
I love reading this because I picture Samuel just laying in bed staring at the ceiling of the temple for the rest of the night. What began as a peaceful evening transpired into him not sleeping at all. It is probably terrible to enjoy what was without a doubt a long night for Samuel, but it just reminds me, yet again, that Samuel was a real person. Next time you lay in bed staring at the ceiling questioning circumstances, or yourself just remember Samuel did too.
The heart of the matter on selective hearing in regards to God’s voice is encapsulated in that second sentence though. Samuel listened to the voice of God, but he didn’t really like what God had to say, and so he probably wanted to forget it, or at least figure out a way to negate it entirely. God didn’t have great things to say to Samuel, it was pretty much calling out Eli and the fact that his family was about to be judged. It was probably a serious buzzkill for Samuel’s big moment with God, where is the Psalmist when you need him? Samuel was then faced with a predicament, Eli knew God was speaking to Samuel, and Samuel was going to have to tell him, and so the danger of selective hearing enters, because Samuel could have lied or skirted the issue with the “Samuel, Samuel” moment of awe. The fact of the matter is that it is not always easy to listen to the voice of God, but Samuel later goes on to became the first prophet of Israel. Lesson, God, speaks to those who listen, totally listen.
It is in that arena of totally listening to God that I want to live my life. I am not satisfied with simply hearing God’s voice without understanding what he has to say, resulting in me totally missing what the Creator of the universe, the Savior of my soul is saying. One of my all time favorite quotes, I have referenced it a myriad of times, is by C.S. Lewis and he says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Regretfully, I can state this quote is true because I have found myself in the exact predicament Lewis is speaking of, so lost in one’s personal pursuit that the voice of God has gone mute, until one day the loudspeakers suddenly burst open, and God’s voice is so real it is almost deafening. Possibly you have experienced the same reality. From all of this I have learned one simple thing… I don’t want to hear God’s voice; I want to listen to God’s voice.