Learning how to listen for God
Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians who want to “hear from the Lord.” We desire God’s guidance for our lives, but we tend to be rather unfocused in how we go about finding it. We know that listening for God’s guidance is something that we need to learn and practice, but what we fail to realize is that means we’re going to need someone to teach us how.
We see an example of this at the beginning of Samuel’s career as God’s prophet:
1 Samuel 3:1-11
The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence. In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread. One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room. Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.
Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.” He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“I didn’t call,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!” Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied. “Go and lie down.”
Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy. He told Samuel, “Go and lie down. If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”
The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder…”
Then the Lord went on to give Samuel his first prophetic insight into God’s plans for the nation of Israel.
Notice how Samuel had to be taught how to respond to God’s voice. Even though Samuel had been serving the Lord under Eli’s guidance, recognizing the word of the Lord wasn’t a skill Samuel just naturally had. He had to be taught how to listen and how to respond to God’s call.
We’re like that, too. We believe Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we accept His offer of eternal life, so we’re in His family. We may even be serving – and serving well – within our local church congregation.
But if God called out to us right now, would we know that it’s Him talking?
For our current stage of human history, God doesn’t talk through prophets like He did in Samuel’s time. Instead, we have the recorded words of Jesus and those who interacted directly with Him. Perhaps the same question needs to be put into our modern context:
Do we know the Bible well enough to recognize God’s voice and direction?
When Joe began to mentor me, the very first thing he taught me was how to read and understand Scripture. Learning how to properly observe, interpret, and apply Scripture was the major catalyst for growth in my relationship with God. As I studied the Bible, I learned to recognize how God works and what He expects from His children. I began to know Him better as He revealed Himself to me through the pages of the Bible.
Interacting with God’s word isn’t a one-and-done type of thing, either. We don’t learn to handle the Scriptures and then consider it checked off our list of “ways to grow”. We need to continually go back to where God has revealed Himself to us, because that is where our relationship with Him is found.
Samuel had the same kind of experience:
1 Samuel 3:19-21
Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false. All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.
I love that last sentence, where God revealed Himself to Samuel by His word. We have the same opportunity, to have God reveal Himself to us if we take the time to learn how to handle Scripture.