Listen! God Is Speaking!
“Listen!”, second in the series from UMC Discipleship Ministries’ “Rise Up!”, takes us through listening even when God seems silent and the Word of the Lord is rare. The liturgy (worship service) starts out in quiet, somber tones, asking us to think about the roles of mentor and student, the challenge of giving up one’s role to a younger generation, and the struggles that younger generation faces as it learns to listen for God’s voice. As you’ll see, music plays a more significant role in this week’s liturgy. I encourage you to take time to listen to each of the videos, either as you’re reading the section associated with them or as you finish a section.
Note: For best understanding and flow, listen to each video where it is placed in the page before moving on to the next portion of text as placement is based on where the music/audio would take place during a live service.
Speak, O Lord (Introit)
Prayer of Illumination
Once again, Rev. B. Kevin Smalls provides us with prayer in the form of a spoken word poem. Shhhhh, listen, Y’all …
Now the boy, Samuel, was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time, Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called,
The Lord: Samuel! Samuel!
Samuel: Here I am!
Samuel ran to Eli.
Samuel: Here I am, for you called me.
Eli: I did not call; lie down again.
So he went and lay down. The Lord called again.
The Lord: Samuel!
Samuel got up and went to Eli.
Samuel: Here I am, for you called me.
Eli: I did not call, my son; lie down again.
Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli.
Eli: Here I am, for you called me.
Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.
Eli: Go, lie down; and if the voice calls you again, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before.
The Lord: Samuel! Samuel!
Samuel: Speak, for your servant is listening.
A moment of silence.
The Lord: Behold, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.
A moment of silence.
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel.
Eli: Samuel, my son.
Samuel: Here I am.
Eli: What did God say to you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.
Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.
Eli: It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to Him.
A moment of silence.
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Reflection for Sunday, January 14, 2018
“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
“Nothing more frightening than heightening the expectation that God will speak. Hearing these days is rare. I don’t have any more risks to spare.”
Sometimes it’s like that. No matter how much we pray, hope, pray some more, ask others to pray for us, all we hear is crickets, and we begin to doubt His existence or our faith. We become hesitant to invest our hope in that silence, unwilling to take a risk that the answer is not the answer we want. Not hearing God, especially when you really need to hear Him, can be maddening, confusing, even defeating.
I imagine Eli, who had been accustomed to hearing God speak, must have felt frustrated near the end of his time when “the word of the Lord was rare” and “visions were not widespread.” I expect Eli felt both angry and defeated when it finally occurred to him that God was speaking to Samuel, the 12-year-old boy Eli had raised since the child was a toddler, instead of talking to Eli; that God was, in essence, taking the job Eli had done for years and giving it to a mere kid.
“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the world of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”
“If God is quiet … certainly, others aren’t. Buy here, pay here, sale here, try it here, go there, sit, stand … When the word is rare no one could dare suggest I just wait. No one would care if I pick my own blessings or if I seek my own dressings to my own arrangements … I’d rather do that … than trust …”
Sometimes it’s like that. Sometimes we may not know how to listen for God’s voice. Sometimes other “voices” we know and trust or that are prominent in some way, seem to be the mouth through which God is speaking. Some of them may even insist they and they alone are that voice. And sometimes we believe them … because we want to believe them … because we so desperately need to hear God speak to us … because the silence makes us impatient.
“Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘What was it that He told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you. So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then Eli said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to Him.”
“Trusting leaves the possibility for disappointment. Acting on my own will help me to clone my own similar to the one in my mind … Except, it never works. Listening is the best way.”
Sometimes, even when we hear God speaking, we try to ignore what God says to us or avoid acting on it because we’re afraid.
“As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”
“Listening. Listening to, ‘yes.’ Listening to ‘no more distress’ but also listening to ‘no’, listening to ‘follow me … trust me … hope in me … shhhhh, everyone, hush, I’m listening this time … I’d rather hear a ‘no’ from God than a shallow ‘yes’ from the mess of this world.”
In a message (link below) about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and “listening” at Duke University Chapel, Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery said …
“Listening anticipates a sound and what we hear is hopefully not only our own voice. The first lesson on listening is that God speaks … If we don’t know God’s voice, we may run to the wrong people for advice and guidance, sometimes even making them god of our lives. If we don’t know the voice of God, we may only hear our own voice and then confuse our voice with God’s. Or, maybe we can’t hear God because of all of the noise, “the jangling echoes of [the] turbulence”(Howard Thurman) in the world or in our lives. Or, maybe we just listen to the distorted voices that tell us that it isn’t worth it, we can’t do it, it’ll never change. “
God is speaking to each of us and we are called, like Samuel, to listen … but, do we hear Him? Really hear Him? Do we hear all that He is saying to us, or do we hear only those parts we want to hear? How do we know it’s Him?
As Rev. Powery points out, the first lesson on listening is accepting that God does and will speak.
The second lesson is learning to recognize His voice among all the other voices; among your friends and neighbors, among celebrities and leaders, even from your own.
It’s not always easy, especially when you first consciously start trying to hear Him. God’s voice can be hard to discern even for those like Eli who know God well and especially for those who are still learning about Him (like Samuel) and those who don’t know Him at all. There are, though, ways we can learn to hear Him more clearly, to be more in tune with His voice than all the others.
For those who don’t yet know Him and those who are still learning about Him, one of the best avenues is through a faith community where you can partner with or at least identify people who can answer your questions, point you toward resources, or even just covenant with you to be your moral support.
Prayer is another way for those who know God better as well as those who are just learning about Him to begin to call on Him and learn to hear His answers. For example, there is a simple “body prayer” for petitioning God’s help that lends itself well to learning to listen for God’s voice found in Paths to Prayer (Patricia D. Brown; Jossey-Bass, publishers) called Palms Down, Palms Up (included below in Additional Resources).
Prayer can be done anywhere, anytime, even when you can’t find the words to tell God what you need or what you’re seeking. (God knows your heart. He doesn’t need your words.)
The most critical part of this second lesson, though, is knowing how to discern whether what you’re hearing is really God speaking. The best way to know that is to know that God is love. God will never ask you to do something out of hate, fear, spite, vengeance, or through condemnation. If the voice you’re hearing says to exclude, condemn, judge, or otherwise look down upon someone else … that’s not God. Keep listening.
The third lesson is harder – waiting to hear God speak. His answers aren’t always immediate and aren’t always what we want to hear. Patience is important and we humans are not a patient lot. Nor are we creatures of good habit. Praying regularly will help you learn to hear when God is speaking and, because it is done alone, will help you to learn to hear God’s voice above others, even your own … especially your own.
The fourth and final lesson is the absolute hardest – accepting what God says. All too often, we want the “no” to be “yes”, we don’t want to give up our power or position to someone else, or we don’t want to make the sacrifice we’re being asked to make.
Again, God is love, and God is not going to ask you to do anything that would harm you or harm someone else. Nor is any “bad” you may be suffering part of God’s plan for you. He will, however, bring you through it and use the bad to make something better if you let Him. That’s the “trust me” part … letting Him. When we listen for God to speak to us, when we are patient, and when we accept what He tells us to do, hope is reborn and change happens whether in us or in others or both.
Hope, right now, is almost as rare as God’s word. The world is a mess, but God is speaking. We just need to listen, to accept, and then to act. He will guide us to heal our neighbor, our nation, our world, to build His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven if we let Him.
Shhhhh, everyone, hush … listen this time … take the bold leap, sit in suspense and listen … even at the expense of your disappointment.
Speak, O Lord, your servants are listening.
Prayers of the People*
Shhhhh, O my soul. Shhhhh.
God will speak and guide our prayers.
God’s got us.
God will show us the way.
In this confidence we pray:
For the people of this congregation …
For those who suffer and those in trouble …
O Lord, hear my prayer …
for the concerns of this local community …
for the world, its peoples, and its leaders …
O Lord, hear my prayer …
for the earth you have given to our care …
for the Church universal – its leaders, its members, and its mission …
in communion with the saints …
O Lord, hear my prayer.
In the words our Lord Jesus has taught us:
Our father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen.
O Lord, Hear My Prayer
Praise and Thanksgiving
God gives us so much that we don’t even acknowledge and, like any parent, I’m sure He doesn’t like it when He has to tell us no. Still, though, I have ultimately been thankful for each and every “no” He ever gave me. I know many of those “no” answers were the greatest blessings I’ve received. I’m pretty sure, if you spend some time thinking about it, the “no” answers you received were blessings, too, and for them, we give praise and thanks.
Song of Sending
I appreciate your time spent in the word with me, and I give thanks for you, the reader. Remember …
*The word of the Lord may be rare in these days,
and visions may not be widespread,
But our God is never without a witness.
God is still speaking.
Go, and listen.
Listen, and speak all that the Lord reveals. Amen.
Notes and Additional Resources
*Many thanks to the team at UMC Discipleship Ministries for providing the prayers, poem, scripture interpretation and song lists for this series. (©Discipleship Ministries 2018; Spoken word prayer ©Rev. B. Kevin Smalls 2018)
- Lessons on Listening 1 Samuel 3:1-10 A Sermon preached in Duke University Chapel on January 18, 2015 by the Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery
- Palms Down, Palms Up Body Prayer
“Sit in a comfortable position. Put aside anything in your hands and lap. Sit cross-legged on the floor, or if you are in a chair, place both feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes. Begin by placing your palms face down on your lap or in front of you, as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. Whatever it is that weighs you down, release it. Pause one or two minutes as you release your cares to God.
Now turn your palms face up on your lap or in front of you, as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord. Ask for what you need. Pause one or two minutes as you await the Holy Spirit, who performs the work of prayer and knows our needs, the condition of your heart, and how properly to express it. This is our invitation to the Spirit to come and express our needs in a way that is beyond our ability to put them into words.
Next, bring your hands together and intertwine your fingers into a prayer position. Spend time in silence. Do not relinquish anything or ask anything. Be still in your heart, and sit in God’s presence, allowing the Lord to speak to you. Pause again, for another one or two minutes.
When you are ready, return your awareness to the room and open your eyes.”