Next Steps (1) - Listening to His Voice
Welcome. We are beginning a brand-new message series entitled Next Steps and I want to talk to you about being in the right place, because God wants to meet with you, and you don’t want to miss it. This is so important, because before you consider your Next Steps, before God gives you what’s next, you must be found faithful where he has planted you. “For this reason,” Paul told young Timothy,
“I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands… He said, “do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life” (2 Timothy 1:6-9).
And all through the Bible, men and women are called to be bold and faithful wherever they are planted. And so, you may have been 40 years in the wilderness, when suddenly you experience a burning bush and God would say here’s what’s next. Other times there would suddenly appear a pillar of cloud or a pillar of fire and God would lead the way. And so, you just never know when he’s going to show up, you never know where he’s going to lead you, but you need to be ready and prepared to take your Next Steps.
If you would turn with me in your Bibles to first Samuel chapter 3, there is a passage of Scripture that I want to share with you to kick off this series, because it really illustrates the potential of being in the right place at the right time so that you’re able to hear the call of God. In other words, to be planted with a posture of preparedness, attentively leaning in and listening, expecting to hear the voice of God. Just as he told us, “be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). And yet, for many of us we’re consumed by our responsibilities, just trying to make ends meet, trying to get our education, trying to hold onto our job, trying to lead our families, and our lives are more reactive than proactive.
And so, I want to encourage you for the next couple weeks, if you’ve gotten off track, maybe you’ve wasted some years, and things have gotten out of order. There is still time to get in position, to get in your place, and discover what God has next for you. I know the call of God can seem to be a mystery because so many of us are just trying to survive, but if you’re here or if you’re watching, you are already positioning yourself for your Next Steps.
In our text today, in first Samuel chapter 3 we’re introduced to a young boy named Samuel. He was just a young man when he has an encounter with God, and my prayer is that in this text we will have an encounter with God too. And so, reading at verse one, the word of God says,
“The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1).
“One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 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 Samuel” (1 Samuel 3:2-4).
“Samuel answered, "Here I am." 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” (1 Samuel 3:4-5).
“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” (1 Samuel 3:6).
“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7).
“The Lord called Samuel a third time, 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. So, Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:8-9).
“So, Samuel went and lay down in his place. 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 3:9-10).
I know for some of you, the call of God is the furthest thought from your mind, because you’re just trying to pay the bills. Others of you, you love God, and you really want to make a difference, but honestly, you’re just happy to find your keys in the morning. And so, you’re not looking for your calling, and yet so many times over the years people have asked me, “How do I find my calling?” Or “I don’t know how God has gifted me. I don’t know what God has called me to do.”
And so, when we talk about the calling of God, I understand the tension, this frustration, this struggle, because so many of us are just trying to live our lives, but deep down inside there is this longing to find the thing that you were made to do. In other words, “we are God's workmanship,” and there’s something in us, something in our spiritual DNA that tells us that we were, “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). And so, as a born-again believer, there is something in you that refuses to be satisfied with anything less than finding that which God prepared for you to do.
And yet, in our culture today, the concept of a calling has been clouded because of so much emphasis on fame, success, and financial gain. And even within Christian circles we often find ourselves confused trying to understand the nature of our calling, because we’re listening to the wrong voices. In other words, we either wish we were doing something that God never told us to do or we’re doing something that God told us not to do, much like it was in the days of Eli when he was the priest in the tabernacle.
You see, his sons Hophni and Phinehas served alongside of him, but they had become confused about what it meant to honor God, and they started honoring themselves. In other words, they thought more of their own opinions, their own desires, and they started treating God is something common. In fact, the Bible says that Hophni and Phinehas, were wicked men who had no regard for the Lord, and so they abused their privilege (1 Samuel 2:12).
The Bible says, whenever people would offer a sacrifice to the Lord, Hophni and Phinehas they would take for themselves whatever they wanted. If anyone objected, saying to them,
“Let the fat be burned up first, and then take whatever you want," the servant would then answer, "No, hand it over now; if you don't, I'll take it by force” (1 Samuel 2:16).
And so, the sins of these young men were very great in the Lord's sight, for they were treating the Lord's offering with contempt (1 Samuel 2:17).
It was in that context, in those days, that Samuel began serving as an apprentice in the tabernacle.
Now, you may remember his mother, Hannah, how she had prayed to have a son, and God heard her prayer. Well, when she gave birth to the boy, she dedicated him to the Lord, and at a young age, probably around 12, she entrusted him to the care of Levi, the priest of God. But the truth was that Levi wasn’t doing a very good job of raising his own sons, let alone anyone else’s, but the Bible tells us that God was raising up another to replace him, one he said who will do according to what is in my heart and mind (1 Samuel 2:35).
And so, it was at that time that Hannah dropped off her son and I want you to notice that the Bible says something very interesting in verse one.
“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1).
In other words, because Levi and his sons had despised the Lord, treating the Lord is a common thing, not honoring him in His Holiness, the word of the Lord was rare.
And so, this was a period of scarcity, in many ways much like it is today. In fact, the Bible says,
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
And so, here we are in 2023, living in such crazy times, not that we don’t have access to the word of God, but you just don’t know who you can trust anymore. The fact is that we have an overload of information which makes it difficult to discern the truth, because you can’t tell if it’s real or if it’s fake news.
And so, the people of God are crying out for a word from the Lord, wanting to hear from God, and yet the Lord declared,
“In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
And so, it’s not that we don’t have access to truth, to the word of God, and to the revealed will of God. It’s just that there is a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11).
It makes me wonder if our culture isn’t just like it was in the days of Eli, if it’s not just our attitude towards the word of God? In other words, our hearts have become so calloused, so hardened to the things of God, that we can’t even hear with our ears like Jesus said.
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding…” (Matthew 13:14).
Like Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, they were serving the Lord, but abused the privilege. They had ears to hear but did not hear (Ezekiel 12:2).
That’s what happens when the word of God becomes common. You have access to the word of God, but it doesn’t have an impact on your life because you have denied the authority of the word of God. That’s what happens when you start to doubt the inspiration of the word of God, treating it as something common and unholy, and that’s the context where we find Samuel. He was placed in a culture of neglect, the spiritual leaders were corrupt, and the Bible says,
“In those days the word of the Lord was rare” (1 Samuel 3:1).
And so, theirs was a culture much like ours, where the value of worshiping God, treasuring his law, and what he said was negotiable. They no longer considered marriage holy and sex outside of marriage an abomination to the Lord. They robbed God of tithes and offerings, profaning the worship and the presence of God in his sanctuary. And so, the word of the Lord was rare because they weren’t obeying what he had already said.
In fact, you could say that the silence of God was the judgment of God because the Scripture says,
“Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
And so, until we treasure the word of God, consecrating ourselves to God, and making time to listen for the voice of God we’re not truly honoring God.
You see, it’s the revelation of God that we’re after and you can’t get that from skimming through a devotional or flipping aimlessly through the Bible. I think David said it best in the Psalms when he said,
“You are my God, earnestly I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, as if in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory” (Psalm 63:1-2).
“Your love is better than life, and my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name, I will lift up my hands… with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:3-6).
And that’s exactly where we find Samuel, waiting silently in his bed through the watches of the night. And God is about to relieve this famine for the word of God in Israel as he speaks to a young boy who would listen and obey.
Now, there may be some of you who’ve never recognized the audible voice of God, but God is a speaking God. In fact, he was speaking before there was anyone to listen, in the beginning was the Word and he said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Even now, in these last days,
“He has spoken to us by his Son whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:2).
And so, from the very beginning of time God has been speaking. In times past he spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He spoke to Moses and the prophets, and here young Samuel hears the audible voice of God. He is receiving revelation from God, and we know that…
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
And so, God is still speaking. In fact, I first recognized the voice of God when he called me to be a minister of the gospel at the young age of 14, but like Jonah I hardened my heart and went the other direction. However, God was relentless and once again in 1999 I heard the voice of God calling me to teach his Word. This time I responded to his voice, and as I stepped by faith into the opportunities before me, lives were changed, and I recognized the call of God on my life.
Can I encourage you today, wherever God finds you, would you respond to his voice? He is still speaking; he is the same yesterday and today and forever.
“Therefore,” the Bible says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" (Hebrews 4:7).
Would you wait for it and respond to his voice calling in the night, recognizing as the prophet Habakkuk said,
“The revelation awaits an appointed time… Though it lingers, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).
If you believe in God, it is important that you linger, you may have to wait for it, but the revelation is for today. It will certainly come because God has called and gifted each one of us to do something today. In fact, the Bible says,
“To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it… When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men" (Ephesians 4:7-8).
In other words, it’s not so much about finding your calling, it’s about receiving your gift and doing something with it. That’s why Peter encouraged the church saying,
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
And so, going back to first Samuel chapter 3, I want you to notice that Samuel wasn’t looking for his calling, he was simply responding to the word of the Lord. He was just being faithful where he had been planted, and yet even Samuel didn’t get it right. In fact, it wasn’t until the fourth time when the Lord came calling that Samuel said,
“Speak, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:10).
Now, I don’t know about you, but reading this encourages me, because God used Samuel in a mighty way. And yet, even this great prophet of God did not get it right the first time, the second time, or even the third time.
In other words, you don’t have to find your calling, you just need to be faithful with what you’ve been given and serve the Lord. It’s more about being planted, being engaged, and being positioned in the right place. As Paul told Timothy,
“I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
And so, as we serve the purposes of God in this season, keeping in step with the Spirit of God, stirring up the gift of God, eagerly desiring the greater gifts, our calling will find us.
We’ve just got to go and serve in the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching the good news of Jesus and making disciples. In other words, we’ve just got to get up, get out, and do it. That’s why Peter said,
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
In first Samuel, Eli may have had poor eyesight, but he still had enough discernment to realize that the Lord was calling Samuel. The Bible says,
“Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9).
Eli knew that if God was actually calling Samuel that he would call him back. All Samuel had to do was get in the right place, to remain where he had been planted, because the Bible says,
“God's gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).
Aren’t you glad that God will call you back? He’s not like some people you call, secretly hoping to get their voicemail, but when the Lord calls, he doesn’t want anybody else, he wants you.
And so, God wasn’t running around in the tabernacle playing hide and seek with Samuel. He wanted Samuel to find him and to follow him, whatever it cost and whatever it looks like, but the problem was that…
“Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7).
In other words, Samuel knew what needed to be done in the tabernacle, he knew what needed to be done to worship God, but there is a big difference between religion and having a relationship with God.
And so, today if you are here worshiping God and you are faithfully serving God that is good, but don’t just go through the motions, to know him is to seek him and find him. Jesus said to know him is to know his voice. He said,
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
And so, three times God came speaking, calling Samuel, not saying anything different, and three times Samuel went to Eli. Three times Eli sent Samuel back, back to the same place, and I believe that when you get in your place and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” You’re going to realize he’s been speaking all along, and you’re going to recognize your purpose, but first you’ve got to be in your place.
Eli sent Samuel back to his place to wait, because that’s where God comes to us, in that humble place. That’s where we find the prophet Jeremiah who said, “Lord,”
"I do not know how to speak; I am only a child” (Jeremiah 1:6).
Or when Moses turned aside to look at the burning bush, he took off his sandals because the Lord said it was holy ground. That’s the place where we find Isaiah, when he saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted. An angel took a burning coal and touched his lips and then Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).
We’re talking about Next Steps and I believe God wants us to get to the place where we can be fully engaged in this season of life. That we would be planted, that we would be listening, and that we would say, “Here am I. Send me!”
The world may tell you that you are called to be and do a lot of things, but the only thing the Lord ever asked of you is to say, “Here am I.”
That’s what Jeremiah said, that’s what Moses said, that’s what Isaiah said, and that’s what Samuel said. And when he got in his place and made himself available, he transitioned from a season where the word of the Lord was rare, to a day when there was an abundance. The Bible says,
“Samuel's word came to all Israel” (1 Samuel 4:1).
God’s people had lost their ability to hear, and so God taught Samuel to listen, to be attentive, and God’s voice became so clear, so audible, that when Samuel spoke, what he said came directly from the throne of God.
As we close, I believe that is what God wants to do in our hearts over the next few weeks, that we would learn to listen to what God is saying to his church. Because some of you keep running back to Eli, running to find something else, something out there, when God is trying to speak to you in your place. Let’s go to God in prayer.
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Ministry Pass, PC Study Bible, Preaching Library, and Sermon Central. Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.