Sunday, February 13, 2011

SERMON: WHAT DO YOU HEAR?

23 January 2011

I. Introduction
-- if you have your Bibles, turn to 1 Samuel 3:1-10

1. The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.
2. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.
3. 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.
4. Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, "Here I am."
5. 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.
6. 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."
7. Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
8. 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.
9. So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

-- it's hard to believe in our age of instant communication with cell phones and the internet and 24-hour television, but many years ago, the telegraph was the fastest method of long-distance communication -- and just like today, young men and women rapidly embraced this new technology and wanted to learn about it and to be a part of it
-- well, this one young man saw a newspaper ad for a job as a Morse Code operator -- as you know, that's how the telegraph worked -- it would send out clicks over the wire -- dots and dashes in Morse Code -- that the telegraph operator would then translate into letters and words
-- this young man had just graduated from a school that taught him how to do just that, so he went to the office address that was listed to apply for the job
-- When he got there, he entered a large, busy office that was filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of a telegraph in the background -- There was a sign on the receptionist's desk that told job applicants to fill out a form and wait until somebody called them to come into the inner office.
-- The young man filled out his form and sat down with the seven other applicants who were already sitting there in the waiting area -- After a few minutes, the young man stood up, went across the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in.
-- Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on -- they began to murmur among themselves and said that they hadn't heard anyone call them into the office for an interview yet
-- They assumed that the young man who got up and went into the office made a mistake and would probably be disqualified.
-- just a few minutes later, though, the employer escorted the young man out of the office and said to the other applicants, "Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled."
-- you can imagine what the other men did -- they got upset and started complaining and one spoke up to the boss saying, "Wait a minute, I don't understand. He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet you gave him the job. That's not fair!"
-- The employer said, "I'm sorry, but the whole time you've been sitting out here waiting, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code: 'If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.' -- Apparently, none of you heard it or understood it -- but this young man did, so the job is his."

II. Hearing from God
-- isn't that story a lot like us? -- We get so busy living in a world that is full of noise and clatter -- just like that office -- that we get distracted and we either don't hear God or don't understand God when He calls
-- The Bible tells us that God is always with us -- He's never going to leave us or forsake us -- and it tells us that He speaks to us on a daily basis -- the problem is that we just don't know how to hear Him with everything else that is going on around us
-- God is not going to compete with the world -- He isn't going to try to outshout all of the noise and chaos around us just so we hear Him -- despite what we see in the movies, God doesn't thunder down from heaven in a big voice when we're in the Walmart parking lot and say "Greg, this is God -- listen to Me"
-- in fact, the Bible tells us that when God speaks to us, He speaks in a still, small voice -- He speaks in a whisper -- He speaks to our hearts in ways that may not be audible -- and only those who are listening for Him can hear Him when He calls
-- this morning we are going to be starting a sermon series that I have called, "What do you hear?" -- it's about learning how to hear God's voice in the midst of all the chaos and noise of this world -- it's an examination of the various ways that God typically speaks to us today -- His word -- prayer -- the church -- and circumstances
-- let me go ahead and say up front that these four ways are the normal means through which God speaks to us -- but, keep in mind that God is God and that He may choose to speak to you in a different way -- He may use other means to reach out to us other than through His word or prayer or the church or circumstances
-- I actually know people who have heard God in an audible voice -- I know others who have had experiences with angels who brought God's message to them directly -- but these are extraordinary experiences and not the normal means by which God chooses to communicate with us today
-- so, we may touch on these at the end of our series, but primarily, we're going to focus on the four normal ways that God speaks to us today
-- let's start by looking at the story of the boy Samuel here in 1 Samuel 3

III. Scripture Lesson (1 Samuel 3:1-10)
-- look back at verse 1

1. The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.


-- in this verse we are introduced to Samuel -- a very young boy who was ministering in the temple or tabernacle under the priest Eli so that he could learn how to serve God and follow in Eli's footsteps as a priest
-- just to give you the background of Samuel -- Samuel's mother Hannah had been barren -- she had been unable to bear children, and in that day, this was a shameful event -- it was taken to mean that you were out of favor with God -- and, as a result, Hannah was bullied by her husband's other wife who did have children -- the pain became so bad that when her family would go to the feasts at the tabernacle in Shiloh, she would pray to God to take away her shame and to let her bear a child
-- in exchange, she told God that if He would answer her prayer and give her a son, that she would dedicate her son to full-time service with the Lord
-- well, God heard her prayer and Hannah became pregnant and bore Samuel -- and after he was weaned and while he was still very young -- probably no more than 5 or 6 year old -- Hannah brought him to the tabernacle and placed him under the guardianship and instruction of Eli -- which is where we find him here at the opening of this passage

-- one important thing I want you to see in this verse -- it says here that "In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions"
-- now, understand this -- the way God speaks to us now is not the way that He spoke to the Israelites in the Old Testament -- Hebrews 1:1-2 says, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son"
-- in the Old Testament, God did not speak to individuals on a daily basis like He does now -- instead, He would speak to one person -- His prophet -- who would then tell everyone what God had said
-- think of the story of Jonah and the whale -- that book tells us that God spoke to Jonah and told him to carry a message to the people of Ninevah -- that's the normal way that God spoke to people in the Old Testament
-- when God would speak to the prophets in the Old Testament, He would usually speak to them through dreams or through visions, although on rare occasions God would speak to a person in an audible voice -- the difference between a dream and a vision is that in a dream you usually asleep and not really an active participant -- a vision typically happens when you are awake and you actively speak with God
-- here in this verse, we read that visions were rare at this time and that God was not actively speaking to the people of Israel -- probably because of sin or disobedience on their part that alienated them from God's presence

-- verse 2

2. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.
3. 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.
4. Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, "Here I am."
5. 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.
6. 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."
7. Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
8. 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.


-- one night, after Eli and Samuel had fallen asleep, Samuel got woken up by the sound of a voice calling his name -- he thought it was Eli, so he ran to Eli and asked him what he wanted -- but Eli said that he hadn't called him and to go back to sleep
-- so Samuel went back to sleep and it happened again -- he heard his name being called and so he ran in to Eli once again -- this time, Eli figured out what was going on -- he realized that God was calling to Samuel

-- verse 9

9. So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

-- Eli sent Samuel back in to the temple with the instruction to listen for the voice and to respond when he heard the voice calling again -- and Samuel went back and did just what Eli told him to do


-- now I think there are a couple of important lessons that we can learn about hearing the voice of God from this story about Samuel

-- first, you have to be in a place where you can hear God when He calls
-- notice where Samuel was when he first heard God calling him -- notice what is going on around him -- Samuel wasn't out in the town square -- he wasn't down at the market -- he wasn't sitting in his room surfing the internet or watching TV or listening to his i-pod -- he wasn't even talking on his cellphone
-- he was by himself -- he had isolated himself away from the noise and the hustle and bustle of the city and he was in a quiet place where he could hear the Lord if the Lord spoke
-- and that's a very important point -- if we're going to hear God when He speaks, then we're going to have to get in a place where we can hear His voice calling to us -- for most of us, that means that we're going to have to isolate ourselves from the world -- that means that we're going to have to set aside all the noise and the chaos and the distractions and everything else that keeps us from hearing that still quiet voice of the Lord calling and find a place where we can hear God when He speaks
-- that is the pattern of Jesus that we see in the New Testament -- throughout the gospels, we read about Jesus going off by Himself -- getting away from His disciples and from the crowds -- and going to a place of solitude to pray all night -- to talk to His Father and to listen as His Father spoke to Him

-- second, you have to be actively listening for God
-- the last time, when Eli sent Samuel back with instructions to respond to God when He spoke, Samuel didn't go back to sleep -- he lay there listening -- he lay there waiting on God to call again -- and when God spoke He heard Him
-- this is one of the biggest problems that we have as Christians today trying to hear when God speaks to us -- we're not actively listening -- we're listening to everything else around us and we're just not hearing God when He speaks
-- in the last several years I have become aware of a hearing problem that I have -- not that I have any great hearing loss -- I've had that checked -- my problem is that I tend to hear background noise more than what I should be listening to
-- just as an example, Kim usually leaves the TV or the radio on to help keep the animals quiet when no one is around -- and what I have found is that when we have Bible study or other meetings up here, I tend to focus on the background sound of the TV or the radio and miss what the person right in front of me is saying
-- I've had to practice active listening -- really paying attention and focusing on the other person so I don't miss what they are saying -- and that is key in hearing from God today
-- and that's the big problem with hearing God -- we've got so much background noise going on around us -- from other people talking to radios and TVs and I-pods and everything else -- that we might focus on all that noise and miss hearing God when He speaks
-- in order to hear God, we have to be actively listening for His voice -- we have to be aware of His presence and focused on Him in order to know when He is talking to us -- once we learn to recognize His voice when He calls, then it will be easier to hear Him and focus on Him even in the midst of the noise and chaos of this world
-- that's why it's a good idea to follow the examples in Scripture and get away to a quiet place when you are trying to hear from God -- over time, as you walk longer with God and get used to hearing Him on a regular basis, you might reach the point where you can hear Him at any time and in any place -- no matter what is going on -- but to do that you need to be actively listening for Him

-- third, you need to respond when God speaks
-- when God spoke to Samuel that last time, Samuel responded to God by saying, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
-- when God speaks, He does so for a reason -- God doesn't just call us up to chat -- He calls us because He wants to tell us something or to have us do something -- for that reason, when God speaks, we are expected to respond -- we are expected to acknowledge His presence and to actively wait to do what He tells us to do
-- it does no good to learn to listen to God's voice if you don't do what He tells you to do
-- you can go to church and you can to Bible study until you get calluses on your backside from sitting in the chairs so long, but unless you respond to God's word, you are just wasting your time
-- let me borrow an illustration from Francis Chan -- let's say that this afternoon I get Brooke's attention and I call out to her and she stops everything she's doing -- she turns off the radio and TV and she comes out and actively listens to me and I tell her, "I want you to clean your room"
-- then she goes into her room and comes out after half an hour and says, "I've been studying what you said about cleaning my room and it's awesome wisdom! In fact, I can now say "clean your room" in Greek'! Also, I came up with a point-by-point plan on how I would go about cleaning my room if I actually did it and what it would look like. Isn't that great?"
-- What would your response as a parent be? You're missing the point! -- I didn't just call out and speak to you so you would study what I said -- I spoke so you would respond and do what I said
-- that's the same way with God -- when we get in a place where we can hear God's voice and when we actively listen for Him to speak and we actually hear what He is saying, we need to DO what He tells us to do! -- we need to respond to His call -- not just through another Bible study or taking notes in a sermon but actively doing what He has told us to do
-- When the God of all the universe takes the time to speak to us, we need to respond to His word

IV. Closing
-- over the next several weeks, we're going to be looking at the various ways that God normally communicates with His people in the world today -- and so next week, we're going to start with looking at how God speaks to us through His word

-- as we close today, though, I want to issue a challenge to you
-- in this passage that we looked at today, we saw three steps that Samuel went through to hear God when He spoke
-- first, we have to be in a place where we can hear God over the noise of this world
-- second, we have to be actively listening for God to speak to us in whatever way He chooses
-- and, finally, we have to be ready to respond to God and to do what He is telling us to do

-- this week, I want you to do that first step -- and I'll do it, too -- I want you to set aside thirty minutes of time for you just to sit in a quiet place -- get away from the TV or the radio or crowds of people or barking dogs -- whatever it is that occupies your background noise -- I want you to just get away for thirty minutes and just sit quietly
-- don't read your Bible -- don't pray -- don't try to do this while you're driving -- don't actively do anything but get away for 30 minutes and be quiet and still
-- I've done this before and it's hard -- we have been trained to have noise and distractions around us at all times -- but if we're going to start hearing from God as individual Christians and as a church, then we've got to learn how to do this

-- so, I'm going to challenge you to just take 30 minutes and do this sometime this week -- and next week, we'll see how it went
-- as we close in prayer, let me invite you to respond to God's word as you feel led -- if you have a specific need or request or want me to pray with you about anything, just come up while we play the closing song and I'll do so
-- let us pray

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