Friday, June 21, 2013

'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'

1 Samuel 1:3-10 (NIV)

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

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 house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

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.

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.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” 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.’” 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.”
When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to read was more or less a comic book Bible. It featured basically anything that could be considered a narrative (so it was fairly light on Leviticus, Psalms and Proverbs) basically drawn like a comic book, but scripturally accurate. While it included the New Testament, the Old Testament was far more interesting — even the stuff you don’t hear a lot of in Sunday school, such as the grittier details of King David and King Solomon.

I cannot recall how many nights I should have been asleep, but instead stayed up reading the same stories over and again. It’s not the only book I read during grade school insomnia, but it was the undisputed champion. I’ve been unable to get Jack into the book, though I’m not done trying. In fact, I was so excited recounting this just now I ran up to his room to bring it downstairs and find the story of Samuel being called by the Lord.

A sample page from "The Picture Bible."
Two things: First, it is called “The Picture Bible” and was first published a few months after I was born. It does smack of 1979. And second, much to my dismay, there is no real account of God calling Samuel in the middle of the night. Which means my long-held affection for this story has nothing to do with my favorite Bible, and also I’m apparently mixing up life memories already. (Maybe it involved a dramatic presentation at one point — I seem to vaguely recall something in our church’s chapel… I am wagering a solid nickel my mother knows and will remind me promptly upon reading this.)

Though I can’t quite say why this story strikes such a chord with me, I know it’s no less meaningful today than it was when it first caught my attention. Then it may have had something to do with the seemingly fantastical notion of actually hearing God’s voice, or the assertion God could and would speak or work through a child — even one like me. And now, when I try so often to discern what God wants for me, I just hang on the phrase Eli teaches Samuel to repeat: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

I’m pretty sure I won’t ever hear the literal voice of God — at least not on this planet. But that doesn’t mean I can’t listen in other ways. The idea that God “speaks” to me is difficult to explain to someone else, and I’m willing to believe even someone who feels God “speaks” to them “hears” differently from myself. Setting aside that peculiarity, I go back again to Eli’s suggested response: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

The more I think about prayer, the more I like the short ones. The “God, help,” prayer. Or the “Help. Thanks. Wow.” Approach. And I’m going to add this one to the list. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” How powerful those words can be at any time, in any situation. They remind me of my duty to serve my Creator and Redeemer. They remind me shut my mouth. They remind me Who alone should chart my course. They speak to my greatest need, that of direction and the strength to follow.

I can say those words, and if I truly mean them when I do, God only knows what potential may be unlocked within me. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” I owe at least that much, don’t I?

A prayer for June 21:

Lord, I want to be a humble servant. I want to listen for whatever it is you need me to hear. I want to teach my children to listen also, that we all may pursue your intended path. Thy will be done, God, in our lives as you would have us lead them. Guide me always, and forgive me when I wander off on my own. Hold me ever closer, and thank you so much for the blessing, the gift of life. Amen.

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