Saturday, April 28, 2012

“Hearing God’s Voice” - I Samuel 3:1-10/Acts 9:1-17 - April 29, 2012


I was about twelve years old and I saw it.  It was the latest thing in technology.  It was an AM-FM hand-sized transistor radio. It was graphite colored plastic with a silver speaker cover. I wanted it! But since it was till new technology, it was pricey.  I had to cut 10 to 12 lawns before I could afford to buy it. The day finally came when I could buy it.  I bought a battery, hooked it up, and began turned the dial to try to find my favorite station, WKIX to listen to one of my favorite shows, Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 40. This was in the days before digital tuning so as I turned the dial I heard that annoying scratching sounds of static. Finally, when the dial was neither a little to the left, or a little to the right, but just one the right frequency, Casey’s voice called out the week’s pop music favorites. Joy!

One of the real big spiritual questions we struggle with is how we hear God speak to us – how do we tune into God’s voice? This morning we come hearing two stories separated by centuries tied together by the voice of God.  One story features a young boy listening in the darkness. The other, a man in the prime of his life, is stopped in his tracks. Both of these stories are dramatic moments when a person’s life direction is forever changed when they heard God speak; when they heard God call their name.  

In our first story young Samuel listens in the darkness. His life had been entrusted to the care of the great priest Eli.  He had demonstrated a love for God and faithfulness in his service to Eli and God.  He has settled in for the evening and from his bed he heard a voice calling out to him.  He could only imagine that it was the old priest Eli calling for him, so he ran to his beside to see what his needed.  Eli told him that he had not called for him and to go back to bed.  Samuel once again settled in, once again heard a voice calling his name, and one again went to Eli’s side, only to be sent away again. We hear (I Samuel 3)8 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. 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.  God speaks and in a vision tells Samuel that he will become the voice through whom he would speak to his people. It will be Samuel that witnesses Saul installed as king, and later will anoint David to take his place as the leader of God’s people.  What began as a voice in the night pulled Samuel into the history of all Israel.

Our second story is better known to us.  It is when God stopped Paul in his track on the Damascus Road.  Paul had been virulent and violent in his persecution of the early followers of Jesus.  He saw them as heretics, challenging the established Jewish faith and its traditions.  While others saw someone to be feared, God saw one who could be a valued apostle and help care the love of Christ to the ends of the earth. Saul the persecutor neared Damascus and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”  In the same moment in Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. God instructed him to go to Saul, to get him, and to minister to him.  Because of the way God will use Paul in the days ahead our tendency is to focus solely on him in this story.  But I want you to see that God spoke to two men that day. Both had to hear and respond for God’s will to be done.

Across the breadth of Scripture we see story after story of God speaking to those who love him.  We are witnesses of God’s call of Abraham and picture of God wrestling with Jacob in the desert and later directing him to Bethel.  We watch as God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, call out the grand prophets of old. We also hear some dramatic language to describe the voice of God.  We hear Job tell his friends. (Job 3)At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place. 2 Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth. 3 He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. 4 After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back. 5 God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. We also hear through the Psalms and beyond that the voice of the Lord shakes the desert, strikes with flashes of lightening, sounds like the rushing water, and makes the earth melts.  It is easy to see why we begin to think that the voice of God must be a deep booming bass voice, a James Earl Jones kind of voice that would make us quiver if it was pointed in our direction. It is easy to understand why so many think that God used to speak to his people, but wonder if God still speaks to people like us today.  The answer is a resounding “yes!” God still speaks. God still calls. If we are ready to listen, God is ready to speak into our lives. 

Jesus tells us in John 10:27 that My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. Jesus wants is clear that all of us who are the sheep of is pasture, the people who call him Savior, then we will hear and know his voice. While some might have a Damascus Road experience, we need to understand that God speaks into our lives in many, many different ways.  Sometimes God might speak in the boom bass voice, but God is also One who spoke to Elijah in the sound of silence.

You expect me to say that God speaks through Scripture.  The reason we come with this assumption is because almost all of us can testify to a moment when we needed a word from God and someone shared a scripture with us that spoke into our lives. 12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  God word is alive and God is ready to speak through the Bible into our daily walk with him.

You will also expect me to say that God speaks through prayer. This one is equally easy to affirm. LaJuanda can testify that in the short time our PrayFirst ministry has been up and operating that we have seen moments when God answered prayer and spoke through prayer.

You will expect me to say that God speaks through music.  How could you be a part of worship here and not come with this bias. Psalm 40(3) sings out; He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.  God speak to us through music. Have you not experienced a moment when a song seemed to be more than music, but a word from God just for you? Have you not found yourself swept away and drawn into the presence of God when a familiar hymn or a piece of music speaks to you in unexpected ways?  Music speak to us and into in a way that disarms us and opens us for God to speak.

But, it is important to hear that there are also other ways God speaks to us.  Hear that God speak throughcommunity. In the story of the mission commissioning of Barnabas and Paul we see that God spoke into the midst of community.  God still does. I was called to serve a church as a Minister of Youth at a church just as Beth and I began our life together as man and wife.  I loved the youth and the parents that I had the opportunity to serve beside.  But, the pastor there was apparently in a mid-life struggle and made my life living misery. Another church approached me about joining their staff.  While I needed to get away from that pastor, I hated the thought of living the kids and their parents.  I was emotionally and spiritually battered and bruised and was having a hard time discerning God’s will.  I reached out and listened to Beth, the pastor of the new church, and the search committee I was working with to hear their sense of what God was saying.  God spoke to me through them and this moment proved pivotal in my ministry development.

God also speaks through those around us. Melody Pryor, pastor of First Baptist Church of Stanton, Mo., said she first had a notion of being a pastor while in the second grade but “blew it off” as something a girl couldn’t do. It resurfaced after she lost her son to cancer in 1997 and was taking classes at Oklahoma Baptist University. A professor told her he saw “a pastor in you” and introduced her to Baptist Women in Ministry, a national support organization. Knowing that Southern Baptists as a denomination do not accept women as pastors, "I thought I would have to change denominations," the retired U.S. Air Force chief master sergeant said. "But I'm loyal to Baptists, and I was torn between whether to do it. Ultimately she was asked to step into the pulpit at First Baptist when her father was forced to step out of it because of illness.  She has to overcome her own fears of her father’s potential response and the reality that her being named pastor might create issues among some in the congregation and in the wider Baptist community.  God had called her and now provided her the right place for her to serve. [i]  God had called Melody in her childhood but used the voice of an OBU professor to challenge her to listen and follow in the now of her life.

While these stories are tied to people and their call to congregational ministry, the same principals apply whether you are a teacher, salesman, lawyer, construction worker, doctor, mechanic, or anything else.  In Job 13 we hear God say, Listen carefully to what I say; let my words ring in your ears.  In teaching the parables, Jesus told us; let those who have ears, listen up.  The question is not whether God is ready to speak or whether we have ears set to hear what God has to say. We have to make a choice to open our ears, our hearts, and our souls to God’s fresh word for us. Let those who have ears, listen up. Let my words ring in your ears.  Tune in, listen in the darkness, stop dead in your tracks on the road, look for a burning bush, stand in the mouth of a cave, open your heart in prayer, listen to a song, open the Bible, listen to those that walk beside you in faith. Listen up. God is ready to speak.

Listen, you heavens, and I will speak; hear, you earth, the words of my mouth. 2 Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. (Deuteronomy 32:1-2)


[i] Vicki Brown, “Woman follows father into pulpit” available online at http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/7343/53/ on March 27, 2012

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