A Particular Kind of Listening
“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, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’” 1 Samuel 3:1-4
In this story of Eli and Samuel, we’re told that this was a time when the word of the Lord was rare. This event of God calling someone by name, out loud, was not the norm.
And yet, how many of us have asked or hoped to hear God speak directly to us in this way?
Listening for the voice of God is a particular kind of prayer. Regardless of the answer we receive, the simple act of spending time listening can form and shape us.
For some, prayerful listening is a regular part of daily life, for others it’s reserved for times of discernment or decision-making.
A Particular Set of Obstacles to Listening
One obstacle that we can face is to only listen for what we want to hear. We can enter the prayer space with a sincere heart and a limited vision, asking for God’s voice to validate our desires. It is very tempting to use our prayer life as a way of trying to guide God’s desires toward our own desires.
One way to respond to this temptation, is to allow our prayers to grow. We can pour our desires to God while admitting that God’s desires and God’s vision are different from our own. Listening to God’s voice may require our prayers and our desires to grow beyond what we think and know.
We can allow our prayers to grow and change as they are formed and influenced by spending time in God’s presence.
Another obstacle is when we forget to listen to Jesus as the voice of God. For Samuel, the Lord was the God of his ancestors: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is probably who he envisioned when he called out to his Lord.
For Christians, the Lord of Lords is Jesus Christ. “Speak Lord Jesus, for your servant is listening”.
Jesus teaches and transforms us as we follow him, and part of listening for the voice of God is following Jesus through the Gospel narrative.
Listening to Jesus in Prayer
There have been many times when I saw the limited world in front of me, and I presented those options to God in prayer. Lord, should I do this or that?
Have you ever prayed that prayed that prayer?
When I was a teenager, I actually asked God whether I should date this boy or that boy.
All prayer is worthwhile, because spending time with God is always worthwhile, but giving God options is not the same as listening. I also know how frustrating and disheartening it can be, to pray this prayer, “speak Lord, for your servant is listening” and then to sit in silence, and not hear anything. It can feel like you’re all alone in the universe. There is no magic prayer to summon the voice of God. But when we need that voice, we can find it in Jesus.
- We can turn to Jesus in scripture as we listen to his words and actions.
- We can turn to Jesus in prayer, making room in our life for his voice.
- We can turn to Jesus in the Body of Christ, through the Eucharist and the life of the church.
Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my Words will not pass away
When there was nothing, a voice spoke, and all things came into being. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”.
When we were chained in sin, the word that brings life came to be a voice that leads us out of darkness. That voice even forgave those who were killing him because nothing can kill the love in that voice. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”.
Our Lord died, and our Lord rose again, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”.
We can pray this prayer, not as a way of telling God what to do, but as a promise of what we will do. Even if it’s sitting in silence, wondering when God will speak.
When we make ourselves fully present to hear God, we also make ourselves fully present to be formed by God. He sees us when the prayer lamp is dim and starting to go out. He sees beyond what we think and know to who we are becoming.
When you need to hear the voice of God, turn to Jesus.
To read more posts, visit my column here. Check out my writing in “Soul Food: Nourishing Essays on Contemplative Living and Leadership”, or listen to me read a portion of my writing for the podcast Read, Pray, Write.