At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
1 Samuel 3:3-10
I don’t believe in hearing the voice of God.
There. I said. Felt good to get that off my chest.
Do I believe in God? Maybe. Can’t say for certain. I consider myself an agnostic deist— I believe there could be a God/Creator/Universal Being, but don’t believe the concept can be proved. I’ve never seen him, and especially never heard him speak in an audible voice. Not like the people in the Old Testament, anyway. I mean, we’re talking legit thunder-from-heaven, burning bushes, and talking jackasses.
Wait. We have talking jackasses claiming to speak for God. Is that the same thing?
But seriously. When I was “born again” in 1995, I was drawn into a world of people hearing from God. You couldn’t walk more than 20 feet in the church without someone claiming “a Word from the Lord,” or “God told me …” Often these holy utterances had to do with purchasing homes, or job choices, or ministry selections— “I really don’t think the Lord wants to use you in the kid’s ministry … perhaps you could start by joining the cleaning crew? I [the pastor who obviously hears directly from God] feel that’s where the Lord could most use you.”
What was God telling all these people about me? Why wasn’t he telling me? Why wasn’t he even speaking to me? I didn’t hear God talking to me like this. Maybe I wasn’t listening.
This is a common conversation among Christians of all denominations. I did a Google search of “How do I hear from God?”
The results are amazing. Pages of articles like “10 Ways to Know His Voice,” “3 Ways to Help You Hear From God More Clearly,” “Seven Keys to Hearing God’s Voice,” and in case none of those work, “6 Things to Do if You Can’t Hear God’s Voice.”
I figure if I read these I’ll be good. The articles gave me the Christian basics— develop a prayer life, check; eliminate distractions, check; seek godly counsel, check; and a list of mostly common-sense Christian disciplines. Do these, and you’ll hear from the Lord.
I don’t want to discredit well-meaning people who claim to hear from God, but I’m not buying it. See, we’re too distracted. Bombarded by the airwaves, constant dings and notification from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, 24/7 media, the constant frenzied need to be connected with people we never met. We want to hear from God, but we desire even more greatly to be heard by one another.
Last week, we went out to celebrate my wife’s birthday. Near us, a couple sat with their three children. All five of them staring at their screens, even while eating the meal. This makes me sad. It’s not just at meals, but everywhere. People aren’t enjoying the beach, they’re enjoying posting about the beach. They aren’t enjoying their dinners, they’re enjoying Instagramming their dinners; #dinner has almost 75 million posts, #dinnertime has over 5 million, and the best one, #dinnerdate has almost 2 million. Posting your dinner while on a date? Put the damn phone down and spend some time listening to the one you’re with.
I don’t know my neighbor’s names, seldom converse with them, but I know people on every continent except Antarctica and I seem to always be interested in what they have to say— LIKE! LOVE! HAHA! GIF! But I can’t hear my wife’s silent plea for me to sit and spend some time listening and not criticizing, or my son’s desperate cry for encouragement and validation instead of rebuffs and criticisms.
We think that through all this, we’re going to hear God. God must laugh at our feeble attempts to understand and explain a being so mighty and above us in every way, but we can’t even listen to one another. Perhaps the ancient goat-herders REALLY did hear from God, with no screens to distract them, maybe they truly were on the verge of hearing the very rocks cry out.
John Robinson is a middle school teacher, martial artist, and tattoo enthusiast who needs to be in bed by 10pm. He starts every morning with four cups of coffee and lives in Florida with his wife and son.