Hear the Voice

Fr. Tom Simmons, 2 Epiphany 2018, 1 Samuel 3

How would you rate your prayer life?

If we surveyed the congregation, several would say “rich and satisfying” several of you would say “Prayer life? Barely there.” A whole bunch would say “Trying, but not sure.”

If we asked what you do when praying, most would say talk to God.

We ask for help to do the right thing, pray that our friends will know God, or petition him to bless what we are doing for him. 

We ask forgiveness (or grovel) for the things we do wrong,

we ask for direction on what we should do.

But we don’t spend a lot of time listening, or we ask not expecting an answer.

Maybe the BCP gives us that impression. 

Those beautifully written prayers are kind of a monologue.

But does God seem like a monologue kind of guy?

Sure, God loves to hear us when we pray, but surely, he’d like to respond, right?

Father Son and Holy Spirit have a lot that they say to each other, a lot of back and forth. 

And the Triune God seeks the same with us.

A dialogue, not a one-way conversation.

God’s got stuff to say to us, right? 

He didn’t say it all in the Bible.

We’ll see today that "prayer" is an intimate, relational encounter with Jesus, a dialogue that touches your deepest yearning…

Your heart longs for something… and this is it. 

è This morning I want to make sure that we see that, and know how to do it.

To do that we’ll go AAAALLLLLL the way back to Samuel. 

Samuel describes how he got his start as a prophet of God. 

His started by learning to listen to God, back when he was a little guy. 

He lived in dark times, at the end of the period of the Judges.

Things have been going from bad to worse in the century that followed the death of Joshua. 

God was distant and largely silent. 

Eli, the High priest was nearly blind, not just in his eye sight, but also in his IN-sight. 

His insight into what was going on around him.

He was blind to the evil all around him. 

But all that’s about to change.

With the rise of Samuel the Prophet. 

There’s little Samuel in our story, a kid, a miracle baby born of a barren woman and dedicated to God’s service, doing menial tasks in the Temple. 

Then God speaks! “Samuel, Samuel.”

God is speaking, but Samuel doesn’t know how to listen.  Can you identify?

Well, he needs to learn and Eli – of all people – teaches him how: “Say, ‘Speak Lord for your servant is listening.’”

è As Eli showed him, I’d like to do the same.

So, let’s talk about how.

NT Wright said,

“This is a delicate matter to describe.  It is a common Christian experience that while many of the thoughts in our mind seem to come from the ordinary flow of consciousness within us, sometimes we find other thoughts, which seem to come from somewhere else hinting gently but powerfully at God’s love, at our calling to holiness, a particular task to which we must give energy and attention.  A key part of Christian discipleship is to recognize that voice and to nurture the facility of listening to it.”

Samuel learned how.

And because he did, Samuel was able to find David, by listening to God’s voice.

David learned how, too.  God called him “a man after my own heart.”

David said, in Psalm 85, “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying for he is speaking peace to his faithful people.”

David assumes that God’s talking and so… he’s listening!

If that was true in the Old Testament, how much more so in the New?!

We’ve been given Jesus who said, “I call my sheep by name.  My sheep hear my voice.”

Hear him?

We’ve been given the Holy Spirit, whom Paul says, “Bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Hear him? 

You can.  It’s not hard.  Just start asking what he thinks.

Jesus said, “Come like a little child,” so I imitate my kids when they were little: “Daddy how do you like my hair?”

“Isn’t my picture beautiful!”

Do I critique it for her on its artistic merits?  No, I join in rejoicing in it and admire her mightily. 

Don’t you think that’s how Father wants to rejoice with us?

Ask Jesus how he feels, what he thinks about you.

Hear what wells up in your mind and heart in the next minute or two. 

It may be words, or an image, or just a sense of God present with you in a certain way. 

You’ll know his voice. 

It might help to pair up with someone and take turns. 

Tony Stoltzfus, from whom I learned this, said, “When someone comes to me saying, “Help! I need to hear from God and I’m not getting anything!” it almost always takes less than 30 minutes to discover that God has already been speaking and they are hearing – they just didn’t have the confidence to believe that what they heard was really God.  So be confident – you can do this.  The hardest part of praying your desire is allowing yourself to believe that the still small voice you are already hearing is the voice of God.”

Let me tell you a story to show how this works.

I was working with a man who had a great deal of anger and he came to talk about it.

We were able to get down beneath the feeling of anger its source.

He felt like his wife didn’t respect him.  It was something that made him very angry.

He felt unloved, dismissed, falsely accused.

Underneath the anger were unfulfilled deep desires for love and significance and acceptance.

He was expecting her to satisfy that desire.

I asked, “You want to pray about that?”

I think he expected me to pray FOR him.

But in the silence, I suggested that he tell Jesus how he felt and ask Jesus what he sees and feels, and listen for Jesus’ response. 

He did so and in the next minute he was very quiet. 

When he opened his eyes, he looked at me with surprise and said,

“I knelt before Jesus’ throne and Jesus got up, took of his royal robes, got down with me and said, “I know how THAT feels.  It’s no fun.  But I’m so glad you came to me with this.  I’m so proud of how you are hanging on through this.  I admire how you are working to overcome your anger and I think you’re off to a great start.” 

With Jesus’ love and respect he’ll be alright…now that he’s learned to hear it in his heart!

How would you rate his prayer life now?

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