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.”1 Samuel 3:8-10
As a child Samuel was dedicated to the Lord, so he served with the priests at Shiloh. Eli was his chaperone and mentor. One evening, just as Samuel was lying down to sleep, the Lord called to him. Having never heard from the Lord, Samuel didn’t know it was the Lord. He thought Eli was calling his name. Finally, after the third time, Eli realizes it is the Lord and gives Samuel instructions on how to listen.
This scenario is still common today. Many followers of Jesus have never been taught how to hear the voice of the Lord. They have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, and yet they feel as though they’ve never heard the Lord speak directly to them. The reality is, much like this situation with Samuel, the Lord has spoken over and over again but, because we didn’t know what to listen for, we didn’t know it was the Lord. We need an Eli in our life to guide us in our hearing.
The results in Samuel’s life from hearing the word of the Lord directly were profound. Notice what happened to him.
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.1 Samuel 3:19-21
None of Samuel’s words fell to the ground. Have you ever spoken and felt like your words just dropped to the ground having no impact? Like they didn’t even reach their intended audience? Samuel’s willingness to hear from the Lord changed the power and effectiveness of the words he spoke. Because he wasn’t just speaking his own words but was speaking with words laced with the word of the Lord, they carried weight and authority. Every time he spoke, his words impacted those who heard him. People began to recognized this and named him a prophet of the Lord.
Notice also that God was revealing Himself–His nature, character, and thoughts–through His word. When someone speaks, they reveal pieces of themselves through what they say and how they say it. It reveals what they care about and what they’re focused on. When Samuel heard from the Lord, he was learning a little more about God each time.
This happens with us. This is why John calls Jesus the Word of God in the Gospel of John. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of who God is and what He’s like. So as we read God’s word in scripture and as we hear God speak directly to us through the Holy Spirit, we receive little pieces of what God is like.
We can hear God speak to us in a variety of ways. He can speak directly to us through a scripture passage, a spontaneous thought, a mental image, a dream, patterns in circumstances, and through the words of trusted friends. If you’ve never heard directly from God for yourself, here is a simple practice that can help:
1. Quiet yourself. Set aside some time and space where you won’t be distracted. Play soft worship music if that helps but make sure you are alone.
2. Focus your heart and mind on Jesus. Picture yourself with Him if that helps. Pray this, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
3. Ask the Lord a direction question. Don’t start with theological questions. Ask personal/relational questions. A good one to start with is, “Father, who do you say that I am?” Or, “What is your favorite thing about me?”
4. Watch and listen for any spontaneous thoughts that come to mind or any mental pictures that appear. There might also be a feeling that rises up or a mental movie in your mind’s eye. Don’t dismiss or edit these.
5. Write down what you hear or see. Ask the Lord a follow up question to what He said. Then write down His next response. Take what you’ve written down to a trusted friend who loves Jesus and has some experience hearing from the Lord. Ask them if they think what you heard or saw was really from the Lord.
Repeat this process until you begin to get a feel for what it’s like to hear from the Lord. The more you practice hearing from Him, the better you will get at it. He wants to speak to you. He loves to talk with you.
As we saturate ourselves in hearing the word of the Lord, our own words will begin to change. Our words will start to be woven together with the word of the Lord. Our words will become less and less harsh, angry, sarcastic, and condemning. They will become more and more encouraging, loving, and kind. They will also begin to carry greater weight and authority. People will begin to sense that our words impact people.
Don’t be surprised if you begin to use less words too. People who tend to go on and on–who use way more words than necessary–are verbally revealing, through their endless chatter, their own insecurities, identity issues, and self-absorption. When we begin to hear what God thinks of us and we believe what He says about us, those insecurities and identity issues get healed. We’ll stop feeling the need to give every opinion on every issue. We’ll stop giving every detail of every story. We’ll stop preemptively explaining ourselves and defending ourselves. And our words will go from having no weight to actually leaving a lasting impression.