As a boy, I would keep my bedroom door open at night to hear my parents talking. Usually I couldn’t make out the words, but that didn’t matter – I just wanted to hear their voices. It was somehow comforting to fall asleep this way. Maybe this kind of thing is genetic. Recently as I put my three-year old daughter to bed, I shut the door to a crack, but then came a little voice, “Daddy, open the door. I like to hear you and mommy downstairs.”
There once was a boy named Samuel and he listened to voices at night, too. He lived and worked in the Jewish temple, alongside Eli the priest. One night, Samuel heard a voice calling him. Sure it was Eli (who else would it have been?), Samuel got up from his mat and ran to the priest. Eli (maybe a little groggy) said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So Samuel returned to his mat. Then it happened a second time and the scene played out exactly like the first. But when the voice came a third time, Eli realized it was God. He instructed the boy to lie down and if the voice came again, to say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
The meaning of this story is that God can speak to us at any time. Yes, Samuel lived and worked in the temple and his everyday life was filled with religious things. But it wasn’t during a religious service that God spoke to him; he was merely laying down to sleep for the night, and it could have been anywhere. That is, there wasn’t anything especially religious about bed time. But perhaps God knew he’d have Samuel’s attention, that he’d listen.
I wonder how often God speaks to us but we don’t hear him. I’m not talking about being in a religious service or participating in a religious activity. I am talking about the ordinary things of life: driving the car, washing the dishes, working the job, playing with the kids, watching TV, and yes (dare I say), raking the leaves. It seems to me it’s all fair game for God to drop in; by virtue of his position he’s allowed to interrupt our lives.
But should we see these divine interactions as interruptions? I think it depends if we want to listen. It’s one thing to not recognize God’s voice; this is one reason for not hearing him. It took Eli the priest three times to figure out that God was speaking. And Samuel didn’t know what God’s voice sounded like, so Eli had to teach him. But after being taught, Samuel listened to God for the rest of his life. So, some of us just need to learn to hear God’s voice. Then starts a life long conversation.
The other reason for not hearing him is not listening; sometimes or maybe all the time, we just don’t want to hear what God has to say. God’s voice always comes as an interruption, then, and we’d rather just do our thing than be interrupted by him.
Whether or not we hear God is really our choice: it’s not that he’s not talking, but rather that we’re not listening.
As a child Samuel listened, so maybe as adults (even with our adult wisdom) we should too.