God asks His first question as recorded in the Bible after Adam and Eve have hidden in the Garden of Eden: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9).
As modern, independent people, we ask God the questions such as “Does God really exist?”, “Is God really approachable?”, and, “Does God care enough to listen when I speak?” But the questions from God are far more important: “Where are you?”, “Who told you that you were naked”, “Where is your brother?” and “Do you love me?” We are a free-thinking, modern society; we want to ask the questions and we are certain that we are smart enough to figure out the answers.
1 Samuel 3:1-10 tells the story of Eli, a priest, and Samuel, a young man who is learning as an apprentice. We read, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” so it is no wonder that when Samuel is addressed by the Lord, “Samuel, Samuel” he thinks that it is his mentor Eli calling him, the closest human! But Eli hasn’t called Samuel and dismisses it as just a young boy’s imagination, telling Samuel to return to his resting place.
It is only after the third time that the priest understands that it is the Lord’s voice that young Samuel hears. Eli instructs Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord for your servant is listening.” A fourth time the Lord calls, “Samuel, Samuel” and young Samuel responds, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” What do we learn here? God called out to Samuel long before Samuel called out to God!
Often our new year’s resolutions involve us promising to be a better Christian through prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, or a variety of spiritual disciplines. It is a handy to-do list that we fashion for ourselves, convinced if we check them off that we are headed in the right direction. And there is nothing wrong with this desire for God and the ways in which we try to get closer to Him. But when we are merely interested in the rules and regulations, it becomes a meaningless exercise, another example of us asking the question of God, “How can I get closer to you?” and then immediately making our list of things to do. We are no different from the rest of the world when we persist in asking the questions and then answering them ourselves.
It is a set-up to failure if we think we have to “do” something in order to hear God.
STOP RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE.
As Donald Burke counsels, we’ve been nailed to the cross with Jesus; we can’t go anywhere. All we can do is turn our heads.
St. Augustine said, “God was inside of me all along while I was running on the outside.”
I pray that you recognize that God has already called you three times. God now calls again and your answer must be, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Let the dialogue begin.
<Based upon excerpts from a sermon by The Rev. Leigh Spruill, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Nashville, TN, on January 15, 2012>