On the 16th of January, some of us attended the “Living on Purpose” men’s conference at the Lighthouse Elim Church in Manchester, with guest speaker Andy Hawthorne of the Message Trust. Other than his inspiring message, the day also included worship, fellowship, fun, food. There was also much time to share and discuss, including something that the organizers called “the spotlight chair”. At the centre of the hall, right in front of the stage, stood a heavy, green-leather, old-fashioned armchair dedicated to anyone that wished to share a thought or something they had received from the Lord during the conference. As soon as someone went and took their seat, a spotlight would come on and shed its light right on that seat and we’d all quiet down to listen. Among those who shared was a member of the lighthouse, a doctor, who shared a passage from the Bible that had been heavy on his heart for quite some time:
“The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” 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.”
The man who shared this passage went on to make few comments but he didn’t draw any conclusions. However, I was really struck by that passage. On one hand, the fact that in those days the word of the Lord was rare, made me realize how much of a spiritual starvation we are experiencing nowadays; how indeed our world has become a spiritual wilderness following the drifting away (if not altogether rejection) of God’s Word.
But what really spoke to me was not only God’s silence, but the inability to hear God’s voice by those who were actually supposed to. When God broke his silence, it wasn’t the High Priest Eli that heard Him, but the child Samuel. Furthermore, it took Eli three times to realize that God was speaking. Why was Eli so deaf to God’s voice, whereas Samuel could hear Him so clearly? The answer is simple – Samuel was close enough to God to hear him when he spoke, Eli wasn’t. Eli was indeed a High Priest, but was also morally compromised. He was religiously close to God, but not relationally. Samuel, on the other hand, had no religious status or position, but was relationally close to Him, close enough to hear his voice when he spoke.
There are times when God is intentionally silent – wanting us to learn to trust him without knowing what he is actually doing or allowing in our lives (“Be still and know that I am God”). But there are times when he speaks but we can’t hear his voice because we are not relationally close to him, and that is the beginning of sorrows for us.
As we seek to discover and fulfil God’s purposes for us both as individuals and as a Church, we are desperate for God’s voice and God’s guidance. But we must make sure to be relationally as close to the Lord as possible in order to actually hear him when he speaks! As we read in PS. 123:2 – “as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us”.
Just as the servants described in this Psalm, us too need to be so close to our God, so acquainted to his will and his thinking that a gesture or a look are enough for us to know exactly what he expects us to do. But this kind of relationship doesn’t happen overnight. It is the product of many years of walking with him, regular meditation of his word and time spent in prayer and praise.
Do we want to know with precision God’s will for us? We need to make our relationship with him a priority, to make time for him rather than just dedicate to him whatever time is leftover of our day or week.