Have you ever read a very familiar passage of the Bible and had it strike you in a completely fresh way?
I’m guessing if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time you probably know what I’m talking about. One of the things I love about God’s Word is that it truly is living and active and even when we’ve read a passage a hundred times before, God can still use it to speak to us in new ways.
This week I have been reading in 1 Samuel, and in chapter 3 we come to the famous passage where God speaks to Samuel, and, failing to recognise his voice, Samuel goes three times to Eli, the priest, before Eli finally tells him it must be God and instructs him to pray, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
Before we get to that though, the chapter opens by telling us, “Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord.” (1 Samuel 3:1 NLT) This is in contrast to Eli’s sons, spoken of in chapter 2, who were meant to be serving God but were actually only serving themselves.
The part that stopped me in my tracks was verse 7: “Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before.”
This means that he was serving God, but he did not know God.
Samuel was doing all the right things – helping Eli and working faithfully in the Tabernacle. Perhaps he had heard his mother talk of her faith, of how Samuel’s birth had been an answer to prayer and how she had dedicated him to the Lord. Presumably he had learned about God from Eli, but he didn’t know God for himself.
It reminds me that God wants more than just our service; he wants our hearts. He doesn’t just want us to do good deeds for him; he wants us to listen to him. He doesn’t just call us to activity; he invites us to know him.
It’s a theme that recurs throughout Scripture.
While Martha rushes about, frantically trying to serve Jesus, Mary is praised for sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him. “There is only one thing worth being concerned about, and Mary has discovered it.” (Luke 10:42 NLT)
When Jesus’ disciples return from a mission trip, elated that they have been able to cast out demons, Jesus tells them, “Don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.” (Luke 9:20 NLT)
Paul, who has been a Pharisee for many years, meticulously keeping the law in an attempt to please God, finally realises that “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:7-8 NLT)
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t perform acts of service for God, but it’s a reminder that it’s the attitude of our heart that is really important. It’s not about serving him; it’s about knowing him.
I shared an article last week, which highlighted the futility of attempting to serve God while neglecting to foster our relationship with him:
“Our usefulness in ministry is inextricably tied to our delight in Christ. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can overlook the condition of your own heart and still be helpful to others. It doesn’t work like that.”
One feature of Samuel’s story which I find encouraging is God’s persistence. He doesn’t give up when Samuel fails to recognise his voice the first time, or the second time, or the third time… He continues to speak to Samuel, patiently waiting for him to listen and respond, and he is patient with us too.
It encourages me to pause the activity and take a step back. Hosea encourages God’s people, “Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him.” (Hosea 6:3) It’s something we are to pursue with intention, but I think, rather than frantic activity, that is more about creating space and choosing to be quiet and listen.
“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
“My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” (Psalm 27:8)
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10)
Do you know him?