January 18, 2024

Speak, Lord, Your Servant Is Listening

Prayer for Understanding

Sovereign God, You have given us such amazing gifts of the Spirit. We pray now for the wisdom to hear so that we understand and respond faithfully to Your living and sacred Word.  Amen.

It’s already the 2nd Sunday of January. I still see Christmas lights twinkling on some houses including my house, but at the same time, I was surprised to find Valentine’s Day products and even Easter merchandise at stores. Before you realize it, it will be spring, so bear with this unusual freezing weather.

January, in Latin, Ianurius, is named after the Latin word for door, ianua, since January is the door to the year and an opening to new beginnings. But conventionally, the month is thought of as being named after Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions in Roman mythology.

Janus is also known as a god who has two faces and is so appropriate for the first month of the year because of his ability to turn one face to reflect upon the past and yet another face freshly pointed upon the future. Therefore, January is the month of reflecting on the past and anticipating a new beginning.

And in January we usually make New Year’s resolutions. Have you made your New Year’s resolutions?

I know many people don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, just because they know their ambitious vows would eventually fade away within a few days or weeks. However, I think it’s still good and important to have some kind of practical goals as we begin the year.

As for me, like millions of people, regular exercise is one of my resolutions. As you know, I greeted the new year with flu in bed. So, once again, keeping up good health has become one of my goals. To be more specific and achievable, I signed up (actually my brother-in-law signed me up) for a 10 km marathon in June.

Everyone says that I’d better start stretching, walking regularly, and running short distances at least 3 times a week. Sadly, I haven’t started walking or running yet because of the flu and the weather. But believe me. I will start it soon.

The most important resolution for my spiritual life is to go back to the basics. Go back to the Bible and Prayer. And I pray that that resolution will also become one of your resolutions. Read the Bible and pray regularly.

You will try everything to keep your body healthy by exercising, taking supplements, and eating nutritious food. But we don’t do much for our spiritual health.

This year, why don’t we commit ourselves to reading the Scripture and praying regularly to improve our spiritual health? And then let us see how our relationship with God, and how our spiritual life will turn out at the end of the year.  (pause)

Today’s Scripture lesson is from 1 Samuel 3. This is a well-known story of young Samuel. Who is Samuel? As most of you remember, Samuel was a miracle baby. His mother Hannah who was barren earnestly prayed to God for a child.

God heard her prayers and opened her womb, blessing her with the baby Samuel. He became a priest, seer, prophet, judge, and military leader. He anointed the first two kings of Israel - Saul & David. Let us see how he became such a powerful leader.

V 1 says, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread,” meaning the revelation of God was rarely heard or seen. Let us look at what happened before this gloomy situation took place.

Under Moses and Joshua, the 40-year wilderness lessons were over, and the people of Israel had settled into the land of Dreams, Canaan, which God had promised.

After Joshua died, the Israelites were led by a series of judges, like Deborah, Gideon, and Samson who rose up in difficult times.

As the book of Judges came to an end, painful tribal wars threatened to tear the people apart. The last verse of the book of Judge writes, “Everyone did whatever they pleased.”

Indeed, 1 Samuel chapter 2 tells us how the high priest Eli’s sons did what was pleasing in their own eyes in their ministry as priests, and had no regard for the Lord.

Why was the word of the Lord rare in those days? Probably, because of the wickedness and the hardness of heart among the people of Israel and the corruption of the priesthood.

Amos 8:11 says, “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land; not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”

This must be the most drastic punishment from God. But in today’s story, the merciful God didn’t give up on the corrupted priesthood and the faithless Israelites. He was patiently initiating communication with the little boy, Samuel.

V 2 says that Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying in his usual place. Eli’s weak eyesight reminds us of his weak spiritual vision.

In the preceding chapters, we have already seen that Eli was not very discerning when it came to spiritual things. He thought Hannah was drunk when she was praying in the temple. He did nothing when his sons made a mockery of the consecrated priesthood.

His fading physical eyesight symbolizes not only his spiritual weakness but also this time in Israel when the word of the Lord and the visions from God were rare.

V 4 says, “The Lord called ‘Samuel, Samuel.’” Samuel immediately answered, “Here I am; you called me,” but ran to Eli.”  With Eli’s age, weight, and visual limitations, he probably needed the help of Samuel all the time.

So it was only natural for Samuel to assume that a call late at night came from his master, Eli. But, Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”

God called again, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli again, “I heard you call. Here I am.” And the same thing happened one more time. Why didn’t Samuel know that the call was from God?

V 7 explained, “Samuel did not yet know the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”

Samuel grew up in the house of God since he was like 2-3 years old right after he was weaned. Historians think that today’s episode happened when Samuel was around 12 years old. So he’d been living in the holy place for the last 10 years and, as the Bible said, he was ministering before the Lord.

We can only guess what it was like for Samuel to live in the temple. He knew exactly what to do with offerings: how to kill the animals, boil the sacrificial meats, and burn them. He was living surrounded by the smells of incense, ceremonies, and prayers of people.

Just like most of us, who’ve been coming to church for a while, know exactly what to do at church. Samuel knew about God; the God of Israel and the God of his ancestors, but he didn’t know God personally yet.

Our persistent God didn’t give up on Samuel who couldn’t recognize His voice. He called, called, and called again. He called until Samuel learned how to listen. It was Eli who figured out that it was the voice of God.

He was after all a priest who was serving God. So, Eli advised Samuel to go back to his bed as before and taught him how to respond to the call. Samuel did as Eli taught him. And this time, when he heard, “Samuel, Samuel” he said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Do any of you have a hard time hearing God, or discerning God’s voice? Distractions define our lives. Our days and nights are full of gadgets that ping, buzz, and beep their way into our attention, taking us away from whatever we’re doing.

Our brains focus quickly on one topic and then switch to another and another. It seems like we just can’t resist a blinking inbox or a buzzing phone, can we?

One study has found that a typical college student can’t go more than 2 minutes without becoming distracted by social media, whether it is Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, emails, texts, Instagram, or WhatsApp.

That means that the millennials and Gen-Z or MZ (whatever they are called) can’t concentrate on one thing for more than about 2 minutes.

But it’s not just the younger generation. People everywhere seem to be experiencing an epidemic of overwhelm. It’s the newest addiction.

To tell the truth, I’m almost addicted as well. I wasn’t really a tech person. I used to forget to turn the volume of my phone on, so my daughters got very frustrated when they tried to reach me. I don’t even use social networks much. However, the situation has changed since a couple of years ago.

I found myself constantly checking my phone. I’ve been so distracted by notification sounds that I decided to turn the volume off intentionally and not check my phone in the evening.

With all these interruptions and distractions how in the world are people supposed to be able to listen for and hear the voice of God?

Does God still speak today? Yes? Then do you believe that God speaks to you? Has the Word of the Lord revealed to you? Do you really want to hear His voice calling your name? Do you want to live in the joy of experiencing God’s living word?

Then we’re going to have to cultivate a sense of God’s presence through the Holy Spirit that constantly and persistently surrounds and fills us. Maybe, like how we set a time for walks outside or three meals a day, we need to set a time for meeting with God.

I believe that genuine spirituality is something you have to practice. I cannot guarantee automatic results immediately. But I can guarantee that if you intentionally practice your faith by reading the Scripture, praying, and joining worship services, when you least expect it, the Spirit will surround you and fill you with a sense of God’s holy and overpowering presence.

Samuel’s answer, “Speak, for your servant is listening” is a great prayer to pray any time before hearing God’s word. It shows a desire to hear, a willingness to listen, and a heart that is ready to serve and obey.

What noises interrupt you as you try to have a quiet time with the Lord? What are the things that interfere with your prayer time? Worries of life? Busy social life? Daily routine activities? Your favorite TV shows?

As we begin the year 2024, why don’t we pray to God, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening?” Turn off all the noises around you and tune in to His still small voice.

I pray that in the year 2024, each of you hear the voice of God calling your name so gently. I pray that Langley Presbyterian Church obeys the voice of God and proclaims His name in our neighborhood. I pray that all of us here today respond to God’s invitation, and say “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening,” and have intimate conversations with Him daily.


Let us pray.

Abba Father, we are many times dull to hear Your voice. Sometimes we even refuse to hear Your calling. Help us to turn off all the distracting noises and focus on You. Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening. In Your gracious name, we pray. Amen.