GOD IS ACTIVE
Different people see God differently. I think that’s true. I also think it’s true that as we age or have new experiences, we change in the way that we see God. As a child, I had the classic impression of God as a wise and caring old man dressed in white with a long flowing beard – also white. He was sort of like an eternal grandfather figure. Maybe, as a child, you had the same impression of God. As I got older that image sort of faded away and was replaced by other images. But to be honest, I don’t think I really have an image of God in my mind anymore. As an adult, I find it difficult to focus all of my experience of God on a single image. Nothing would be adequate. And so I just associate God with Jesus and when I think of God I think of what Jesus must be like according to the scriptures.
Still, there are many deep thinkers who have suggested various images of what God must be like. There are those who see God as a clockmaker. The clockmaker makes everything, sets it in motion and just walks away hoping that creation will work out. I don’t subscribe to that image because I think that, while God is the great creator, God did not set things in motion and then leave. On the other hand are those who see God as a micro manager. They think that God controls everything in their lives and that they need to take every decision they ever make to God. I have trouble with that too. It’s not that I don’t think God helps us to discern his will. I believe that God does that. But I don’t think that God is really all that concerned about what we eat for breakfast every morning. The decision about whether to have Fruit Loops or Shreddies is something with which I think God trusts us. Those decision as totally and completely up to us.
While I don’t subscribe to either the clockmaker image or the notion that God is in control of absolutely everything, I actually fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t think I’m unusual in that regard. God did not set up creation only to abandon it. But neither does God control everything.
I’m a strong proponent of free will. But while I believe in free will, I also believe that God has a purpose for each of our lives. None of us is here by accident. All of us are here on purpose for a purpose. And one of the most important things we can do in life is discover that purpose because, if we don’t, life will never make sense.
So while God does not control our lives, I believe that God prods and pokes us to encourage us to walk the path that he has set before us. As it says in Isaiah 30:21 (NIV): “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” I’ve had God do that to me. Have you? Have you felt the hand of God gently nudging you off the path that you thought was a good idea and onto one his making? I’m not saying that God has always been gentle with me. Sometimes God has come down with a baseball bat, but those were usually times when I needed a baseball bat.
The bottom line is that I believe that God is active in creation and active in our lives. And because of that, God changes and transforms us and our surroundings so that we and they become reflections of his glory, his presence and his purpose. Over the next few weeks we are going to talk about that. As a heads up, next week we will discuss how God changes our communities. Then, in week three, we will talk about how God changes our future and in week four, how God changes our perspective. But today, we’re getting right back to basics and start off this whole thing by talk about how God changes us.
Samuel was just a boy when God called him. Scholars believe that he was about eleven years old. He had been dedicated to the service of God by his parents when he was a very young child. He was serving at the temple in Jerusalem under the high priest Eli. To understand what happens next, you have to understand that things were not going well in the temple in those days. Eli was the high priest and his sons were priests under him but, although Eli was a righteous man, his sons were not. In fact, the Bible tells us that they sinned greatly in the sight of the Lord.
This, of course, would never do. God, being an active God and concerned about the state of the earth and his chosen people of Israel, could not let this situation go unchecked. That’s where Samuel comes in. The story begins with 1 Samuel 3:1 (NIV):
The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
We are introduced to the two main characters, Samuel and Eli. It also says that the word of the Lord was rare in those days and that there were not many visions. Why would that be? That’s what happened in the Old Testament when the people of Israel turned their backs on God. The word of God was rare because no one was listening and there were few visions because no one was looking. God needs to find someone who is willing to hear and God needs to find someone who is willing to see. Maybe Samuel is that person. We continue with 1 Samuel 3:2-6 (NIV).
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.
So Samuel twice hear the voice of God calling to him. Samuel wakes up, thinks it’s Eli and goes and wakes him up: “You called?” Eli says that no he didn’t call. Now go back to bed, which Samuel does.
The first important thing that these verses tell us is that Samuel could hear the voice of God. That’s important because remember that the word of God was rare in those days because no one was listening and there were few visions because no one was looking. But now we have an eleven year old boy who is paying attention and is open to the voice of God.
But that we come to verse 7 which is odd because tells us that Samuel did not yet know the Lord because the word had not yet been revealed to him. That’s one of those verses that we read and wonder why it was included. Its inclusion is important because it’s one of those hints that helps scholars to determine Samuel’s age. This is Hebrew code for say that Samuel is not yet thirteen years old. Thirteen is an important age for Jewish boys because it is the age at which they have their bar mitzvah, that celebration at which a boy is considered to become a man and responsible for himself. Before thirteen, boys are not responsible for knowing the word of the Lord but, after thirteen, they are expected to both know it and follow it.
The story continues in 1 Samuel 3:8-10 (NIV):
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.”
Samuel hears the voice of God a third time and goes back and wakes up Eli yet again. But this time Eli catches on. He realizes that while the word of God might be rare in those times, it is not entirely absent. This has to be the Lord speaking to Samuel and so Eli gives him instructions as to what to do if it happens again. Samuel goes back to bed and it does happen again. This time Samuel responds by saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
The word of the Lord was rare in those days but Samuel had ears to hear. There weren’t many visions on those days but Samuel will also prove that he has eyes to see. Ears to hear. Eyes to see. That is what distinguished Samuel from so many others who lived during his walk on earth.
But that is not the end of the story. We get to see that Samuel had eyes to see and ears to hear. See also get to read what happens to someone who possesses those qualities. 1 Samuel 3:19-21 (NIV) says this:
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
It’s one thing to read that an eleven year old boy can be open to the word of God. It is something else to see the impact of that openness to the rest of his life. The long and the short of it is that Samuel grew up to be a great prophet, the greatest prophet in the land. This was recognized throughout all of Israel. And God continued to speak to him throughout his life.
The story of Samuel reminds us that the word of God is living and active. It’s powerful. In fact, it is so powerful that it has the potential to change our lives if we are open to it. Because he was open to the word of God, Samuel was transformed from an ordinary eleven year old boy into the most powerful man in the nation. If you take the time to read the rest of his story which is found in 1 and 2 Samuel – and I suggest that it would be a valuable exercise for you to do that – you will discover an amazing man who lived an amazing life for God. He became the leader of the nation, not just spiritually but politically. It was Samuel who led Israel in the defeat of the Philistines who had oppressed his people for so many years. It was Samuel who restored the faith practices that had become so lax in the nation. It was Samuel who anointed the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David. During the roughly seventy years of his life, the people of Israel were restored and they prospered. This is what happens when someone is open to the transformative power of the word of God in their lives. Not only are they transformed, through them God is able to transform everything else around them.
The question we have to ask ourselves is if we are truly open to that transforming word? Are we open to open to hearing the word as it comes to us? Are we open to seeing the visions that God would place before us? Are we willing to be changed by the word of God as it works in our lives? Those are important questions. They are questions that each of us has to ask individually because it is important to know where we stand in our relationship with God. Are we open to hear the word? Are we open to see the visions? Are we open to being transformed.
In the midst of all of those questions, it’s good to know that God does not give up easily on us. God knows only too well that we, his children, do not always get it right the first time. Think about how many time God had to call to eleven year old Samuel as he laid on his bed in the Temple. God called him not once or twice or even three times. God called Samuel four times before he caught on and was able to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” But that’s the moment that everything began to change for Samuel. That is the moment that he opened up his life up to the transforming power of God which made him into the man he would eventually become.
Sometimes it takes a while for us to recognized the word of God in our lives but fortunately God is patient and God is persistent. Deuteronomy 31:6 reminds us that God will never leave us or forsake us. The first time God calls to us, we may not get it right. We may not recognize the word of God. We may not understand where it is coming from or what it means. But God keeps at it and God will prod us and poke us as many times as it takes for us understand the path that God wants us to follow. And when we begin to follow that path, life will begin to make sense because we will living the life that God put us on this earth to live.
But how do we know that something is the word of God? There are all sorts of other voices calling to us in this world. Every day, we are pulled in various different directions. How do we distinguish between the legitimate word of God and those counterfeit ones that are trying to lead us astray?
I believe that the word is living and active. I believe that through the Holy Spirit, God continues to guide us and direct us to walk the path that he would have us walk. But I also know this; the Spirit of God will never tell us to do something that is inconsistent with the written word of God. By the written word of God, I mean the Bible. It is our guide. It is our standard. It is the measuring stick that helps us to determine if a word is from God or from somewhere else. It doesn’t change. It doesn’t vary. It is consistent and eternal. Follow it and you will walk God’s path for you.
In closing, I just want to head back into 1 Samuel 3 and read a verse that I missed and I did it on purpose. It is 1 Samuel 3:11 (NIV) and it occurs immediately following Samuel’s reply to God where he said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Right after that we get God’s first words to Samuel after he opens himself up to hear the word. God says, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.”
Because of Samuel, the ears of the nations tingled. Not only was he transformed, so were his people. But what about you? Are your ears tingling? Is the word of God speaking to you? Are you be called by God to be open to hear his word and see his visions and become the person God wants you to be and do the things that God wants you to do?
Let me be honest with you. Regardless of how long you’ve been a follower of Jesus, whether you are a brand new believer or a seasoned veteran, the word of God still speaks to you and it continues to transform you. As long as you walk this earth, the Spirit of God will work on your life if you are willing to remain open to his word. I pray that your ears will keep tingling and you continue to be open to his word as it speaks to you in your life.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, O God, after another week of activity and ministry. We pray that your blessings would continue to shower down upon us and what we do in the name of Jesus Christ.
We give you thanks for winter weather and snow. You made them too, O God. They are the work of your hand. Be with those, however, who find the cold and snow difficult to deal with. We pray today for safety on the roads and sidewalks.
We lift up in prayer those who mourn. Give them comfort in their sadness and peace in the midst of anxiety. Bless them with an inner healing that only your Spirit can provide. We keep in mind especially all those who mourn the loss of health, or a loved one, or a relationship, or a job or financial security, or even the loss of innocence. You, O God, are the one who brings wholeness to brokenness and hope out of despair. We trust you to do that for us even today.
We pray for those who need your healing touch. We pray especially for Gary, Mark, John and Bob. Grant your healing touch, O God. Be with everyone else who is impacted by the Covid-19, whether they be patients, health care workers, other front line workers or those at heightened risk.
Holy God, we want to always keep the priorities of our lives in proper order and balance, choosing your will and purpose over our own. Help us also to always remember that we have a purpose and reason for being here. Help us to understand more of that purpose and how we might fulfill it more completely.
Finally, we pray that you would give us bold hearts to share your Good News. Often, we are timid and hesitate to share our faith. We need your encouragement. There are other times when we are arrogant and insensitive. At those times, we need your gentleness and compassion. Give us, O God, the tools that we need to share the Gospel message and lead others to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Hear our prayers and the prayers of all of your people. Amen.