I’ve always loved the story of Samuel. In fact, as a writer, I’ve claimed the verse about none of his words falling to the ground as what I should be striving to live up to. There are so many lessons we can glean from this wise prophet who heard directly from God.

But the last time I was reading through I Samuel, I found myself dwelling not on who he turned out to be, but rather on where he began. More specifically, on where his relationship with the Lord began.

We’ve all read the story countless times, right. Samuel is sleeping in the sanctuary and he hears someone calling his name. He thinks it’s Eli, so he runs to the priest to ask what he needs. This repeats several times before finally Eli realizes it’s God calling the boy and instructs him in how to respond.

Familiar, yes. So familiar. So familiar, yet I’d never looked at it in quite the way I found myself looking this last time through.

Samuel was a child. We don’t know how old he was at this point, but certainly young enough that the word used is “lad” rather than “man” or even “young man.” He was a child who had grown up serving the Lord in a very physical sense, but the Word of the Lord “was rare in those days.” He wasn’t raised to expect to hear from Him. He hadn’t been trained in how to listen. He was just doing the normal, expected thing, keeping the altar fires burning.

But God spoke. God called.

And Samuel didn’t know His voice. How could he have? He’d never heard the Lord before. But he had heard Eli, many times every day. Shouldn’t he have known that it wasn’t Eli’s voice? Maybe the Lord sounded similar in his ears.

Maybe it was the only reasonable explanation.

Or maybe he recognized authority in the voice that called to him. Maybe he knew that whoever was calling “Samuel!” was expecting to be answered.

Samuel didn’t hesitate or complain, he simply rushed to his master, Eli the priest, and asked what he needed. He went back to his place, no doubt confused and wondering if he’d been dreaming when Eli said, “No, I didn’t call you.” But then it happened again. And again.

Samuel didn’t know how to listen. But God still called. Over and again, God called.

Would He have repeated this process another time? Five times? Ten? How long would God have called this boy?

The answer, I have to think, is until he learned how to answer.

Because God knew the heart of this child was one ready to be molded to His will. He knew that this boy, unlike all the priests and other Levites in the sanctuary, would do His work. He would obey His voice. He would listen to His instruction and to His heart, and he would act in His will. Live in it. Carry it before him like a torch.

But first, Samuel had to learn. He had to learn how to answer. He had to learn whose voice he was hearing. He had to be told, “God is calling you.”

God is calling you. He’s calling your name, and He’s not just asking you to deliver a message of doom to your teacher, He’s inviting you to walk with Him. He’s inviting you into His sanctuary. He’s asking you to do His work. To obey His voice. To listen to His instruction and to His heart. He’s asking you to act in His will. To live in it. To carry it before you like a torch.

Feel like you don’t know how to answer? You aren’t sure what’s God and what’s your own imagination, or the people closest to you? You’re in good company! We all have to learn.

But that’s okay. Because God is the most patient teacher. He knows your potential, so He will call to you, and call again, and call again until you realize you’ve been answering the wrong person and finally say, “Speak, Lord! Your servant is listening!”

Are you ready to truly listen, and to carry out His will?

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