How to Know When God is Speaking to You: Lessons from Samuel Before He became a Prophet

I Samuel 3:1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli. And word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.

Are the Lord’s words rare today? With all the voices calling for our attention, it may seem that way. How can anyone be sure that God is speaking to them? Samuel asked that question in I Samuel 3. He didn’t see a flash of lightning or hear God shouting from the heavens sounding like Morgan Freeman. Instead, the Word of the Lord progressively became more clear as Samuel learned to discern God’s voice. We can learn to discern God’s voice as well if we are willing to go through the same process that Samuel did.

The first step toward a clear understanding of God’s word to you is:

1. Discern if it is from the Lord

3:7, 8 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him. So the LORD called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli discerned that the LORD was calling the boy.

In the middle of the night, the Lord called Samuel by name – not once but twice. Both times Samuel mistook the voice for Eli, the High Priest at that time and the only other human in the tabernacle at that time of night. It never occurred to either of them that God might be speaking to them in His own house. God did not condemn him and give up trying to get Samuel’s attention. He continued to call him just as He continues to call us even though we might be too busy or do not know His voice yet.

God uses many methods to speak to us. He has used radio, books, tv, movies, songs, recurring words or phrases, dreams, and miracles to speak to me. It doesn’t have to be a “Christian” movie and even spiritual. God has many canvases to convey His truth. We merely need to look for it and listen to Him.

Eli should have known God’s voice because he was the high priest, but it was becoming less clear for him. The story uses many metaphors like “his eyes grew dim” and “the lamp of God had not gone out” to indicate how Eli was losing his ability to see and hear from God. Seeing and hearing from God are the same thing in the Bible. When the chapter opens with the word from the LORD was rare in those days it adds visions were infrequent because when God speaks, He often illustrates what He is saying with vivid word pictures and memorable stories. For example, the Egyptians dramatically heard from God through the plagues as Moses spoke the Word of God to them before and after every one. Noah preached for one hundred years about a coming flood while he was building a huge boat nowhere near water. Unfortunately the Egyptians and Noah’s neighbors refused to listen and became deaf to the words of God.

It is easy to become deaf to the words of God if we never consider that He might speak to us using someone other than our pastor or our trusty King James Bible. We can be quick to judge potential prophets and chose not to listen because they’re too young or too manly or they “wear white socks with a dark suit” or they’re not “the norm”  or they’re not “hygenic” or don’t “wipe properly” or “own a toothbrush” or “let their scabs heal” or “frighten small children” or “eat their own dandruff” or  “pop their whiteheads with a compass they used in high school.” Regardless of the faults you might find in people, you are robbing yourself if you are not open to the possibility that God might choose to speak to you through “imperfect” people or “secular” mediums like tv or music.

When I was working at McDonald’s I heard the voice of God from a character on a television show. I had gotten into the habit of eating Chicken Mcnuggets while I was working. I justified my stealing with every excuse you can think of: “They don’t pay me enough!” “I’m hungry!” “Everybody else is doing it!” “We should throw this one away anyway because it is deformed.” One day I was watching The Simpsons on television and God spoke to me. Homer was stealing cable and using eerily similar excuses to my own. Lisa (his daughter) went to Sunday school and learned about the Ten Commandments. One of the 10 stood out to her: Thou shalt not steal. She asked the teacher what happens to people who disobey those commands. The teacher replied, “They will burn in hell!!” Though the show is a comedy, this suddenly became no laughing matter. I discerned that God was telling me to stop stealing.

After you have discerned that God is speaking to you…

2. Confirm it with others

In this text, Eli helped Samuel discern the voice of God. Though Samuel may have already suspected that it might be God, he did not fully discern who was calling him until Eli confirmed it.

Sometimes we get overwhelmed with a feeling that God wants us to do something, but then through a kind word from our friend or mentor, we discover the truth. For instance, if you tell your friends that God is calling you to move to China, but they point out how much you hate Chinese food, traveling, crowded spaces, and your inability to grasp the English language let alone foreign languages, then you should think twice about moving to China. Your friends and those who know you well can help you determine God’s voice for you and encourage you to pursue it or maybe persuade you that you heard wrong. If you can’t find anyone who will confirm it, that is usually a telltale sign that God did not say what you think He said. God never calls us to do anything alone. If He is calling you to do something, He will always confirm it through others.

3. Test it with Scripture

Once you’ve discerned that God may be saying something to you and confirmed it with others, you should test it. If it does not agree with scripture, it is not from God. If you believe that God is telling you to work seven days a week so you can give more, you must have missed the part in the Bible about honoring the Sabbath and the dangers of greed and the love of money.

4. Obey without hesitation

After we discern that God is speaking to us and confirm it with others and scripture, it needs to be acted upon. When I heard God telling me to stop stealing Chicken McNuggets, I had a choice to make: Do I ignore God and continue to steal or trust him that He will provide for me so I won’t go hungry? Though seemingly everyone else was doing it, God gave me the courage to stop. It wasn’t easy. Others noticed and egged me on to do it with them. But when God speaks to me, I want to obey Him immediately rather than live in rebellion and sin.

What has the Lord been speaking to you about? Even as you read this, God reminded you what He said so softly to you before. Were you listening then? Are you listening now? Will you be like Samuel in verse 10, “Then the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening”? God doesn’t come with a megaphone and a whip after we’ve ignored His repeated attempts to speak to us. He speaks “as at other times” until we give Him our attention, discern His voice, confirm it with others, and obey His word. So what are you waiting for? A big sign in the sky? A loud voice from heaven?

Night falls and the curtain goes down
No one’s around,
It’s just you and the truth.
As you lie in wait for a feeling to take you by storm.
Somewhere in the depths of your heart,
Where it’s empty and dark, there’s a flicker of light, And the Spirit calls, but do you notice at all?

Are you waiting for lightning,
A sign that it’s time for a change.
And you’re listening for thunder,
While He quietly whispers your name.

But the sign and the word have already been given,
And now it’s by faith we must look and we must listen.

(from Waiting for Lightning by Steven Curtis Chapman)

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Valentine’s Day for Singles: Lessons Learned from the Apostle Paul

While many are celebrating Valentine’s Day, there are millions of people who would rather sit on their couch eating Bon Bons in a Snuggie all day watching war movies because at least no one is going to be kissing anyone on the battlefield and reminding them that it is Valentine’s Day. If you were hoping for a box of chocolates in a box shaped like a heart this year but didn’t get it, relax. Half of them probably taste like a toothpaste inside anyway. Instead of dwelling on what you are missing out on, try thinking about some of the benefits of being single. Before Paul waxed poetic about love in First Corinthians, he wrote about how he was better off being single. Paul was likely married when he was a young man as all good Jews in that day should be (or so they were told), but became a widower before he was converted. If this is true then Paul had been unmarried for over 20 years by the time he wrote First Corinthians. So he is kind of an expert on this topic, having been married, widowed, and choosing not to remarry at various points in his life. In chapter seven he addresses the topic of marriage within these contexts. Here are three of his points:
1. Being single is a gift.
“I wish that all people were as I am. But each one has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” (7:7) Hard as it may be to believe, being single is not a curse; Paul actually says it is a gift. Whether you are single for only a short time or you never get married, try to think of it as a gift from God rather than an indication of what others may or may not think of you. You are not single because no one could ever love you; you are single because the One who loves you wants the very best for you. Don’t settle for less.
2. Single people are not “divided.”
Paul makes an interesting point. Even though he makes it clear that marriage is good, single people have a benefit that married people do not. On the one hand, An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs–how he can please the Lord.” (7:32) On the other hand, a married man must be concerned about how to please God AND his wife. In other words, a married person must divide their time, money, interests, and anything else that comes along between God, their spouse, and even their children if they have any. A single person can give their undivided attention to God.
3. Life is short; don’t worry, be happy.
If we can take one thing away from the Whitney Houston tragedy, it is this: life is too short to worry about things that are not eternal. Whatever caused her death, she died too young and unexpectedly; we just never know how long we have left. In Paul’s day, things were no different. Christians were being persecuted and the Lord’s coming was anticipated with great eagerness.If you never marry, would that be sooo bad? If you really believe that Jesus could come back any day now, shouldn’t you seize every moment you have and let God handle what’s best for you? Paul ends his discourse about marriage by saying, In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is.” This is the theme of the chapter; in other words, don’t be anxious to change your marital status, but be content with who you are. There is nothing wrong with staying single. In Paul’s view, you might even be happier that way.

Superman’s Kryptonite: Lessons Learned from Samson

Long before Superman and Batman and Captain Caveman, there was a man with superhuman powers. He caught 300 foxes and lit their tails on fire, killed 1000 men with a jawbone, and tore apart a lion with his bare hands and ate honey from its carcass (take that, honey badger!). His name was Samson and he seemed to be invincible. But Samson had one weakness: women. Most people have probably heard of Delilah, but before her there was another woman that was nothing but trouble for Samson. Let’s see if we can learn from his mistakes.

Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. So he came back and told his father and mother, “I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.” Then his father and his mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.” However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel. (Judges 14:1-4)

Avoid the “uncircumcised”
Samson wanted to marry a Philistine, Israel’s biggest enemy in that day. The Philistines were uncircumcised – meaning they had a different religion and moral code. Unless Samson or his wife converted, their relationship would be one battle after another.
Don’t date someone with whom you have nothing in common. Ask yourself: what do I consider important in my life? If you love football, but your girlfriend keeps trying to get you to quit watching sports completely, then it won’t work out. If you save your money wisely, you will have constant conflict with someone who spends money like their wallet is on fire. If your religious beliefs are important to you, then you might not want to date someone who belongs to the Church of Satan no matter how many quarters you can bounce of his abs.
I have heard many people say, “If I date her, I can win her over to Christ.” Guys, you are not God’s gift to women and you will end up following her rather than her following Jesus. Girls, if he only goes to church to see you, then he is not going for the right reasons. Drop him like a tiolet seat.

Take note of your parents’ and friends’ impressions
Even though Samson knew she was a “daughter of the enemy,” Samson still wanted to marry her over his parents’ objections. Now I know your parents are not always right, but often they know you better than anyone – even your closest friends. Listen to their advice and objections. They are trying to help you – not ruin your fun. If your parents’ and siblings and good friends are all saying the same things and even your dog looks at your boyfriend weird, then maybe they are on to something. Samson’s only response when questioned by his parents was “she looks good to me.” She looks good to him?! That’s his one and only reason. If you can’t come up with a good reason for dating someone that isn’t superficial or selfish, then maybe you should take your parents’ and friends’ advice and find someone better.
Pretty lasts about ten years; then they just become petty
Samson never found the right woman for him because he was always looking in the wrong places. He looked in foreign cities among foreign women. There is nothing wrong with interracial dating or marriage. What made this woman (and Delilah after her) wrong for Samson was their vastly different religions and an overemphasis on looks over substance. Looks only last for ten, maybe fifteen years. Even with plastic surgery, the inevitable is only delayed and you end up looking like Joan Rivers. Choose someone you can talk to about something other than the weather for more than ten minutes. Choose someone who will walk with you as you follow Jesus rather than try to pull you in a different direction. Choose someone who loves you for you and not what you pretend to be. He’s going to have to see you without makeup eventually.