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The Man Who Had Ears To Hear

I Samuel 3:1-11

The words “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” were often on the lips of Jesus. A parable or an important teaching would be presented in the Master’s matchless method, and then as a last word, as a seal of importance, as a final instruction to hear and to obey, Jesus would say: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In other words, Jesus was saying: “Listen to what I say and do what I command.”

Now I believe that every sincere Christian is engaged in trying to do just that—trying to hear God’s Word, trying to discern God’s will. But here’s the rub. We know that we are to hear and obey—but how do we hear? How do we develop that spiritual ear which catches the sound of the still, small voice of God? How do we know what God’s will for us really is? So often we feel outside of God’s plan and purpose because we do not seem to be able to tune in to His wavelength. How many Christians have said in one way or another: “I know I have ears to hear and I know that I am commanded to hear, but I don’t seem to know how to hear!” Well, I want to suggest that at least a part of the answer to that concern is to be found in one of the most dramatic scenes in the Old Testament—the call of God to Samuel.

Samuel, the child of Hannah, was dedicated to God by his mother before he was born. (Would to God that that practice were more frequently observed today!) True to her vow, Hannah enlisted Samuel in the work of the Lord when he was 12 years old. He became the youthful assistant to the old priest, Eli. Eli’s priestly responsibilities included one especially serious task. It was Eli who guarded the Ark of the Covenant which contained the sacred tablets of the law delivered by God to Moses atop Mt. Sinai.

Now because the Ark and its contents were the holiest objects of Hebrew worship, they were protected day and night. Indeed, Eli had a room immediately adjacent to the place where the sacred relics were kept. In that room, Eli would lie down to rest each night, sleeping lightly, like the mother of a small child, with one ear constantly tuned to pick up any unusual sounds. But the years had taken a toll on old Eli. His eyesight had begun to grow dim and his hearing had begun to fail. So it was that Samuel was appointed to help him. The young lad was given a bed in the very room where the Ark was kept—and there every night he would lie down to sleep.

Well, one such night, only shortly after Samuel had dropped off to sleep, he was awakened by a voice calling: “Samuel, Samuel.” He quickly got up and went to Eli’s bedside and said, “You called for me. Here I am.” Eli replied: “I did not call you. Go back to sleep.” Young Samuel did as he was told. Once again, he was awakened by the sound of his name being called; once again he went to Eli’s room; and once again he was told to go back to sleep. Yet a third time it happened. But by now the old priest was fully awake and he began to realize that Samuel was being called by God. So he immediately gave Samuel certain very specific instructions. And I believe this whole incident gives us some significant clues about developing the spiritual ears to hear the voice of God speaking in our lives. Let’s look at it…

First, notice that Eli was sensitive to the voice of God.

In the story it is quite clear that it was Eli, not Samuel, who first recognized that God was calling. I think that was true because across the years Eli had become sensitive to the voice of God in his life. His physical hearing may have been failing, but his spiritual hearing was never sharper. And what I want us to understand is that that sensitivity to the voice of God is something we can develop in our own lives.

Several years ago, a remarkable book was written by a blind man. It has since been turned into a movie with the intriguing title: I Wish You Could See What I Hear. At one point in the book, this blind man tells of being near a swimming pool with his three-year-old daughter. She accidently fell into the water. He panicked because he knew that she could not swim, and he knew that there was no one else around to help. If she were to be saved, he would have to do it. Just as he was about to plunge into the water to try to find her, he regained control of himself and realized that the best thing he could do was to be quiet and listen for a sound that would tell him where she was. With unbelievable concentration he listened until he could hear bubbles in the water. As soon as he heard the bubbles, he went into the water and saved his little girl. That experience was the inspiration for the title of the book, I Wish That You Could See What I Hear.

Well, just as that blind man was able to develop his sense of hearing to pick up sounds you and I would never hear, so we can develop our spiritual hearing to be sensitive to the voice of God. The problem for most of us is that we have never developed that sensitivity to the voice of God in our lives. Our spiritual ears are closed to the sounds which come from heaven. There are several reasons for that and I think we should note them.

Perhaps we are insensitive to the voice of God because we are too busy, too wrapped up in other things, too involved in minor matters. Many of us are so absorbed in our work, our pleasure, our problems, our ambitions, and our daily responsibilities that even if all the trumpets of Jericho were blown in our ears we still would not hear.

Or perhaps we are insensitive to what God is saying to us because we have heard Christian truths too often. Let me explain. The toughest job any preaching minister has to face is trying to put the age-old truths of our faith in such a way that the people in the congregation won’t say: “Oh, I’ve heard it all before.” How do we break through the crust created by familiarity? Take for example, the statement “Jesus Christ died for me.” You’ve heard that from childhood so this thousand and first repetition of it has little power over your life. But if once, just once, that truth could cut through to your heart, I think it would lead to a healing and a power and a joy in your life that would be far beyond anything you’ve ever experienced before. Yet even as I say that, I know that many of us will walk away from these moments together as we’ve done a thousand times before. The words will bounce off of us like a rubber ball off a brick wall or they will run off of us like water off a sea bird’s plumes—and just because we think we have heard it all before.

Or perhaps we don’t hear the voice of God because we do not want to hear it. There are many people who know perfectly well what God would say to them if they ever stopped to listen. But they don’t want to hear, so they don’t listen. I am convinced that the majority of us so-called unbelievers actually do retain down deep inside a belief in the existence of God. But they go to great lengths to deny that belief because to affirm it would mean making changes in their lives which they are not willing to make. So let it be noted as sad, but true, that many are insensitive to the voice of God because they want it that way. They live with their fingers in their ears.

Here then is Eli’s first lesson to us: if we are going to have the spiritual ears to hear, then we must become sensitive to the voice of God by defeating and overcoming those factors which interfere with our hearing.

Secondly, notice that Eli knew what to do to hear God’s voice.

When the old priest realized that God was calling Samuel, he told Samuel what he was to do. Eli said: “Go, lie down.” In other words Samuel was instructed to wait and to listen. I take this to be an instruction to us to develop and to practice spiritual discipline and training. This can be done in only three ways: regular worship, regular prayer, and regular study of the Scriptures.

There are those who maintain vigorously that they can be perfectly good Christians without going to church, without consistent prayer, and without the discipline of Bible study. Poppycock! Such a claim is patently absurd on the face of it and it is intellectually dishonest at the depth of it. It makes as much sense to say that one can be a great doctor without studying medicine or a great musician without learning to read music. It can’t be done. Do you think I would dare to step into this pulpit Sunday after Sunday after Sunday if I had not first studied my text weeks in advance, brooded over it, struggled with it, wrestled with it, tried to climb inside of it, tried to permit it to take up residence inside of me, then written a sermon and re-written it, prayed over it and sweated over it for hour upon hour? Well, just as sermons come only through patient, painful discipline, so spiritual insight of any kind comes only through the patient discipline of worship, prayer, and study. There just isn’t any other way!

An old violinist used to walk the streets of Vienna, charming the crowds of tourists with his playing. When asked to explain the mellowness of the instrument and the quality of his playing, he would always gently touch the graceful curves of his violin and say: “A great deal of sunshine poured into this wood while it was still a tree, and what has gone in must come out.” It’s like that in our spiritual experience. One enjoys the bright light and comforting warmth of communion with God only in direct proportion to how diligently one has worshipped Him and prayed to Him and studied about Him and His will for all people. I say it again, there just isn’t any other way!

So Eli said to Samuel: “Go, lie down. Wait upon the Lord and you will hear Him.” His words are as true now as they were then.

Then thirdly, Eli knew what to say to hear the voice of God.

Eli not only told Samuel what to do—he also told him what to say. He said to Samuel: “If God calls you, you should say ‘Speak, Lord, for Thy servant hears!”

Notice the words carefully. We are not to say: “Speak, Lord, and I shall give your words due consideration and let you know my decision later.” We are not to say: “Speak, Lord, and then we can sit down together and thrash this whole matter out.” No, rather we are to say, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant hears.” The operative word there is the word “servant.” Not partner. Not associate. Not assistant. Not employee. But servant. Slave. And the servant, the slave is always obedient to the master. “Lord, tell me what you want me to do and I will do it—no questions asked.” That is what Eli taught Samuel and that is what he teaches us. Those are the only words God hears. Jesus tells us that the only way to hear the voice of God is to be completely prepared to obey that voice. That and nothing else.

Do you understand? I want to say it again. So just for a moment now—that’s all I ask—just for a moment forget about dinner or the baseball game or last night’s date or next week’s workload. Think only of this and listen. The only time you will ever hear the voice of God in your life is when you invite that voice with your pledge to obedience. “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant hears.” Those are the words that reach the ear of the Lord and clear the channels for Him to speak to you.


Samuel did as he was told. He waited and he listened. God called his name. Samuel replied: “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant hears.” And God said to Samuel: “Behold, I am about to do something in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.”

Do you get the points? Point One: The Bible teaches us that God in Jesus Christ is ready, willing, and able to speak to us in life. Point Two: The Bible teaches us, through Eli, that we are to become sensitive to God’s voice; that we are to wait upon the Lord through worship and prayer and study; and that we are to speak to the Lord only as obedient servants. Point Three: If we do these things, then God will set our ears to tingling with His glorious truth, His governing will, His undying hope, His redeeming grace.

This is the way to have the spiritual ears to hear the voice of our Lord speaking in your life.

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