Years ago, I was driving along with a man from my first church in Texas discussing various matters. During the conversation he said to me, “You know, Brother Frank, it’s like the Bible says, ‘God helps them that helps themselves.’” I thought about that. I had read the Bible through more than once and I couldn’t recall that being in there. He was convinced, however, that that saying was a word from God. It was only recently that I discovered that that great philosophical statement emanated not from the heart of God but from the pen of Benjamin Franklin.
All of us at one time or another have thought that we had received a word from God or a call from God. It may have been in a time of personal crisis, or during a devotional period, or in a missions conference, or maybe even during a Sunday morning worship service.
Many of you are here today in this city because of a Word from God, a call. Some struggle with a call from God, some struggle with discerning the exact origin of this call, this inclination, this overwhelming sense of direction. And, we must admit there are many instances when we know that a call came, and we ignored it or were not ready to receive it.
Our passage for today gives us a case study in the call of God. Let’s look at I Samuel 3:1-14, 19-21.
Awakened from sleep, the boy or youth Samuel heard someone calling his name. Thinking that the aged priest had called, Samuel ran quickly to his bedside, but Eli had not called. Again, and yet again, this happened. At last Eli realized that the voice must be the voice of God. He told the boy to listen well and if the voice came again to say, “Here I am; you called me” (I Samuel 3:9). When the voice came the fourth time, Samuel responded to the call of the Lord and received a prophecy which he was to share with God’s people. As we look at the issue of the call of God and the voice of God, we need to consider several points. If we will follow these biblical thoughts, we will be able to respond to God’s still, small voice as He deals with us.
The call is issued for several purposes.
We know this from our own Christian experience as well as from scripture. God’s call is not singular but encompasses many purposes.
He calls to offer salvation. Every born again person is grateful for the fact that God does call us and offer salvation. In fact, Christians are referred to in many places as “the called” (Romans 8:28) or the “called to be Jesus Christ’s” (Romans 1:6). They are also called to be saints (I Corinthians 1:2), and “called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). In other words, it is obvious that God took the initiative in our salvation. Through His Holy Spirit, He calls us into His kingdom. Yes, we are to call upon the name of the Lord and respond with our free will, but first He called us. Do you have that kind of testimony of faith? Have you answered this first call? When did it happen? Was it a true calling from God and did you respond in honesty?
God also calls us to offer His loving care. When we are at the end of our rope, God comes to us with his comforting Holy Spirit and presence. When we have reached the extreme end of our own resources our Lord is there. When our river runs dry, He gives spiritual rain in our time of spiritual drought. John 4:14 says, “But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Have you heard the loving word from the Good Shepherd? Sometimes that loving word comes in the form of an encouraging word from a Christian friend. Sometimes that word comes from the Holy Spirit’s quiet presence in a time of prayer. Sometimes it comes as we read and meditate on God’s precious Word.
God also calls us to service. In the case of little Samuel, though he was only twelve, God called him to service. In my life, as a very young boy God called me to service.
Look again to our text. The word used for boy may indeed mean boy, or a youth, or at times is used to describe one not quite mature mentally or physically.
Nonetheless, God used Samuel in service. It may have included caring for the lamps or some other kind of “priestly assistance.”
But God’s call to enlistment does not come only on the “high level” of the prophets. He also calls people into his service on the level of ordinary Christians like you and me. If God has called you to serve Him, if God has assigned you to some task, that job may get done without you. But your failure to enlist has spoiled the pattern, for nobody else can do what God had intended for you to do.
The call is best perceived by the “prepared” heart.
This occurs when our hearts are impressionable and tender. One of the saddest phrases is in verse one. God’s Word had been received rarely in those days because those who ought to have been messengers of God’s Word were utterly incapable of even receiving it. Neither Eli nor his sons were qualified instruments by which God could reveal His will to the people. Even the high priest himself was not one whose spiritual nature was sufficiently awake to render him capable of receiving visions of God. And he who would reveal to others the word of the Lord must be able first to see and hear for himself. But Samuel was of an entirely different nature. His ear had been rendered susceptible to spiritual voices, his eyes were fitted to discern spiritual realities, and his will was so far in harmony with the will of God–his desire to serve the Lord was so far single and unbiased–as to render him a fit vessel through which the light of the divine Word could be transmitted.
His heart was prepared for a word from God. From his very early days this boy had been found in daily attendance in the services of God’s house. He had been prepared for a day when serving the Lord would be difficult. He learned total obedience which would later be the mainstay of his life.
His heart was prepared. Is ours? Is it “rare” for you to receive a word from the Lord? If it is, then why?
Perhaps some of us have ignored God’s urging to experience some “basic training” before we move into a command position. I doubt that God would have used Samuel to be an anointer of kings had he refused to do some basic tasks in the early days. Maybe we need to learn how to follow before we are able to learn to lead.
We need prepared hearts.
We must be impressionable to God. We must even yearn for this call, we must seek his face. The Lord is unlikely to overpower you if you are insensitive to his direction. When, however, you are already truly searching, God can speak in that still small voice. The Bible everywhere encourages us to approach God, to call upon His name, to seek His face. The person who seeks the face of God will hear the call of God in his soul. Daniel 10:12 says, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” Is your heart prepared to hear? Revival is not present today because most hearts here today are not listening!
The call of God must not go unheeded.
We may ignore His call. Through our spiritual hearts, God’s call is constantly breaking in, calling us to follow Him, to serve Him, to honor Him, to worship Him. So often, we ignore Him. It is an option, of sorts.
We may reject God’s call. Some do so deliberately, stubbornly, precipitously. Others do so painfully, sorrowfully, but the results are the same. The rich young ruler who came to Jesus considered Jesus’ terms of discipleship and rejected them. So we read, “He went away sad” (Mark 10:22), but he went away.
We may accept God’s call. We may say “yes” to Him. The towering mountain peaks in the history of revelation have been those who have heard God’s voice saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8).
In this passage, Samuel did just the same. Look at vv. 19-21.
As Samuel matured, his reputation as God’s spokesman spread throughout the land. The only criteria by which a prophet could be evaluated hinged on the divine fulfillment of his messages. Many men could say, “Thus saith the Lord,” but only those whose words were upheld by the events of life would be adjudged true prophets.
True worship was dependent on man’s willingness to open his life to divine control. Samuel’s responsiveness to God’s leadership opened a new prophetic era for Israel.
Just as the call came to Samuel, so it comes to us, for several reasons, in many ways. Are we ready to hear it? Are we willing to respond?
If God led you here, then that’s good. Remember, however, that you must listen to his call every day and in every way. Selective attention is a mark of the child while consistent attention and obedience is the mark of the mature disciple.
Frank S. Page is president and CEO of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.