Formations 01.19.2014: Can You Hear Me Now?

1 Samuel 3:1-18

af23_2_011914_aMy wife’s family lives out in the country in southern Kentucky. The terrain there is not as hilly as in other parts of the state, but I don’t think it’s for lack of trying. There are a lot of old country roads with twists and turns and dips and crests. A visit to the old country cemeteries where the Piercys and the Pruetts are buried can be an adventure.

It’s hard to get a cell-phone signal in places like that. Driving home to Georgia after my mother-in-law’s funeral, we wanted to confer with my parents—in their own car just a little bit ahead of us—about where to stop to eat. It took several tries before we could keep a signal long enough to make plans.

Constantly dropping calls only added to the frustrations of the day. But what if something was unfolding more important than dinner? What if you were a firefighter or a police officer or an EMT trying to coordinate efforts during an emergency? What if you were in desperate need of such a person’s help? If that were me, I know I would want a clear signal available.

I recently read the account of the efforts in Pierce County, Wisconsin, to upgrade their communications systems for this very reason. Other rural communities around the country are no doubt in the same situation. First responders need to be able to talk to each other in the field. Citizens need to know that someone will be able to hear their calls for help and react in a timely manner.

There is an offhand comment in the first verse of this week’s text that is heartbreaking if you think about it. The writer of 1 Samuel informs us, “the LORD’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known” (1 Sam 3:1).

The era before the rise of King Saul is described elsewhere as a time when “each person did what they thought to be right” (Judg 17:6; 21:25). That might sound just fine if unrestrained freedom is the highest goal to which humans can aspire. The biblical writer cautions, however, that it is an attitude that can get in the way of hearing from God.

Then as now, people sometimes struggle to hear God clearly. It is as if we are driving through hilly, remote areas where our cell phones can’t pick up a signal. I think it’s safe to say that, when we are in such a situation, the problem isn’t likely on God’s end!

Visions were rare in the days of Samuel’s boyhood, but that didn’t mean God no longer spoke. It did mean, however, that Samuel needed to upgrade his receiving equipment. He needed some instruction in how to hear God. With some coaching from Eli, the future prophet learned to place himself in a position to recognize the surprising voice of God—and obey.


• When have you been desperate to hear a clear word from God? What did you do? How was the situation resolved?
• How can believers listen for God’s voice today?
• How is our ability to hear related to our willingness to obey?
• What does it mean to hear and obey a harsh, challenging message such as the one Samuel received?


Judy Wiff, “10-4: Searching for a Clear Signal,” River Falls Journal, 3 Jan 2014

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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