The Danger of Sleeping in Church

TEXT: 1 Samuel 3:1-20

… the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and [Samuel] … ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” (1 Samuel 3:3-5a)

Did you notice? The Bible says that young Samuel (we think he was about 12 years old at the time) was “lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.”

Yeah. “Where the ark of God was.” Inside the sanctuary, in other words. Samuel was sleeping in church!

That can be a dangerous thing, falling asleep in church. The New Testament has a story like that, too. In the Book of Acts, we read about another young man—his name was Eutychus—who fell asleep during one of the apostle Paul’s sermons. Unfortunately, Eutychus was sitting in an open window at the time. As Luke describes the scene in chapter 20 of Acts:

Eutychus … began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below … (Acts 20:9) 

See, that’s why I try to keep my sermons short!

Anyway—miraculously—Eutychus survived … both the fall and the preaching! But it illustrates my point: falling asleep in church is dangerous.

There’s another story about a man who kept falling asleep during the sermon. This greatly annoyed his pastor. So, one Sunday, he decided to teach the man a lesson. As usual, he began to preach slowly, almost in a monotone, and—sure enough—the man soon fell into a deep sleep.

Then the pastor said to the congregation, “Everyone who wants to go to heaven, please stand up.”

Everyone stood … except, of course, the man who was fast asleep.

Then the pastor had everyone sit down. And then, slamming his fist upon the pulpit, he shouted, “Everyone who wants to go to hellSTAND UP!

The sleeping man snorted awake and sprang to his feet as everyone else began to snicker. The man looked at all the people sitting around him, then turned to the pastor and said, “Preacher, I don’t know what we’re voting on. But it looks like you and me are the only ones for it.”

But I digress. Let’s get back to the young Samuel sleeping in the temple of the Lord.

By the way, the “temple” spoken of here is not the grand temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem. That was constructed decades later. This temple was located at Shiloh, some 32 kilometres (or 20 miles) north of Jerusalem.

But, I digress again. Back to “The Danger Of Sleeping In Church.”

Mind you, young Samuel was supposed to be sleeping there. Some years before, his mother—Hannah—had brought him to Shiloh in fulfillment of a vow she had made to God before the boy was ever born.

As a woman who had been plagued by infertility, Hannah promised God that if she were granted the blessing of a pregnancy, she would return the child to divine service.

She was as good as her word—Samuel was born, and as soon as he was able to make it on his own—probably about the age of four—she presented the boy to Eli, the high priest.

That’s right. When Samuel entered the Lord’s service, he was about the age of the children who attend preschool today.

The way Hannah saw it, he was only hers for a little while; he was on loan from the Lord.

Those days were not the best of times for the people of Israel, but they were not the worst, either. There were no wars going on. There were no imminent threats from hostile neighbors (although the Philistines were always looming near). The nation was not yet the unified entity it would later become, but was still a loose confederation of tribes.

On the religious front … Well, let’s just say there wasn’t much excitement. The spiritual life of the people had become stagnant. The faith which had sustained them through centuries of slavery, then through the exodus from Egypt, and a generation of wilderness wandering, and finally settlement in the promised homeland …

That once-vibrant faith was now reduced to mundane routine and empty ritual. And for some pious scoundrels—including Eli’s own sons—it had become an opportunity for corruption. As the Bible tells it, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”

Sounds unnervingly … modern, doesn’t it?

Now we find Samuel—asleep in the sanctuary, in what was, apparently, his usual place near the Ark of the Covenant. Out of the darkness, a voice begins to call: “Samuel! Samuel!”

The boy assumes it is Eli calling. Who else could it be? Certainly, Eli has called out like this before. He is old, and nearly blind. Often, he needs Samuel’s help to get around. So, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, the boy hurries in to the old man and says, “Here I am. You called?”

Roused from slumber, the aged priest shakes his head and says, “No, I didn’t. Go back to sleep.”

So the boy returns to the sanctuary and lays down again, only to hear once more: “Samuel! Samuel!”

He hurries back to Eli, not quite so sleepily now, for he is still awake from the first visit. “You called?”

Now Eli himself is wide awake. He wonders: what is that voice the boy is hearing? His imagination? A dream? Something he ate? Or could it be … something more?

Unlikely, Eli must have thought. God’s direct contact with human beings looked like a thing of the past. To be sure, God was still involved in the lives of his people—Samuel’s very existence was proof of that. But “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.”

Eli wonders. But once again, he says: “No, I did not call. Go back to bed.”

So the boy turns and goes out once more. But before he can get settled, the voice returns, calling his name: “Samuel!”

This is getting ridiculous! The old priest must be losing his mind. Perhaps muttering under his breath, Samuel makes his way back to Eli.

“You called?”

By now, Eli understands what is going on.

“No, I did not call,” he says. “Go back and lie down. But if the voice comes again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ”

Now the boy’s heart is racing. What could the Lord want with him? He had never heard of anyone else being called this way.

With no expectation of slumber, he returns to his bed. And sure enough, a fourth time it comes: “Samuel! Samuel!”

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

The young boy who met God in the sanctuary responded to the divine call and went on to become the Lord’s messenger to Israel, the equal of Moses and Abraham.

Yeah. Sleeping in church can be dangerous. Truth to tell, even being in church can be dangerous.

Church is a place where—just like Samuel—you may hear the voice of God. And then—like countless others through the centuries—your life will be changed; radically—and forever.

How about you? Are you prepared to hear the voice of God?

Don’t answer too quickly. You might hear something you won’t like—something that will scare you wide awake.

What Samuel heard was not a word of comfort. No. It was a word of severe judgment.

Then the LORD said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, band he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.” (1 Samuel 3:11-14)

If you ask the Lord to speak to you, he just might call you to do something you really do not want to do.

And where are you most likely to hear the voice of God? It could be anywhere, but—for many of us—the most likely place is (you guessed it) in the church. That’s where we get the help we need in hearing and understanding. Samuel needed Eli’s help. You and I need each other’s help.

You know, we are always being encouraged to invite our friends and neighbours to church. Imagine how full our sanctuaries would be if we actually did that!

Maybe the reason we don’t is because we can’t figure out how to broach the subject. What reasons could we give for extending the invitation?

Is it to hear wonderful music? Is it to meet interesting people? To enjoy delightful fellowship? To listen to challenging sermons?

How about this: what if you invited people to come and hear the voice of God?

What a concept! Come and hear the voice of God!

It seems to me that, today, we are living in a time much like Samuel’s time—an era in which the word of the Lord is rare. That could be because fewer and fewer people are listening for it.

But whether we are listening or not, the message of Scripture is that God will not be silent forever. One morning, as you prepare to begin your day … one evening, when you are minding your own business, and trying to unwind … or one Sunday when you are sitting quietly in church … maybe even with your eyes closed … there will come the Voice! God will call your name. And just like Samuel, your world will be turned upside down.

Are you ready?

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