Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-20
. . . the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10)
A common question that pastors are asked is, “What is the call like?”
When this question is asked, everyone knows that the questioner is not enquiring about a telephone call, but a much larger call—the call from God, the call to pastoral ministry—to “accountable” ministry, as the church likes to call it these days.
So, what is it like? As you might expect, it’s different for each person. For some, it is a slow evolution over a period of time. Some ministers say they knew when they were in elementary school. Some felt the call to ministry take them by complete surprise. And some of us, in retrospect, say we think that God must’ve got the wrong number! Or that we wish we’d left the receiver off the hook.
Today, we hear the story of Samuel’s call. God had a vision for his life, and not only called him once, but four times.
First Samuel 3 begins, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” This tells us that heavenly calls were not frequent occurrences during Samuel’s time. In fact, there had been a 300-year period when no prophet had spoken the word of the Lord.
If you remember the story of Samuel, you’ll recall that his mother Hannah had dedicated him to a life of serving God. So when he was about four years old, she took him to the Temple and gave him to the priest Eli as his assistant. Since then, Samuel had been raised in the Temple, and was not only Eli’s helper but also a sort of surrogate son for the old priest, whose own sons were hopelessly corrupt and evil.
At any rate, it made sense that when Samuel heard his name being called in the night, he would go to Eli and say, “Here I am, for you called me.”
But Eli—roused from his slumber—said, “I did not call; lie down again.”
Three times Samuel heard his name being called. Three times he asked Eli what he wanted, and two times Eli told him to go back to bed.
But after the third call, we are told that “Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy.” Eli then gave Samuel some excellent advice: “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’”
In other words, Eli told Samuel to be quiet and let God do the talking. Samuel went down to lie in his place, and the Bible says God did come back, and stood beside Samuel’s bed, calling as before: “Samuel! Samuel!”
This time Samuel answered God’s call saying, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” Then God spoke, and Samuel listened. And Samuel became from that young age onward one of the most significant prophets that Israel would ever know.
Well, so far we’ve talked about two calls: the call to accountable ministry, and the call of Samuel. But, so what? Why should this matter to you, or to me?
Here’s why. You may think that calls from God only happen to pastors, or occur in the Bible—but make no mistake about it: God has also called you to be a minister, to be a servant.
What is your calling? You may or may not have a sure sense of what it is. If you would like a greater understanding of how God wants to use you, there are three important questions that are helpful to ask.
The first question is, “What do I feel called to do?” Chances are that you have a sense of what it is. If the answer is not clear, ask yourself, “What am I good at?” Very often our call is related to what comes naturally or easily to us.
The second question is, “What do other people tell me I am good at?” While it is important that we feel a sense of call, it is also important that others validate the call. Someone may feel deep within that she or he is called to be a pastor, or a Bible teacher, or even a church treasurer; but no one can fill those roles without affirmation from the larger church. Samuel was being called from the outside as well as from the inside.
And finally, the third question you can ask is, “Who’s calling, please?” To determine our true calling, we not only need to feel a sense of call and have others tell us we are called, we must also make sure that the call is from God. When Samuel finally understood this, he said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
God spoke, and Samuel did what God asked him to do. Throughout Samuel’s life God continued to speak, and Samuel continued to act on God’s behalf. God used Samuel in a powerful way. He served as a judge, a priest, a prophet, and played a key role at a significant point in Israel’s history.
For Samuel, answering God’s call became a lifestyle. Each one of us is asked to carry on in that tradition.
You are called to be a minister. Yes, YOU. You are called to be a minister for God. You are called to minister to other people. We live in a world that is hurting, in a world where 40 per cent of all people report being intensely lonely, in a world that suffers from hunger, want, need, and injustice.
God is calling you to take stock of your gifts and to listen for God’s voice and the invitations of other people. God is calling you to a life of service, to a life of ministry. God is calling you to live your life in a way that God might be glorified.
There is no higher calling. So listen well. Amen.