January: Speaking and listening
God speaks to Samuel (1 Samuel 3: 1-10)
Samuel heard it as he lay on his bed in the room with the golden chest – the one that held the laws God gave to Moses. It had been busy in the Temple all day, but now he listened to the silence and watched the light from the oil lamp flicker on the bare walls.
That must be Eli, his guardian, wanting him to fetch something. He’d go and see what he wanted. The old man could hardly see now.
“Here I am!” he said, running in to Eli. “Here I am, you called me.”
But Eli said, “No, I didn’t call. Go back to bed.”
Samuel obeyed. That was strange. He was sure he’d heard his name called. He tried to sleep, but couldn’t. He thought about his mother and wished she wasn’t so far away. If only she could tell him a bedtime story – like the one about her praying and praying for a baby before he was born. He smiled. She’d chosen the name Samuel for him because it meant “asked of God”.
“Samuel!” There it was again. That must be Eli. He ran in.
“Here I am! You called me.”
“My son, I didn’t call!” said Eli, puzzled. “Go back and lie down.”
Samuel was wide awake now. Was the old priest getting forgetful? This had never happened before, not since his mother had brought him here when he was very small. How homesick he’d felt at first. But his mother had made God a promise. Her son would serve God all his life, as a thank you. He’d soon got used to helping Eli in the temple, learning how everything was done. And now it felt like home. Except, he did look forward to his mother’s next visit . . .
“Samuel!” There! He wasn’t imagining it. What was going on?
“Here I am, Eli! What do you want?”
The old priest sat up, paused for a moment, wondering.
“My son, I think the Lord is calling you,” he said. “Go back and lie down. If he speaks to you again, say, ‘I’m listening, Lord. What do you want me to do?’”
Slowly, Samuel went back to bed. He lay down. Could it be true? The one who’d made the world, talking to him? He lay still as a statue, straining to listen above the beat of his heart, roaring in his ears. It would drown out every other sound!
But when it came, the voice was as clear as if the Lord were standing right next to him.
“I’m listening, Lord,” Samuel answered. “What do you want me to do?”
Pause for thought: As we gaze out of our windows at this time of year, we see the bare branches of trees silhouetted against pink sunsets. Ponds may be frozen, and gardens sometimes lie under a blanket of snow, muffling every sound. Silence! There is no doubt that we have arrived in the depths of winter.
At the time of the Bible story, God hardly ever spoke directly to people. Silence! But one night he did speak, not to Eli the experienced priest, but to his young helper, Samuel. The boy didn’t recognize God’s voice, and so it was up to Eli to explain whose voice he’d heard and how to respond.
There are many instances in the Bible when God speaks to someone unexpected. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when the children we know show amazing spiritual insight. Then, like Eli, we need to listen to what they say and take it seriously. However, it may be up to us to interpret what they are experiencing and to advise on how they should move forward.
God speaks to Samuel: Read the Bible story together. Wonder about it, as follows:
- I wonder why God chose to speak to Samuel
- I wonder how God speaks to people today
- I wonder if prayer is about two-way communication
- I wonder if you have ever felt God speaking to you (perhaps through a Bible story, through the words of a Christian friend, or a quiet voice in your head)
The listening game: How good are we at listening to each other? This game could be played on a long car journey. One person tells a story about something funny/embarrassing that happened to them. Then someone else has to repeat their story, eg “One day when Mum was six, she was riding a donkey along the beach when . . . “ Take turns at telling and relaying the stories. How much detail can everyone include?
However old our children may be, they always need us to listen to them, whether it is that important time straight after school or on the odd weekend when they come home from working away. Sometimes having someone to listen is enough. At other times, we may be able to interpret a situation for them, saying, for example, “Well, perhaps your friend was just having a bad day,” or, “Hmm, if you keep feeling like that, do you think God might be telling you something?”
The name game: You could play this while sitting at the table before or after a meal. Put a baby name book on the table. Does everyone know what their name means? Have a guess and then look them up. Chat about why those names were chosen. Look up the names of other relatives. You might like to draw a family tree together on a big piece of paper, with the names in circles. Add the bare branches of a wintry tree and its trunk in the background. Can anyone remember what Samuel means?
I hear with my little ear! Go on a wintry walk. Stop still for a few minutes in different places to find out what you can hear, for instance
- In your street
- On the bench in a churchyard
- On a footpath
- In your garden
- In the woods
Have you noticed these sounds before? Next, when each person wakes up in the morning, try guessing what time it is by what you can hear, before checking a clock. How did everyone do? Can you get more accurate as the days go by?
Link this with the idea that prayer is all about listening to God as well as speaking to him. As a family, agree that each person will try to pause for a short while between their prayers in order to listen to God, perhaps saying, “I’m listening, Lord.” This could be a New Year’s Resolution!
Feed the birds! We don’t hear the birds singing so much in the early morning at this time of year. But they may be hungry. You might like to get or make a bird table as a family project. To make a simple one, use a piece of plywood for the base and thin strips of wood for the edges. To hang it from a branch, fix a screw-eye at each corner and make two loops with thick string. Put food on the table (seeds, dried fruit, cooked potato, bacon, hips and haws, acorns) and keep a record of the food different birds eat.
You can make a bird pudding by mixing kitchen scraps and uncooked porridge oats with melted fat. Pour the mixture into an empty yoghurt pot with a hole in the bottom and string threaded through for hanging upside down.
Big ears! Make bunny/alien ears from a paper plate! Turn it upside down and, starting from the inside of the crinkled rim, draw two bunny-shaped ears (ie, within the middle of the plate). Cut out the inner circle of the plate, going around the ears and being careful not to cut across the place where the ears join the rim. Colour the ears and then fold them up. Write, “I’m listening, Lord!” around the rim. Try it on!
Bedtime story: “Play” the Bible story with your toddler and a soft toy with big ears, such as a rabbit, a mouse or a dog. For example, “ This is Sam. Sam was just going to bed – night-night, Sam – when he heard a voice calling him. Samuel, Samuel! So he jumped out of bed and ran in to see (your toddler’s name) saying, ‘Here I am! Did you call me?’ Your toddler says “No, I didn’t call. Go back to bed, Sam!” So Sam goes back to his bed. He snuggles down and he is just going to sleep, when . . . etc.
End by saying, “Well, perhaps that was God speaking. Let’s say a prayer and listen to God together!”
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