We've heard the story of Samuel. Samuel was the little boy who Hannah so desparately wanted. But, she kept her side of the bargain, and when he was weaned, she took him to the temple. And Samuel became a ward of the temple.
And Samuel learns three lessons
1. God speaks
That is important. If we do not believe that God speaks, then we will not be ready to listen to him.
If Eli did not believe that God speaks, he would not have said what he said to Samuel. He would have told him: "Go back to bed and don't be so silly".
But as Christians we believe in a God who speaks.
The question is, "How does God speak?"
As Samuel lay on his bed at night he heard a voice: it was so real that he thought it was Eli. And then God told him what he was going to do.
Now Samuel is exceptional. He was a prophet. And I don't think that we should expect God to speak to us as he spoke to Samuel - although some people do hear an audible voice.
And God continues to speak.
It is fascinating the way that this chapter begins (v3). The ark was the place of meeting between God and his people. And in the ark was the law: God's message to the people of Israel.
And as Christians, we believe that God has spoken in the past and that God speaks today.
He speaks to us through Jesus.
Writer to the Hebrews says: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son". (1:1)
You might have an inner conviction, an awareness that you need God, a profound thought, a certainty as to what you should be doing, a set of circumstances that just cannot be ignored (I've spoken of the man who was reminded of a single verse in the OT in one day on 6 different occasions by 6 different people), a message you have to speak.
How do I know that it is God's word - and not my word? How do I know that I am hearing God - and not just hearing voices or my own thoughts?
Well, just as Samuel was sleeping next to the ark of the covenant - which contained the law of God - and just as his message had to be tested against the words that God had spoken - so we need to be next to the bible.
Because these are the words that tell us about Jesus
These are the words which teach us what Jesus said
These are the words which show us what Jesus was like
These are the words against which all claims that Jesus has spoken have to be checked
And even if we never have a dream or vision, or voice speaking to us in the night: if we are prepared to listen, then God will speak to us as we spend time with these words.
2. We need to listen
God speaks, but young Samuel has to be taught to listen. Eli tells him, "When the voice calls, say 'Speak Lord, your servant is listening'.
It is significant that in our society, in which so many words are chucked at us, many people feel the need to be silent. One of the criticisms of our services is that there is little time for silence.
And it is because of the many competing voices that we hear - from TV, internet, adverts, opinions, newspapers and magazines, books, preachers and desires - that many people turn to meditation, relaxation exercises, yoga. We wish to put it all to one side.
I remember reading about Tony Adams: smashing up stuff in a pub - being normal. When I wanted to go into a church, to sit down and to be still, they said I was out of my head.
Yes, we need to make time to be still. Christians have been doing it for over two thousand years - it is called prayer; it is the origin of the quiet time.
But it is not just about being quiet. It is about inviting God to come and speak to us: to allow a promise that he has made, a challenge, a reassurance, to reassess where we are in the light of his word.
Being prepared to listen to God is not a question of closing ourselves to the outside world - it is often embodied in the symbol of a figure who has their eyes closed and arms folded. Instead it is about opening ourselves to the One who is so much bigger, who is beyond the world - but who came into the world.
We need to quieten ourselves down, to be ready to listen to the one who has spoken. With Samuel, next to an open bible, we need to say, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening".
3. When God speaks there is something that we need to do.
God does not just speak in order to bless us with an experience.
He speaks for a purpose.
- He wishes us to become like Jesus Christ, in both his suffering for others and in his resurrection
- He wishes, through us, for others to become like Jesus.
- He wishes for his people to grow together and to become like Jesus
- He wishes for us to fill us with the mind of Jesus and the love of Jesus and the destiny of Jesus.
And because of that God takes the initiative - and we need to respond.
Alison and myself have started dancing lessons. For me, it is a terrifying experience. But with the particular dance that we are learning, we are told that the man must take the initiative and the woman responds. I'm not really quite there!
But it is the same with God. God speaks, and we need to respond.
In Samuel's case, God told him something that was not easy. He told him about a judgement that was going to fall on Eli and his family.
But Eli, with all his faults (and his really big problem was that he turned a blind eye to his sons who were abusing their position as priests of God), was still ready to listen to what God had to say - and he didn't let Samuel get away with not telling him.
Samuel learnt his lessons
He learnt that God speaks: V21 "The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word"
He learnt that he had to listen
He learnt that he had to put into action what God said - even when it was difficult
One of my favourite verses is Deuteronomy 29:29
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law".