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Hearing voices

So [Eli] said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Yes, LORD, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed. And the LORD came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”And Samuel replied, “Yes, your servant is listening.” — 1 Samuel 3:9-10

People who claim to hear voices in our time are usually regarded with suspicion. Understandably so, because many use voices to “explain” actions that were bizarre or even criminal. People who say they have seen a vision are generally given more of the benefit of the doubt, but what they claim to have seen is often treated with scant regard. Of course, the problem with claiming either to hear voices or to see visions is that it is usually impossible for a third party to verify the claim’s validity.

When young Samuel heard a voice in the middle of the night, he did not suspect anything out of the ordinary. He assumed it was blind, old Eli calling for help. Only after three visits from Samuel did it dawn on the priest that the voice was the Lord’s. “In those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon” (1 Samuel 3:1). So rare and uncommon were visions and messages from the Lord, apparently, that even Eli, the custodian of the Lord’s temple, was not expecting to hear from Him! Fortunately, when Eli eventually recognized that the Lord had broken His silence and was trying to attract Samuel’s attention, he gave the right advice: “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Yes, Lord, your servant is listening’” (3:9).

The question modern people ask on reading this story is, “Does God speak to people today?” Different answers will come from different sources. Some will reject the idea out of hand. Others will claim to hear God speaking to them in a voice as clear as a man’s voice. Still others will be more guarded and claim that, while they have never heard an audible voice, they believe God has communicated with them through the Scriptures, through a friend, or even in a dream.

Those who claim that God does not speak to men today have no grounds for their unbelief. They cannot conclusively say, “He cannot speak”; they have no reason to say, “He would not speak”; and they are not in a position to say, “He does not speak.” By the same token, those who claim to hear God speak to them need to beware of attributing to God their own impressions. They should test what they believe they have heard against what they know God has revealed in the Scriptures.

The key to proper listening is a right attitude. Like Samuel, the good listener realizes he is nothing more nor less than the Lord’s servant—ready to respond, “Yes, Lord,” to what he hears.

For further study: 1 Samuel 3:1-21

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.