Tuesday, April 7

Learning to listen to God

Scripture: 1 Samuel 3-5, Psalm 77, 2 Corinthians 8

1 Samuel 3:9–10 So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went back to bed. 

10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” 

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”


Samuel is a young man (or boy) working for Eli the priest as his assistant.  He is asleep in the Tabernacle, near the Ark of the Covenant, when he hears a voice calling his name.  He assumes it is Eli, and runs to him, asking what he needs.  Eli dismisses him and sends him back to bed. This is repeated 3 times, but on the third time, Eli realizes it might be the Lord calling Samuel, so he gives him this instruction:

“If someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”  

Samuel does as he was told, and for the first time, he hears from God.  It was the beginning of Samuel’s ministry as a prophet and judge in Israel.  It started with learning to listen to God.


I love this story!  And I have adopted Samuel’s prayer and pray it often.

“Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Does God speak in an audible voice?  I know some people who claim to have heard God audibly—but I haven’t.  So how do we listen to God?  How does He speak to us?

People have described this in different ways: the still small voice (1 Kings 19:12) or gentle whisper.  An impression or thought or idea that comes to mind.  Rather than an audible voice heard with our ears, it’s a “voice”, a thought we hear in our mind.  

I know—some people would say, “You hear voices in your head!  Isn’t that mental illness?”  Not this voice.  When I ask God to speak to me, and quiet my heart and wait, I trust that what comes to mind next is Him.  Is it always?  No—but I’ve learned to recognize His voice, and know when it’s just me thinking or Him speaking.  

How do you learn to recognize God’s voice?  Two ways.  

First, immerse yourself in Scripture.  The Bible is God’s word—He speaks through it.  The more you know it, the more familiar His voice will become.  

Second, practice.  Like anything, we get better with practice.  Make time when you pray to listen.  I like to end my prayer times by sitting quietly, praying this prayer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  And then wait.  Give God an opportunity to speak.

Does He every time?  No.  He’s not a dog that barks on command!  If He has something He wants to say, He will.  If He doesn’t, I sit quietly and wait, yielded to Him.  It’s not wasted time to just be in His presence.

What does God sound like?  He sounds like you!  What?  Think about it.  If you only spoke Spanish and I wanted to communicate with you, what would I speak?  Spanish.  God speaks your language.  He uses your vocabulary, your thought forms to communicate with you.  It’s what all great communicators do, and God is a great communicator.

In fact, God’s ultimate Word is Jesus.  (See John 1:1-14, Hebrews 1:1-3). When God communicated with us, He became one of us.  He incarnated.  He knew that the best way to communicate with people was to become a person.  And He knows that the best way to communicate with you is to use your words, your thoughts.

So God sounds like you.

Have I ever mistaken my own thoughts for God’s voice?  Yep.  This is why Paul said that prophesies were to be tested (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, 1 Corinthians 14:29).  Even gifted prophets evidently mistook their own ideas for God’s!  

Finally, what do you do if you make a mistake?  Own it.  Then forgive yourself and go on.  Show some grace to yourself.  Then get back on the horse and start listening again.  We learn more from our mistakes than our successes.  So learn and keep going.  

Today, I’ll take some time to pray, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”  And then…I’ll listen.

Prayer: Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.