I was in my best booth in Whataburger, reading and writing, when Dennis came in and sat beside me. He was eating a quick breakfast taquito on his way to the airport to fly to Orlando, Florida for a weeklong meeting. He was deeply involved in a new College-age Community Bible Study group and I guess they had a lot to talk about.
Before he came in, I had been reading a devotional book from 1 Samuel 3, about the time God spoke to the young boy Samuel. He heard God call to him three times in the middle of the night, and all three times he mistook the voice of God to be the voice of Eli, an elderly priest and Samuel’s mentor.
Each time he heard the voice he jumped and ran to Eli, “Here I am!” Eli was confused at first, but eventually understood Samuel was hearing the voice of God. He said, “If the voice comes again, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
The devotional writer wrote: “Back in the past of his mind, Eli vaguely remembers that voice – a voice that needs to be identified as we respond to it. … but Samuel has not heard this voice before.”
I wrote at the bottom of the page in my book: It is our responsibility (as was Eli’s) to NOT forget the voice of God, and to help young Samuels know how to recognize God’s voice.
When reading these Bible stories, I can’t help but put myself in the place of one of the characters – usually the hero, for some reason – and wonder how I would have responded. Lately, however, my perspective has been changing, and the characters I identify with have changed as well. I used to wonder if I were Samuel would I have recognized the voice of God. Now I realize my Samuel days are behind me. To my surprise I’ve become Eli. My viewpoint has shifted from receiver of advice to giver.
Which means I, and my fellow Elis, are obligated to help young Samuels recognize the voice of God. Which means we can’t forget the sound, tone, feel, or heart of God’s voice. It is ours to lean in even further.
I thought it was coincidental, or fortuitous, that I should be thinking about Eli when Dennis showed up. I told him what I was writing about – that we who have been following Jesus for a long time – we Eli’s – have an obligation to share with the young Samuels around us, to help them know the voice of God when they hear it. In my case I see that as part of my role as a teacher and writer. In Dennis’ case with those college guys who are on the edge of their lives and moving into the bigger world of God.
The problem with my scenario is I feel unqualified to be Eli. I expected more warning before my role shifted. I thought I’d know more answers before landing, surprised, in the mentor role.
All the more reason to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32