Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

I recently got a new vehicle.  To the absolute delight of my father, I have spent the last year paying attention to other cars on the road and reading about gas mileage, dependability, model and make. I even went to the car show with my folks and sister.  Whew.  Replacing my pickup of 15 years took on a whole other life.  One day, I ended up at a dealership to test drive newer versions of the car I wanted.  I braced myself for this experience, knowing I’d get the “hard sell” even after I shook the salesman’s hand and said, very clearly I might add:  “I’m not buying today.”

The guy who helped me did try and sell me a few different cars, but he wasn’t ridiculous about it.  The thing that sticks with me about that day is the 3 or 4 times he’d say, “Now, not to sound like a car salesman, but…”  It took all of my restraint to not make some snot nose reply like, “well, but you are a car salesman.”  I suppose he lives with the bad reputation of pushy car sales people and was trying to justify his comments, hoping that I’d hear them in a different way.

But it got me thinking, “Does he not like being a car salesman?  Is he unhappy in his job? Is he doing what he’s been called to do with his life? Do people not actually hear him?”

In today’s story, Samuel is called by God and doesn’t understand who is calling him.  Eli, the priest who has raised Samuel, doesn’t get it right away either.  A voice calls out in the night and Samuel assumes it’s Eli calling him.  His mentor and teacher.

Yet, when Eli realizes what’s going on, he teaches Samuel what to say, how to respond.  Speak Lord, your servant is listening. Which I think is one of the most dangerous postures we can take with God.  It’s one of the more dangerous postures we can take with other people too.

Because to assume this posture is to open yourself wide. To being changed by what is said. But of course, I mean truly listening.  Not preparing what we’ll say next, shoring up our argument, preparing our rebuttal, giving our sage advice.

No, true listening means there is a giving up of that kind of control.  True listening means there is a letting go.  True listening means an investment in that time, right then and there. Being right there, in the now of the moment.

But then look out, because that true listening is going to call you forward into the future, to something new.  Take Samuel.  His story begins with listening. Both Samuel and Eli are confused for a bit by who actually is calling out in the night. Eli eventually catches on later that it is God calling to Samuel.  And then, there in the dark of night, he teaches Samuel how to respond to God. He teaches Samuel that he needs to listen.

Have you ever listened for God, asked God to speak to you?  Because if you have, you know the dangerous prospect that that can be.  It usually means that what God has to say, where things are going to go, are not as you had planned or thought or assumed.

And I dare say most of us don’t have a story where God speaks quite like in today’s story. But perhaps God has spoken to you through a friend or a stranger.  Maybe God speaks to you through your highs and lows every day, and as you keep track of them, you can see patterns right where God is at work.

At first blush, this call story, the calling of Samuel by God, is beautiful. A voice in the night. A conversation between a trusted teacher and an attentive student.  Learning and listening in the dark.  But then you hear what God has to say to Samuel and this call story changes tone in a drastic way. We tend to sing Hear I Am Lord on a day like today which seems to be about Samuel’s call and it is a beautiful song.  Yet, we should really be singing a heavy metal or a punk version of the song because what Samuel’s called to do doesn’t fit the melodic stylings of this hymn.

The song would go something like: The Lord Your God is going to punish Eli and his sons for the rest of all of the days because they blasphemed God, they spoke irreverently about God, and they will never be forgiven. Now go tell Eli, the priest who has raised you and taught you, this priest that you live, that his days are now filled with unending punishment on his entire family!

That’s the first thing you’re called to do?  Is to speak those words to a man who has raised you and trained you to be a priest?

And Eli seems to know what’s coming.  That’s one of the true miracles of this story is the old man sees it coming and asks for Samuel to tell him the whole truth, to not hold back. Eli knows enough about his own family and about God to anticipate that Samuel has heard hard things from God.

Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

What if you began and ended your waking hours each day with that plea, that prayer, that invitation to God?  What difficult things might you hear God calling you to do and say?  What turns might your life take?  Who might God be calling you to be?  And who has God put in your life to hear that call?

While my story about the car salesman may seem a little funny, I truly wonder about his call to his line of work.  Now, we all have days where we wonder about the path our lives have taken – the jobs we’re in, the state of our family or our own happiness, where we’ve ended up, so to speak.

Because it’s not just pastors and other religious leaders who are called into their life’s work.  Artists and teachers; bankers and lawyers; doctors and customer service people; farmers and insurance sales people. Not to mention the roles we are called into as moms and dads; brothers and sisters; aunts and uncles; neighbors and friends; strangers and citizens.

How is God calling you into your role?  How is God changing you? What slow work is being done on you as you sleep? How is God calling you more fully into your own life?  What hard things might be coming your way?  What gradual shifts are you making in how you live your day, your week, your month, your year?  Who are the people helping you to hear and respond to what God is saying to you?

Most often, it’s going to go against the order we’ve got planned. It’s going to turn things sideways or even upside down. Sometimes we’ll feel “uncalled” to things as a new call is born.  I grew up with “Eli’s” asking me all the time if I was going to be a pastor to which I’d always say, “Oh no. Not me.” And I still remember when I sensed that was changing – that my no was turning to a yes. And it was always in the dark of night or in the morning as I’d wake from sleep.  A nudging. A gradual shift that turned into a sea change.

Each and every one of us is called.  And God is with us through the uncertainty into the hard thing, into the new thing. Let’s take Eli’s counsel to heart today:  Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” 19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.

The Lord will do what needs doing in your life, pulling you into the life God yearns for you to have, to live into.  And not a word of your life will be left to fall to the ground.  Your life is in God’s great story.

Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.





  1. Paul Sherburne says

    Great message Laura. I am so happy your Dad suggested I check it out. I couldn’t help but relate to your lead story. As a person involved with sales most of my life, I could see the scene vividly. One of the concepts I try very hard to teach to those in our Life Ins. industry is to, “Quit selling, but help people buy!” This might be a stretch theologically as, you know all too well, I have never had any formal training there except Sunday School, Confirmation, Sunday sermons, Augustana classes, your father’s example. 🙂
    What I mean by the above statement is we first must understand, THEN be understood. So often we are quick to offer an opinion or direction to take without first totally understanding what the other person is experiencing or saying. Another way to look at it is a picture that has always impacted me – the picture of Jesus at the door. Jesus isn’t selling, He is standing at a door that only we can open to accept His message. We buy His message. His words are always there for our consumption, but until we decide to listen and digest His message, nothing really happens to change our outlook on life. That message comes in the form of all those vehicles I named above (Sunday School, sermons, confirmation, acts of generosity by others, etc.)

    Again, probably not very theological, but I need to listen to that message everyday before I head out into the world to share my message. Thanks for your ministry. Love, Paul