What gets my attention? What makes me attend to my surroundings? An alarm – time to wake up and begin. A bell – the period is over. Move on to the next thing. A siren – something is horribly wrong, move out of the way, let others through. A whistle – take a look. When I hear my name – someone wants my attention specifically.
Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” I Samuel 3:4 (NIV)
Then God called out, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Yes? I’m here.” I Samuel 3:4 (MSG)
I miss clues all the time. Sometimes, I need five more minutes. Sometimes, I can’t make the lane change as quickly as I would like. Sometimes, I blatantly ignore the one calling out to me. My agenda is determined to be more important than theirs. How rude!
God called Samuel four times! (I Samuel 3:4, 6, 8, 10) Samuel did not ignore God at all. Instead, he did not know whose voice was doing the calling. He had listened to Eli call him over and over again. He knew that voice. Eli needed help. His eyes were weak and he was going blind (I Samuel 3:2) and Samuel’s eyes would have been his. This was not a matter of disobedience either. Every time the call came, Samuel got up and answered. He left his bed. Made his way through the temple to where Eli was and answered. But Eli’s voice was not the one calling him.
Samuel already had staked out a place in God’s presence. He was “lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.” (I Samuel 3:3) He would not have been right in the Holy of Holies – the priests only went there once a year. But he was close. The physical manifestation of God with His people – the ark – was close by. He was with God, but he did not know God’s voice. That makes so much sense to me. Much of my life I have been close to God, pursuing Him, wanting to be in His presence. But, I have not known what His voice sounded like. I have had the heart racing and the palms sweating, but, I have chalked it up to nerves rather than acknowledging that God was after my attention and affection. Samuel was right there, too. Inwardly, I accuse Him of not paying attention, he should have known better. But shouldn’t I have known better too?
God could have stopped calling. He could have stopped pursuing. He could have given up on a boy. I might have. Or my voice would have become shrill, my temper rising in frustration. God’s tone of voice as He calls Samuel does not change. Samuel is called by name. The last time, God uses his name twice.
My God is One who is gentle. He calls. He repeats Himself until the message comes across. Then when I forget, and fall back into old habits that derail so many parts of my life, God calls again. In love and mercy, He continues pursuing me because He knows how short my attention span is and how easily I forget the truths that He wants me to embrace and live out of. He knows that I can be right in His presence like Samuel and miss it completely. He knows that He can be right with me – beside me – and I will have my attention fixed on something I deem important. He knows that I will hear Him call my name and I will miss it. But my God does not give up on me. He has good timing. His presence never wavers. In fact, when I am ready to go back and revisit those moments, He is only too happy to show me where He has been the whole time. Not out of gloating or an “I told you so” attitude – that’s not my God – but out of gentleness and love. He has promised to never leave me or forsake me (Matthew 28:19-20, Hebrews 13:5). He knows what stirs my soul and what my love language is and He lavishes love on me in exactly the way my heart will hear it. He longs for me to curl up in His presence, abiding there because my God is the One who picked up and moved into the neighbourhood to be with me. (John 1:14)
He is calling. I pray for ears to hear.