Formations lesson for August 8: God Calls Samuel : Friday, July 23, 2004
July 23 2004 by Ken Vandergriff

Formations lesson for August 8: God Calls Samuel : Friday, July 23, 2004
Friday, July 23, 2004

Formations lesson for August 8: God Calls Samuel

By Ken Vandergriff
Focal Passage: 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Several of the Bible's call-narratives give the impression of a solitary individual in a dramatic encounter with God, which forever changes the direction of that life - Abraham (Gen. 12), Moses (Ex. 3), Isaiah (Isa. 6), Paul (Acts 9). Today's text, however, offers a different experience of calling, one that required the help of another to comprehend and that extended over time.

Three features of this text are important for our understanding of God's call in our lives.

God's call as a process

It is notable that God called three times before Samuel or Eli perceived what was happening. We shouldn't fault Samuel, since verse 7 says that he had not yet had a revelatory experience with God.

Similarly for many of us, God may have to invite us repeatedly before we perceive. That is no less real or effective than the singular dramatic experience; it's just different.

Michael Ruffin of Belmont University stated that "this experience of Samuel, which lasts for one night, can be offered as a paradigm for the life of discipleship: over and over, we move from misunderstanding to readiness to response."

Even after we have responded positively to a call of God, the call may remain an ongoing process.

I remember a seminary friend who worked as a missionary in Europe. While home on furlough he told me, "Every time my wife and I come home, God has to call us again to go back to the mission field." That is realistic.

It is a mistaken notion to assume that a call necessarily locks us in for a lifetime. Sometimes it does, but not always. Isaiah 50:4 says, "morning by morning he wakens my ear."

Times of transition

Samuel's entire ministry straddled some of the most unsettling transitions in Israel's history.

At Samuel's initial call he faced religious change, as the priestly house of Eli, with its respected and ancient heritage, was losing its privilege to serve God, in fact was losing life itself (1 Sam. 2:22-36).

As an adult he faced political change, as he was called to steer Israel's transition from a loosely knit tribal league to a united monarchy, due to the threat of the Philistines (1 Sam. 8-12).

Still later God called him to announce God's rejection of King Saul and God's choice of the new king, David (1 Sam. 13:13-14; 15:10-31; 16:1-4), another disquieting political transition.

Note that in these transitions Samuel was not called to take Israel back to the past, to the way things used to be. He moved Israel forward, into the new. Even as the old was fading, Samuel sensed that God was birthing the new.

Change is always unsettling. In recent decades pluralism, eclecticism and secularism have offered alternative visions to our society; most denominations have felt the loss of denominational security; new moral issues raise vexing questions.

Can we hear God's voice today, calling not to retreat to a supposed idyllic past but to discern His newness in the midst of unsettling change?

The role of mentors

The blind priest who could not literally see at last perceived God's speaking to Samuel, and Eli acted as a mentor, guiding the inexperienced Samuel. Eli could have let bitterness stand in the way of his mentoring. After all, his sons were disappointments (1 Sam. 2:12-17,22-25), and he had already been told that the priestly privilege would be taken from his family (1 Sam. 2:27-36). Who would blame him for bitterness? Instead, he guided.

This text reminds us of the role of community in discerning God's call. We, like Samuel, may miss God's voice. There is wisdom both in mentoring and being mentored.

7/23/2004 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff | with 0 comments

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