Certain Bible stories made a vivid impression on me when I was a small child. First were the ones that involved action, even violence (little boys are a savage species, after all). Second were stories that involved kids like me. One of those was the story of God calling young Samuel. This little guy was raised in the tabernacle of God by Eli the priest, after his mother Hannah had dedicated him to the Lord at infancy. One night as Samuel slept, he heard a voice calling his name. He ran to Eli, saying, "Here I am." But Eli told the boy to go back to bed (with more than a trace of irritation in his voice, as I imagine it). This happened three times. On the third time, old Eli realized this was God speaking to little Samuel. He commanded the boy, Go and lie down. If He speaks, say, "Speak, Lord, thy servant is listening." Samuel obeyed his master, and heard God speak to him for the first time.
That story captivated me when I was a little boy. What if God spoke to me one day? Would I know it was Him? Or would I be like Bill Cosby's version of Noah, wondering if this strange voice was just a practical joke, some antediluvian version of Candid Camera?
This is still a valid question for each of us. Do we know how to recognize God's voice? Christians often say things like, "I just the Lord is leading me to make this decision." But how do we know that "leading" is God, and not just our own desires? How do we know if a particularly vivid dream is actually a vision from God? What do we do when a preacher says something about God that we don't agree with, or a Christian claims they have "a word from the Lord" specifically for us? How do know whether that's God's truth or a life from the depths of Hell?
It's my conviction that recognizing God's voice is a skill that must be learned, not a talent that one either has or doesn't have. Jesus promised us that His sheep would know His voice...this Sunday, we'll talk about how to develop that skill, how to know when God is speaking, and how to understand what He's saying.