Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.” [1 Samuel 3:10 (ESV)]
A friend who recently moved commented that she’s tired of meeting new people. It’s not the new people that drain her; it’s having to listen to her husband tell their latest acquaintances the same old stories she’s heard him recite for the last twenty plus years! Admittedly, I’m not sure I could have lasted twenty weeks, let alone twenty years, with her loquacious husband. Curious, I asked another friend if she experiences the same thing with her equally outgoing and chatty husband, a man who is always ready to start conversations with strangers at the drop of a hat. She, however, hasn’t grown tired of meeting new people and hearing many of the same old stories. I don’t think the difference lies in the wives—it lies in the men.
The first husband rarely pauses in his banter to listen to anything his listeners have to say. If they do manage to get a word in edgewise, he doesn’t let whatever has been said redirect his monologue. When he’s on a roll, there’s no stopping him. Conversing with him is more like listening to a soliloquy or aria. He’s the star of his show and everyone else is his audience. Of course, his wife is tired of listening to him (as are many of his friends).
The second husband is a wonderful conversationalist. He may start the story but draws out his listeners as he speaks. He asks questions, listens to the answers, and responds to their replies. His isn’t a solo performance but an exchange of thoughts and ideas. Of course, the same old stories may be told but, since others become involved in their telling, there is always a new twist to them. Conversing with him is like being in the same play’s cast or singing together in a choir—everyone participates in the show.
What is it like for God when we come to him day after day in prayer? Does he ever tire of hearing the same thing over and over? When we pray, are we like the first husband? Do we approach God, time and time again, with the same old thanks, complaints, petitions and intercessions without waiting for his response? Do we focus our prayers on what we want rather than what God wants for us? Or, like the second husband, do we come to God as anxious to listen as to speak, as ready to learn as to explain, and as willing to change as to ask for change? When just a boy, the prophet Samuel heard God but there’s no record of him telling God his problems or giving God his opinion. Rather, Samuel responded that he was ready to listen and, for the rest of his life, he listened to God and passed on God’s word to the Israelites.
While hearing is easy, listening is not. We expect God to listen attentively to us when we pray buy I’m not so sure we do a very good job of listening in return. Since it’s difficult to hear anyone else when we’re doing the talking, perhaps we should follow the Psalmist’s advice to be still and know that He is Lord. I’m sure God is never at a loss for words. The Greek philosopher Epictetus said we have two ears and only one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Did I hear a heavenly “Amen!” to that?