It feels as if we live in desperate times . . . but, MAN alive, we don’t KNOW desperate times . . .
We are free to worship, free to speak about Jesus, we generally have pastors, teachers and leaders who love the Lord and try to serve God’s people . . . we (as the church) are involved in loads of activities across our communities, seen and unseen – seeking to bring some hope and life and light in dark times. YET, it has been – for God’s people – so much darker than this.
The beginning of the 1st book of Samuel paints this picture for us . . . it is the transition in HISTORY for the people of God, a move they make from being governed (under God) by Judges . . . of whom Eli and Sammuel are the last . . . and the beginning of the reign of KINGS (Saul and David) as God’s people say, “we want to be like other nations”. This statement is ironic – in the sense that they already WERE – having turned away from God . . . and becoming a people who once again (if metaphorically) enter the wilderness and wonder around searching for direction and identity and ANYTHING that might help them fit in with the nations around them.
Eli is virtually blind. A picture of the state of Israel . . . Hannah weeps and prays at the temple for a child – and is almost turned away – Eli is clearly not used to passionate prayer and mistakes here for being drunk – her clarity of speech deals with this and Eli bestows a blessing . . . one that will have an impact on his own family and the whole nation (little though he realises it).
A child is born and brought to the temple, given back to God – the child Samuel serves Eli.
The word of God is rare.
Samuel does not yet know the Lord . . .
“SAMUEL” . . . BANG, God is speaking though he does not know it (and neither does Eli) . . . all this against a backdrop of the flicker light from the eternal flame (that was never to be extinguished), the mark of God’s presence. Verse 3 of Chapter 3 “The lamp of God had not yet gone out”. Even though His people had left Him, turned away and were blind to what God was doing and saying . . . He had not left them, the light had not gone out!
Samuel is encouraged (finally) by Eli to return and to say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” . . . when Samuel hears the voice again – maybe it is his uncertainty, the fact that He does not yet know the Lord that he misses out “Lord” and just says, “Speak, your servant is listening” . . . and then WOW – what a message . . .
I am not going into that in this post, I want to make two quick points:
1. The lamp of God has not GONE OUT. His fire burns, flickers, bursts, glimmers, stutters . . . . but STAYS lit! God is with us, His light is with us, we have an eternal promise from the Son . . . He came, and as John literally says at the beginning of his gospel, he “tabernacles” with us (the literal meaning of the word we have translated as “dwells”), the temple HIMSELF has come to us . . . and then, Jesus says as He has finished his work and about to return to the Father, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)
2. Let us not GROW UP so much that we forget, or loose hope, or become cyncial, or judge as the world does . . . or LOOK to the world, rather than the Lord for the opportunities and the glimpses of His glory and His work . . . Samuel, this boy who heard the Lord before he knew Him, who saw what the Lord did with the adults in power around Him because they had not been faithful . . . who KNEW (because God had used HIM, that God used children) . . . well, this Samuel grew up. Became an adult and, well, he forgot HOW God did things, WHO God looked for and WHAT God looked for . . . as he goes to annoint the next King of Israel (because Saul is not working out too well), he EXPECTS it to be the eldest, most strapping, rugged, etc . . . he turns up at Joel’s house, sees Eliab and says, “surely this is the Lord’s annointed!” . . . nope, don’t miss it – don’t be blind to what God is up to here – don’t MISS it. No, “I have rejected Him. The Lord does not look at things as man looks at them . . . the Lord looks at the heart.” . . . there is no suggestion that Samuel is getting desperate, but after all the sons have passed by . . he says, “Are these all the sons you have?” . . . Here we GO – “The lamp has not yet gone out!” Here comes David, not even worthy of being in the line up!
Remember these two things, don’t ever forget that in this nation the light has not gone out – and never forget that His ways are not our ways, hope can spring up, light can CATCH in places we have not dreamed of. Fine, stop being childish (please) but don’t EVER stop being childlike – with faith, hope and exectancy that God can and will use even you to bring light, even your young people, even in your village, community, town or workplace.
LUMEN! Lumen is the Youthwork Conference, happening in Eastbourne this coming November – if you are involved in youth work in any way, shape or form – get there and be challenged, encouraged and inspired to “live as CHILDREN of the light” (Ephesians 5:8) COME ON!