A beautiful and simple story from the Old Testament is given in the First Book of Samuel (3:3-10, 19). A young boy apprenticing with an old priest, Eli, is awakened by a voice, perhaps a voice he heard in a dream. He thinks Eli is calling him. Eli is wise. Thinking it to be an illusion he tells the boy to go back to sleep. After the third time Eli begins to realize that perhaps God is really calling the boy and so tells him “If you are called again reply “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Once again we see that God takes the initiative. This is the first and most fundamental realization we all must have. God offers, we respond. We may not understand the why’s, but we must always be open to God’s initiatives. God’s initiatives come in unexpected ways to unexpected people. For even though young Samuel was just a kid, a kid who was “not familiar with the Lord”, who was not particularly “religious”, he became God’s first Old Testament prophet, the first in a long line of prophets.
So, too, with Peter. He wasn’t particularly religious. He was brash, presumptuous, and unreliable, and yet became the chief among the Twelve Apostles, not by his choice and certainly not by theirs. He became the “Rock” who turned out to be so because of God’s choice.
For Eli, Samuel, and Peter the critical thing was in the fact of their response and in the quality of their response. They were open to the belief that God acts in human history and that God acts in human lives.
One of the great inspirations resulting from the Second Vatican Council was set forth for us in a wonderful document the bishops entitled Gaudium et Spes, (Joy and Hope) an awareness that God works, profoundly works, in our own humanity, no matter how faulted our humanity it may be. Said the bishops of Vatican II:
“With the eyes of faith we can see history, especially after the coming of Jesus Christ, as totally enveloped and penetrated by the presence of God’s Spirit. It is easy to understand why, today more than ever, the Church feels called to discern the signs of this presence in human history, with which she–in imitation of her Lord–“cherishes a feeling of deep solidarity”
“… the Church recognizes that only the Holy Spirit, by impressing on the hearts of believers the living image of the Son of God made man, can enable them to search history and to discern in it the signs of God’s presence and action.”
How then, we ask, does God speak to us? The Church knows of many ways. Certainly God speaks to all of us, both collectively and individually. For as St. John tells us in the Prologue to his gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him… He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name…And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1,1ff)
The big issue for us is not whether God has a word for us, whether God speaks to us. It is rather seeing the hand of God and the presence of God in people and in events. He uses them as His means of reaching us. The most critical issue for us is whether and how we respond. It’s the question of our willingness to respond.
How often to you hear yourself saying to your spouse or your children or your friends: “DON’T BOTHER ME NOW… “I’LL GET TO IT LATER!” “CAN’T YOU SEE I’M BUSY?” “WELL, SO WHAT? WHAT’S THAT GOT TO DO WITH ME?”
No attitude of openness there! Do we have that attitude when we consider developing our spirituality, when we consider developing our awareness of God?
God has a Word for you… He has something to say to you. God has something in mind for you – personally and individually. Are you willing to listen up and pay attention to Him? Willing to take a good look at what He’s trying to say to you… or trying to ask you to do?
There are hurdles we face, hindrances and attitudes that we simply must overcome. Have we heard ourselves say: “Why would God have anything to say to little me? In the great scheme of things, I’m nobody.” “I just don’t have the time right now. Maybe later.” “When I’m living in retirement I’ll have time to really pray.”
Allow me to offer you now with some practical suggestions.
1. Believe that God has something to say to you; Believe that God loves you close up and personal.
2. Beware of False Humility—thinking that you’re such a bad person that God wouldn’t want to have anything to do with you. Remember that Jesus Christ has died for you. He makes you worthy of God’s love. You don’t make yourself worthy. If you think you’re so unworthy of God’s loving presence to you then spend some time gazing upon Christ hanging on His cross. That will tell you your value and how much God thinks you are worth in His eyes. That will tell you how far He has gone to let you know how much He loves you.
3. Recognize that false humility is really just another form of denial, or of pride. It makes you think you’re really someone special, one of the world’s greatest sinners, or something like that. This just isn’t true; it’s just another excuse for not letting yourself get near God’s love.
4. Take time to reflect and pray, paying attention to events as well as things people say to you.
5. Be open to see and hear things. God, after all, is trying to get in touch with you… maybe in them.
God has a Word for you. He has something He wants to say to you. Begin your next time of prayer with these words: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”