Reflection from September 25, 2022

Knowing the Counsel of God

Do you ever have conundrums about the direction you should take in life or how you should manage a particularly thorny problem?  This sermon presumed two things.  The first was that we would want to have God’s counsel and the second is that there is no better counsel than that which we can receive from God.  The starting point was chapter three in the book of first Samuel.  Consider reading this portion of scripture.

The boy, Samuel, had been dedicated from a very young age to serve in the temple of God in the city of Shiloh.  The name of the chief priest was Eli and his priestly sons administered the ritual services for the people.  However, those sons were corrupt, immoral and contemptuous of God’s holiness.  This is the context in which young Samuel functioned.  There was plenty of religion and rituals but 3:1 says, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”  It was a spiritual desert and it is in this context that God spoke to Samuel.

Two times, Samuel hears his name called.  He thinks it is Eli doing the calling and he goes to Eli who says that he did not call and sends Samuel back to his sleeping place which was near the alter, the ark of the covenant and the lamp of God.  Then, he hears his name called a third time and once again he goes to Eli who, at this point, realizes that it is probably God doing the calling.  He instructs Samuel, if he hears his name called again, to reply:  “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  Eli’s counsel to Samuel is good:  “Go, listen for God.”

Verse 3:10  tells us, “The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel, Samuel.’”  Samuel replies, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  There is a difference between hearing and listening.  Just hearing something can result in an attitude of “Yeah, yeah…whatever.”  Listening involves focus, receptivity, reflection and a willingness to respond. Do we just hear sermons or do we listen to them?  Samuel listened to God’s words and then it says that he “lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord.”  It is doubtful if he slept but probably wondered fearfully how he would carry the dark message that God entrusted him with.

Prior to this life-changing encounter, we read in 3:7 “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord:  The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”  But yielding to God with an open heart we read in 3:19-21  “The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel … recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord … and Samuel’s word came to all Israel.”  Samuel made the transition from the dry crust of religion to the feast of a working relationship with God himself.  Not only was his own life enriched by God’s presence but he became a blessing to the entire national community.

To know the counsel of God implies that we receive some sort of communication from him.  God often customizes his words to our particular need.  But we need to recognize two things:  a)  there is the general counsel of God which is relevant to all people and then b)  there is the specific counsel that God may have for us that is specific to us.

Embedded in the story of chapter three, are some clues.  Samuel’s place to rest was in the space that contained the ark of God.  The ark was a reminder of some amazing history—God’s miraculous provision for his people in their desert wanderings.  It contained the stone tablets with the ten commandments, Aaron’s rod that budded and bore fruit, and a pot of manna (God’s sustaining nourishment in the desert).  The ark itself was emblematic of God’s Presence.  Nearby was the “lamp of God” that was to be kept alight throughout the night.  The menorah light was to remind Israel that God is their true Light.  And we, of course, recall the words of Jesus, “I am the Light of the world.”  Samuel was in the right place to hear God.  But being an “altar boy” or just being “in church” did not mean he knew either God or God’s words!  He had to open his heart to the calling of God himself!

This summary cannot elaborate too much but it is useful to recognize that there are five considerations in knowing the counsel of God:

  1. Who is God? He is our Creator who exists outside of time and space.  He is all-powerful, all-knowledgeable and all-wise, he is beyond human comprehension.  He is worthy of all our worship.  He also is worthy to be our ultimate counselor
  2. Who are we? As human folk, we are finite, fragile, fallible, fickle, forgetful and indeed failures!  We present ourselves as we are to God so that he can build us up into who we should be!
  3. How does God speak to us? History speaks of his ways; the written word of God (Bible) speaks; the Spirit speaks; our conscience speaks if it kept pure; wise people may speak truth into our lives.  But the most beautiful words are in Hebrews 1:2  “But in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son [Jesus Christ] whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”
  4. What are the impediments to hearing God’s counsel? Some times we can’t see beyond our own noses!  Our filters for truth are dirty.  We have succumbed to false teaching.  We may have a false perception of who God is.  Unbelief is a barrier.  Self-worship alienates us from God.
  5. How are we enabled to hear God’s voice? Jeremiah 6:16  “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Isaiah 48:17-18  “This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel;  ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.  If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.’”  Isaiah 30:19-20  “How gracious God will be when you cry for help!  As soon as he hears, he will answer you … Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

The 14th chapter of John profoundly speaks of the vital relationship that we can have with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Some excerpts from Jesus’ words:  “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him…but the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you …Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you … Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

So in summary….

Samuel was transformed from the sterility of religious service into the vital service of the living God by an open heart which invited God into his life.  If we understand who God really is, we are more likely to be able to receive his counsel and his compelling messages to us.  We must come to grips with our own sin, imperfections and failures and that will involve confession, repentance and obedience (which Eli’s sons did not do).  We need to identify and resolve any impediments that run interference with our receiving both God’s counsel as well as his Presence.  It is through Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Redeemer, the awesome Incarnate God that we can find a life of relationship with God, our Creator who loves us dearly.  It is relationship that secures communication and counsel!

Ultimately, “Knowing the Counsel of God” really should be “Knowing God” and the rest will follow naturally!  “You shall hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way;  walk in it.’”  When we walk continually in God’s Presence, we also walk in his Light and the counsel that he has will be spoken into our lives in real time.

May God’s light shine into your lives!

John K.

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