Is prayer a part of your daily life? Are you ready to listen when God speaks? Rhetoric teacher Zachary Roberts explains how, through prayer, we can prepare ourselves to hear what God has to say.
It was in the middle of the night when God spoke to young Samuel. The scripture tells us, unhesitatingly, that God’s word was rare in those days; prophetic visions were not commonplace. Likewise, it was “before the lamp of God had gone out”—in other words, sometime before dawn, for the temple lamp was to be burned from evening until morning.
The setting is easily recognizable: it’s dark, physically and spiritually.
And there, amid the darkness, God’s voice comes to Samuel, and he replies, as he is instructed by his teacher, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Not only does God’s voice come to Samuel, but verse 10 of 1 Samuel 3 tells us, “The LORD came, stood there, and called…”
What an image. What a privilege! Does God speak to you? Are you in a position to hear if He does? How will you respond when He does?
At the beginning of this school year, during a meeting for Rhetoric School faculty, Mrs. Plasman floated the idea of weekly staff prayer. Of course, there was a positive response, but the question of when loomed large. And, though intentions were good, the idea seemed to find little foothold.
The first few weeks of school were very difficult for me; I won’t lie. A variety of personal and professional adjustments left me feeling frenetic and exhausted far too early in the school year. But, amid the frenzy of those first few weeks, the whisper in the back of my mind, like the call to Samuel in the middle of the night, wouldn’t go away, “Prayer.”
I spoke with Mrs. Plasman and offered to host prayer in my room on a Thursday. I still wasn’t committed to hosting prayer every week, but that’s what it turned into, and I’m so glad it did.
That first prayer meeting between teachers, administrators, and even the Head of School was tear-filled. I wasn’t the only one carrying a load. We prayed for students of concern. We prayed for each other. We prayed for our teacher friends who were ill, facing cancer treatments and long recovery periods. We prayed for God to be present with us. In short, we wanted God to come, stand near, and speak our names just as He had for Samuel.
There’s an older gentleman, a friend of mine, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who told me some years ago, “Any time God speaks we must be thankful. Whether we like what He says or not, it’s an amazing thing. For God to speak to us lowly humans is a miracle, and He doesn’t have to do it. We must always be thankful.”
Another friend, an academic counselor at Hampden-Sydney College who became sort of a second mother to me when I was a student there told me, “Any time you can’t sleep at night, get out of bed, get on your knees, and ask if God is trying to tell you something.” I’ve heard it said, sometimes God speaks in the stillness of the middle of the night because it’s the only time we are quiet enough to hear Him. If we only will.
The darkness of our current surroundings cannot be overstated. I don’t mean that in a melodramatic, doomsday way, but in a real, palpable sense that, whether we admit it or not, we do feel daily. The effects of a global pandemic still touch our lives, whatever you may believe about its causes, treatments, and consequences. Sin, sorrow, and death–man’s only three problems–still plague our everyday lives without pause. Do we ever go a week without hearing of someone’s cancer diagnosis, someone else’s financial problems, how another couple feels like such failures in its parenting, and still another couple faces divorce as husband and wife see no possibility for healing within their marriage? Darkness is all around us, and as I write this, it is winter; we are living in the darkest months of the year. Never discount the effects of weather and seasons on our emotional and spiritual health.
It’s easy to stew in the darkness. We complain. We gripe. Or, we avoid entirely and burrow into our work, our television screens, or our beds with hopes of distracting ourselves from the surrounding difficulties.
But isn't it possible the circumstances are just right for a late-night visit from the Lord? If in your home “the word of the LORD [is] rare,” as it was in the days of Samuel, consider these steps to posture yourself and your family to hear what God has to say to you:
Be willing to listen. Samuel’s response was not, “Listen, LORD, for your servant speaks!” It was, humbly, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” As my Philadelphia friend said, we must acknowledge what an amazing thing it is for the God of the universe to condescend to speak to us.
Involve others. Unsure of what was taking place, Samuel sought counsel from his spiritual elder, Eli. We know from Matthew 18:20 that “where two or three are gathered in His name, there He is also.” Family prayer might spark the revival your home needs during this season. They say prayer changes things, but certainly, too, prayer changes us! To hear from God was, doubtless, a life-changing experience for Samuel. It will be for your family as well. It has been for our faculty group that still meets on Thursday afternoons for prayer. God is changing us, growing us, and encouraging us with each meeting.
Get on praying ground. Scripture teaches over and again that sin gets in the way of our hearing from God. If you find within yourself any direct disobedience to the will of God, His word is clear: it’s time to confess it and leave it behind. Psalms 66:18 notes, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Is it that God couldn’t hear the prayer of a man who had a pet sin? No. God wouldn’t hear the prayer of that man who refused to let go of his sin. Pastor and author John Piper reminds us, “The first demand of Jesus’ public ministry was, ‘Repent.’”
Be patient. In Genesis 39 when Joseph found himself in the darkness of the pit, both in Potiphar’s house and in prison, he didn’t demand answers from God. We see how making demands on God plays out when Job tries it. It doesn’t yield the desired result. Instead, Joseph waited on an answer from God. He waited on action from God. And, in the meantime, Joseph remained obedient and submissive to the will of God.
In our Thursday afternoon prayer group, one of the consistent prayers we offer before God is that Caldwell Academy brings Him glory. We ask that this take place in the classrooms as our educators teach the goodness, truth, and beauty of God and His creation. We ask that God be glorified through the changed lives of our students who grow from babies to adults in body, mind, and spirit. And, we ask that God be glorified through the maturation of our parents—that they actively lead their families in the service of the Lord.
A school, a home, and an individual life are like a ship in its mooring. Without the anchor of consistent, God-centered prayer, the ship will drift every time. But with the anchor in place, it will hold firm during even the roughest of storms and the darkest of nights.