Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!”
I Samuel 3:1-4
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I count myself a thousand times blessed by the picture my mother hung by my bed. It was the last thing I gazed upon before sleep, and the first thing I saw when I awoke. It was a picture of the little boy Samuel startled in his bed by the calling voice of God. Deep within me was planted the idea that I still carry: God calls.
Recently, I took some time to meditate on the scene pictured in today’s Scripture text, and I was struck by the phrase that, “the lamp of God had not yet gone”. Why, I wondered, did the inspired writer insert this time indicator into the text? Why did the Spirit of God want us to know that God called the little boy Samuel when “the lamp of God had not yet gone out”? My research into the question took a bit of work, but I am fascinated by what I found.
Bible commentators agree that the “lamp of God” refers to the seven lamps of the golden candlestick in the Tabernacle: they were lit every morning, and burned through the night till all the oil was consumed (see Exodus 27:11; 30:8; Leviticus 24:2; II Chronicles 13:11). The statement that the lamp “had not yet gone out” was a way of indicating that it was in the early morning dawn that God spoke. The rabbis took this as the time of the cock crowing. The inspired writer of Scripture wants us to understand that it was in the earliest hour of the morning that Samuel heard the voice of God.
As I reflected more on this text I realized the importance of my own first waking moments: the first thoughts that come to me, the urgings of my heart, and a sense of leading for the day. I am learning to honor and pay attention to these. I think that some of my best sermons, and my best actions, have sprung from those first dawning moments. It is then that I am quiet enough to hear the still, small Voice.
I find encouragement in this from Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he writes in Life Together about the potential of our day’s first moments:
After the silence of night and early morning, hymns and the word of God are more easily grasped. The Scriptures, moreover, tell us that the first thought and the first word of the day belong to God: “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord (Ps 5:3)… “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. Awake up, my glory; awake psalter and harp (Ps 57:7-8)… God’s mercies are “new every morning” (Lam 3:23)
A problem that I took to bed with me, I will often see in new and surprising ways with the light of the new morning. A person that I had not thought about in months, but I want to call, comes to mind unexpectedly. A verse of Scripture that I read before I went to bed, glistens with fresh revelation. It happens to me as I guard my first moments of the day.
But I also know how I can take all the potential of my first waking moments and squander them on worrying and complaining about the day before me. C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity writes knowingly about this troubling tendency:
The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.
May I suggest that the night before you prepare for hearing the voice of God in the morning, by praying something like this:
Abba Father! As I lay my head on my pillow tonight, I ask you and your holy angels to watch over me, and over those whom I love. You are the Keeper of Israel who neither slumbers or sleeps; so as I sleep, You be at work. I place in your strong, tender hands the things about which I am worrying, the seemingly insolvable problems I am facing, and the heartbreak I carry. They are Yours now, they belong to You, not me. As I rest, sow my thought with your thoughts, so that when I awaken, I will know Your mind. Then as I linger in my bed for a few extra moments, help me to listen for your still, small Voice. Speak Lord, here I am!
Grace and peace,
photo by Rita Smith