© 2015 Lynn Abbott
One morning over breakfast, at the age of 14, I announced that I had decided what I wished to do with my life: “I am going to be a single missionary nurse in Irian Jaya…”
I suspect my parents suppressed smiles.
You see, I was the kid with severe environmental and food allergies. Obviously, living in a primitive jungle wasn’t the most practical plan I’d ever proposed.
However, friends and family members would have readily understood my fascination with such a devoted life. After all, I truly admired a beautiful young missionary who had committed herself to just that–serving God as a nurse in Irian Jaya.
After hearing her speak in church, I longed to serve Abba in the same way. Nursing seemed the most tangible way to share God’s grace.
After all, I’d read a lot of books. And nurses accomplished great things. Edith Cavell, a celebrated nurse who served during WWI, inspired me. I dreamed of adventure. I longed to make a difference.
I never imagined that because of my own health issues, I might be more burden than help. I just “knew” that this path was what Abba would wish for me.
And so I passionately began to pursue my dream. I began by volunteering at our local hospital. All seemed to be on track. I loved my work as an aide, and the nurses who supervised seemed to appreciate what I did.
Then, I hit high school biology.
And with it, a huge wall.
Apparently, I am severely allergic to Formaldehyde. Dissecting frogs and other specimens therefore proved problematic.
My dream collapsed. My heart broke. How in the world would I ever get through nursing school? How could I serve Abba if I didn’t?
I couldn’t see my way clear. Fog rolled in and covered the future. I no longer “knew” what I wanted to be when I grew up. Serve God, yes! But where? How?
My parents patiently prayed for a good many years as I side-stepped the obvious choice… I ignored the path that was evident to them and everyone who knew me.
And years later, when my son began a similar journey, I smiled and prayed as well. He, too, looked for his place in this world, but initially, missed the obvious.
Evidently, Eli the priest knew this well. His charge met Yahweh in a dramatic way. Yet, Eli had recognized God’s calling of the boy from the very beginning.
It all began with a godly woman’s prayer. Actually, the memory of it probably haunted Eli long after the event. He’d been carrying out his duties in the temple that fateful day, and scripture tells us that he had taken his customary place on a chair by the temple’s doorpost (I Samuel 1:9).
While he rested there, he noticed a woman standing in the temple. Her behavior startled him. She wept. And although her mouth moved, no audible words came forth.
Eli decided she must be drunk. She looked rather wild, I suspect. And he spoke forthrightly, “‘How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.”
The woman’s response probably stunned him, and left him with deep remorse for the rest of his life. He had misjudged her.
She spoke, “Not so, my lord…I am a woman who is deeply troubled…I was pouring out my soul to the LORD.”
Humble Eli made an about face, and readily responded with grace. He blessed her, and prayed that God would grant her petition.
Of course, we know that Hannah had begged God for a son. Her barrenness had been an enormous humiliation. Her rival, Peninnah ridiculed Hannah even though, or perhaps because, Elkanah loved Hannah.
In fact, Hannah had been shamed over and over again. And yearly religious ceremonies served as a reminder of her inability to bear Elkanah a child.
For this reason, she prayed that day in the temple. In anguish and grief, she promised that if her petition were granted, she would give her child to Yahweh for life-time service.
And Abba blessed her.
Several years later, Hannah arrived at the temple with her little boy. I imagine she boldly approached the priest who had so compassionately and humbly responded to her previous heartbreak. Essentially, she said, “Remember me?”
Then, she told of her promise to Yahweh. She had come to fulfill her vow: “So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD,” (I Samuel 1:28).
From that day forward, little Sam lived with Eli. He became a “helper” in the temple. Indeed, Eli and Hannah both knew Samuel had been set apart for God. It was obvious. But I think Samuel may have wondered about his place in the world.
As he grew, he may have day-dreamed about the variety of occupations associated with the temple. What would he be when he grew up?
Would he be a temple musician? Would he craft beautiful art or gold cups for use in God’s house? Where would he ultimately serve? Would he remain by Eli’s side for all time?
All who knew Samuel observed his gifts. But Samuel had yet to discover his purpose.
To be sure. All too often, we are the last to understand our life purpose.
Looking around us, we see vast possibilities; we may even admire and long for gifts that other people possess; we look for dramatic possibilities; we seek to climb distant mountains instead of treading the paths immediately before us.
Perhaps, this is one of the reasons that Abba recorded Samuel’s story for us. I dunno.
But when I read of Samuel’s God-encounter, I do know that I am reminded that all too often I overlook the obvious: you and I are called to plant and harvest Abba’s grace right where we are. And often, God has already placed me where he wishes me to serve.
That certainly was the case for Samuel. As Eli aged, things in Israel went from bad to worse. Even Eli’s sons, the aging priest’s primary hope for establishing godly leadership, ran wild. Rather than serving God, they exploited religion, using it to line their own pockets. Those who were to serve and lead Israel had failed.
For this reason, God revealed through a prophet that the priest’s house would suffer. Eli’s sons would not form the line of royal priesthood. His house occupied a precarious position. Had I been in Samuel’s position, I certainly would have looked for a new home.
Despite others’ confidence in his calling, Sam may have questioned his own place after Eli received such discouraging news.
As evening gave way to night, Eli’s young charge lay in the temple… tired after his long day of temple service. Eli napped in his usual place. Life followed a familiar routine. Nothing unexpected ever happened.
Thus, Samuel did not suspect anything out of the ordinary when he heard a voice call:
Samuel ran to Eli to discover what might be required.
But Eli hadn’t called and so the aging priest responded as many parents do; he told Samuel to go back to bed.
But the boy returned three more times to ask if Eli had called.
I imagine that Eli shook the sleepy fog from his head just in time.
I Samuel 3:8 records, “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy.”
That’s right. God called Samuel right where he was.
For Samuel, the temple may not have seemed a glamorous place. After all, it was home. And the familiar is often overlooked. Sam had been faithful, but his tasks had never seemed particularly significant.
Yet, God called Samuel… right there; right then. God planned Sam’s days even before he was born (Psalm 139:16). And when the time was right, God spoke.
Eli confirmed God’s calling and advised Samuel regarding his response.
Thus, when Samuel heard Abba’s voice once more, he replied, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
Samuel not only served but he also listened. And he evidently listened well. His gift seemed simple enough: listening to God. Yet, such a gift uniquely equipped Samuel to become God’s prophet.
And he began his new work the following morning: upon Eli’s insistence and encouragement, Samuel delivered his first prophecy to Eli.
Without a doubt, God placed and equipped a temple boy.
Simple as that.
Sometimes I go looking for grand horizons. I seek flashy tasks or ponder great works.
I forget that Abba spoke directly to a boy who quietly served an old, disheartened priest.
And in fact, throughout his life, Samuel’s work often occurred behind the scenes. Again and again, Samuel was overshadowed by Saul and David. Saul reigned. David claimed glory on the battlefield.
Yet, even though the prophet had anointed both men, he did not receive popular praise, fame or fortune.
Nevertheless, Samuel heard directly from Abba. Apparently, that was enough. Samuel deemed his work significant because the God of the Universe had called him to it.
I like how Mother Theresa put it, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Samuel listened. With grace and compassion, he served right where he was…even when it seemed rather ordinary.
Obviously, God is most concerned with our hearts for Him.
I once thought I needed to discover great work for Abba. From my perspective, Irian Jaya provided the best opportunity for the extraordinary.
But I overlooked the obvious. My parents knew that I should write; that I should paint. But I initially didn’t regard either. Neither seemed as significant as mission work in Irian Jaya.
Samuel, however, demonstrates that no matter how small a service may seem, God’s calling makes it great. No matter how insignificant my efforts may feel, God’s calling is enough.
Yes, there are other artists and writers who will garner more attention than I ever will. Some will even collect accolades and applause. After all, the Sauls and Davids of this world receive great acclaim.
But Samuel shows me the joy of serving with small acts of grace and love. In fact, there is nothing better–nothing that brings greater joy–than hearing and responding to Abba’s call.
Knowing this, a young temple boy responded to Abba’s call…
“Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
And Sam served. Without fanfare. Without glory. Yet, with great joy.
For this reason, when my son began to talk about what he wished to “be” when he grew up, I prayed that he would discover God’s leading. I longed for him to find God’s obvious.
He espoused a number of dreams before he finally recognized what has been apparent to all who know him: his passion for history.
Of course, as a History major, he probably won’t serve as a medical missionary in Irian Jaya.
His boyhood dreams are also unlikely. Fighting to free the downtrodden as did Ulysses S. Grant doesn’t currently appear part of his life’s itinerary.
But Abba directs his steps. And he will find joy as he spreads God’s grace wherever he goes.
Yes, Abba often calls with a gentle whisper. His leading–soft and gentle like filtered light–breaks through our ordinary and all-too-daily fog.
Indeed. Like Samuel, we find significance when we accomplish small things with great grace and love. Right here. Right now.
It’s as simple as that.
“For you created my inmost being…All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” ~ Psalm 139:13, 16
“Whatever you, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,” ~Colossians 3:23