Lessons From The Life Of Samuel

Posted by Mike Pilavachi on 10 June 2014


I'm really just a jumped up youth leader. Over the years I’ve spent enough time hanging out with enough youth leaders to know that there’s nothing they like better than to hear someone preach to them on the lessons we can all learn from the life of a particular Biblical character. Joshua’s a big favorite and Gideon seems to go down swell enough as well. I even heard one guy once say that he was going to preach on Lessons Learned From The Lives Of Abraham, Isaac And Jacob. I didn’t hang around to hear it all, but it was said that the congregation started to flag a little in the seventh hour.

Anyway, what with you being worship leaders and therefore unlikely to have paid attention during any of these type of sermons, here’s my contribution: Lessons From The Life Of Samuel.

Being Barren

In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
1 Samuel 1:10-11

Samuel’s story starts with death - or, at least - a lack of life. Hannah, Samuel’s mother, is unable to conceive. As you probably know, in that place and at that time infertility was a shame and disgrace. Hannah is understandably desperate and camped outside the temple in the hope that someone inside would help.

The church in our country has suffered from spiritual barrenness for a while now. We've longed for spiritual children and we’ve known barrenness as church numbers have declined over the years. We have tried everything to get people back - we've become cell churches, hosted Alpha courses, got to grips with g12 and brushed up on our spiritual warfare skills. We've done it all and we know how Hannah felt.

But something’s changing. For the first time in 100 years the Church is growing - with real pace and power in some places. Why? What’s behind it? Well, I believe that God’s moving in part as a response to our prayers and our desperation.

Hannah didn’t just weep and pray, and nor should we. Hannah made a vow. She promised that she would give her child back to God - which is exactly what we have to be prepared to do. If God gives us Spiritual children we must not keep them for ourselves, clone them or make them just like us. We must release them to hear God's voice and serve Him in their own culture and context. This is easier said than done. But if we love the generation that follows us we have to release them to worship Jesus and communicate His gospel in their culture, not ours.

Speaking and Listening

We can see the second lesson as Samuel grows up in the temple at Shiloh. There’s the famous story of him hearing the Lord’s voice one night. Three times he hears it and three times he wakes up Eli, the priest. Finally Eli works out what’s going on and sends Samuel back to bed to say, 'speak Lord, your servant is listening.'

Too often I do things the other way around; I pray ‘listen Lord, your servant is speaking.’ But not Samuel. He learned to listen, to obey and to discern.

So many times before He makes a major decision we see Jesus going to a mountain or a desert to spend time with His father. Why? To listen. How many of us do likewise? In our busy world we assume that it really is all about us and what we're going to do for God. Yet we desperately need to learn another way.

The same principle is there in Genesis; we are created last, just in time to share God’s rest. Our first priority is to follow God’s lead and watch for what He does next. It’s there in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration too. Peter, James and John are gobsmacked as Jesus meets with Moses and Elijah on the top of the mountain. Peter’s suggestion that he brings in the builders and create some kind of tourist attraction is a spectacular example of missing the point, as Luke makes perfectly clear when he writes that Peter ‘did not know what he was saying’ (Luke 9:33).

It is so easy to get out of the habit of listening to God as He speaks. But let’s not accept that as the standard for Christian living. We need to know our Father; we need to know our place.


Eli’s sons were trouble. They are described as ‘wicked men’ (1 Samuel 2:12) and they abused their position by sleeping with the temple servants. Yet there was something worse that they did; they stole from God.

Remember the story about them taking meat that was intended to be used as an offering to God? There was some provision for priests to do take a little, but Eli’s boys rewrote the rules and took a lot. Too much, it turns out. They turned what was intended to be used as worship of God and used it to satisfy their own appetites.

Could we ever be guilty of the same? Try this on for size:

‘The worship didn’t really do anything for me today.’

We can all be guilty of abusing worship. Sometimes the results are seen in spectacular falls from grace, but sometimes we just end up sounding cynical or bored. Either way, we’re on dangerous ground.

This happened to my church some years back. We’re got to a point where we were just going through the motions when we stood up to worship. We’d become connoisseurs of worship instead of participants in worship. We had learned to judge and appraise and spectate. It had become about us. So I started to teach on Romans 12 where Paul writes about putting ourselves on the altar. Nothing changed, so I got desperate. We banned the band. For a season we just sat in silence, waiting for someone to speak, sing or pray.

In time we rediscovered what it means to be worshippers, but it is a constant struggle for so many of us today. Yet we must never forget that worship is to Him, for Him, through Him, with Him. When we make it about anything other than God, we are guilty of theft.

What’s Next?

The final lesson that we can borrow from the life of Samuel is as short as it is simple. After he has reached retirement age he travels to Bethlehem and visits Jesse. There he anoints his youngest son - a squirt of a shepherd boy - to be king of Israel.

If it had been me in Samuel’s place I would have paused outside and asked whether God really was sure about all this. After all, David wasn’t exactly leadership material. Couldn't we think of someone who was better qualified? How about Samuel himself?

But Samuel anointed David to be what he could not be.

And that is precisely what we have to do as well. It is our privilege and our joy to encourage, support, bless, cheer and fight for the next generation. It is our joy to recognise that there are things they will do that will exceed our expectations. It is our joy to watch and as these younger, less qualified, less experienced servants of God do things we could only have dreamt of doing.


Because that’s the way the church grows.

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