When was the last time you had an epiphany? An epiphany is an “aha!” moment. Webster defines it this way: a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.
If you are like me, perhaps you find yourself looking for an epiphany to make sense of this world we are living in today. In January of 2021, maybe you find yourself puzzled and unable to process the events of the last month as our capital was stormed, as COVID numbers soar, as our former President faces a second impeachment (and so many Christians continue their support of him un-apologetically). Maybe you long for an epiphany to help you process the devastation of racial violence and injustices that have reared their ugly heads this year.
Perhaps you are looking for an epiphany about a certain relationship you are in. Maybe it is a job decision you have to make or whether or not it is time to go back to school and get that degree or that certification.
As Christians most of us believe that God is both “transcendent and immanent” (Many scholars have pointed this out but most recently I have heard Dr. Emilie Towns say it.) To put it simply, we believe that God is both holy and “other” and that God is both near and within God’s people.
Because we affirm the immanence of God, we believe that God reveals, speaks to and enlightens our hearts as we seek God’s will, God’s way and God’s wisdom for our lives. To say that “I need an epiphany,” is to say that I need to hear from God about this or that area of my life. I need to discern Gods will to walk in God’s way. We are not alone in this search. Christians have been seeking God’s will for their lives since the very beginning.
God giving God’s people epiphanies to guide and direct them is a common occurrence in the bible. The book of 1 Samuel begins with an introduction to the prophet/judge of Israel, Samuel, and then goes on to record his call, his life and his ministry to God’s people. In 1 Samuel 3:1-9 we see that God calls Samuel by name three times. Samuel answers “Here I am.” But there is a problem. Samuel does not know it is the Lord who is calling him. So, he runs to Eli, the priest he was serving under in the temple at Shiloh. After three times, Eli directs Samuel to go and lie down and next time he hears the voice say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’
(1 Samuel 9). So, he did. The fourth time God calls Samuel’s name twice and finally Samuel realizes it is the Lord and the prophecy he receives became the launching point for his ministry. God goes on to equip Samuel to lead the nation of Israel into their next season. He leads the people from a theocracy to a monarchy. He calls for repentance. He performs powerful deeds and is regarded as one of the greatest prophets in our history. All of this, because he hears and discerns God’s will and God’s way.
As contemporary Christians, we can look at the story of Samuel’s epiphany as a resource for discerning God’s voice in our lives today. I offer two points here and will continue to reflect on this passage in future articles.
Samuel says, “Your servant is listening.”
There is a difference between hearing and listening. Have you had this experience with your spouse, partner or children? Maybe they are watching the TV or sending an email while you are telling them a story about something that happened that day. But when you refer to it later, they don’t know what you are talking about. “No, you never told me that,” they say. And you say, “Yes, I did. But you weren’t listening. The auditory function of your brain may be working but you may not be listening. If we are honest, we might say that sometimes that is me with God. Sometimes I know what God is saying or leading me to do. The Holy Spirit has made it clear. The scriptures, as I interpret them, are clear. The counsel and wisdom of my community has affirmed the same message. It is just that I am not ready to truly listen to God.
God calls Samuel 4 times.
Samuel answered the call he heard, to the best of his ability, four times. God did not give up on Samuel and Samuel did not give up on God or the people of God.
In this season of life, I find a lot of people ready to give up on God or the people of God. As a pastor, some days I feel this way. There are a lot of things that have been done and said “in the name of Jesus” today that look and sound nothing like the Jesus of the bible. Because of this, some of us are ready to give up on God’s people, the church. But the invitation from Samuel’s story is, “don’t give up on God and don’t give up on God’s people.”
The same God who never gave up on Samuel or the people of God will not give up on God’s people today. This same God will continue to use us, the sinful and rebellious people of the church to move us along in the direction we are supposed to go. God will do this pre and post-election, pre and post-inauguration, pre and post-COVID. This God will not give up on leading us, speaking to us and giving us epiphanies. Let us never give up on God.