Do you ever do what I do sometimes? Try to listen to someone who is talking to you but all the time be thinking about something else and when they finish what they are saying, just shake your head, and say "Uh-huh"? I do not always realize that I am doing that but every once in a while my wife will catch me at it. She will ask me what she just said and I will realize that I have no idea so I just make up something on the spot that is so outrageous that it is like admitting that I have no clue what she said. We usually have a big laugh about it and then she repeats what she said and I do tune in and listen that time.
We all are guilty at times of not really listening to others for whatever reason. We may be really busy, or preoccupied with some other matter, or distracted by something in the environment such as a television or radio, or we may be just zoned out or weary at that moment. We often do not give adequate attention to the people in our lives who are the most important to us. We overlook their ideas and needs because we are too busy thinking about our own lives and plans.
Now and then we play this game at our house (not intentionally, but it just seems to happen) where one of us names something that we think we should do and the other repeats exactly what the first person said as if it is their idea. You may have done the same thing. It goes something like this. "Hey, do you know what we should do...we should go get a pizza." "No, I have a better idea. I think we should go get a pizza." Usually the first person whacks the other one on the arm or other body part and then we go get a pizza. That demonstrates how caught up we are in our own world, though, that we often neglect to really listen to other people.
Samuel was just a little boy when he went to live in the temple with Eli, the prophet, and his two wild sons. (See I Samuel 1-3 for more details). One night he was trying to go to sleep when he thought he heard Eli call his name. He jumped out of bed and ran to where Eli was trying to go to sleep, asking what he wanted, and Eli told him to go back to bed. That happened 3 times before Eli finally caught on and decided that it was the LORD that was calling Samuel's name. Eli told Samuel to respond if he heard it again with, "Speak, for your servant is listening." Sure enough, God spoke to Samuel again and this time Samuel listened well. God gave Samuel a task to complete, not a very pleasant thing to do--to share bad news with Eli about things to come, but Samuel had to do what God had asked him to do.
God calls us throughout our lives to complete tasks. The tasks may be pleasant ones or they may be ones we dread but they need to be done anywhere. We are often the messengers who have to carry the message on behalf of God. The messages may be ones of comfort or joy, to reassure others that God's presence is with them and that things will be okay if they continue to trust God. The messages may be warnings that someone may be involved in things that they must treat carefully or act cautiously. The messages may be ideas to share with others to get them to think about what God's will would be in their lives. God must have human messengers to talk to humans because humans understand each other and can often be influential in the lives of one another.
Samuel became a major prophet for the people of Israel because he was willing to speak on behalf of God during times of transition in Israel. The people wanted a king like other nations surrounding them and Samuel did not think that was wise but heard God's voice telling him to let them have their way because they had to learn what would happen when they made their decision about the future. God allows us the free will in our lives to make decisions. Sometimes they lead us into paths of peace and contentment but sometimes they cause us great consternation and concern too. The choices are ours to make but God will give us guidance and instruction if we will learn to listen to God.
Listening to God is an active process in life. We have to talk to God and allow God to speak to us in our spirits, through our consciences, through others, and through the world around us and all it involves. When we take the time to listen, God will speak to us and direct us the way that we should live.
"The human mind plans the way, but the LORD directs the steps." Proverbs 16:9 (NRSV)