Sometimes people encounter God but don’t know it. It’s true. It happened in the Bible. In the book called 1 Samuel, the young boy, Samuel, is living at the church building of his day. He is laying down for bedtime when he hears his name being called, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Now we need to stop right here. How are we supposed to understand that. Well there are a couple of different ways we could think about this incident. First, it could be that Samuel is in that half asleep, half awake state and dreams his name being called. Or we could imagine that he actually heard an audible voice. Either way of imagining the scene doesn’t really matter. What really matters is his search for the “source” of the one calling his name.
Samuel thinks that Eli, the leader of the church building, called his name. So he gets up and goes and asks him what he wants. But Eli says that it wasn’t him and he should go back to bed. Then it happens again. Now we’re given some insight into what’s happening in the story. It says that Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. In other words, Samuel was missing the God sighting because he just didn’t know God. In his mind, the only source of the voice calling his name could be the person closest to him, Eli.
I think we have friends and family who encounter God but don’t know it. They have these experiences like Samuel. Perhaps it happens during a dream or when they are with a person they love. Maybe they are out on a hike in the woods and this sense of awe, of something greater comes over them. They stop in those moments and soak it up. Then later they tell you about it.
Helping People Relate to God
Evangelism is a scary word for many Christians. The big “E” word Christians don’t want to talk about. Our images of evangelism are the movie caricatures of the street preachers ranting about God’s judgment. Or we think of the Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on our door. Or maybe we think of going up to a perfect stranger and telling them God loves them. In all of these images, there is hint of fear that we would be perceived as crazy or condemned for faith in Jesus as our King and Rescuer.
Let’s return to Eli and Samuel. Finally Eli gets clued in on Samuel’s third trip to him. He perceives that Samuel needs help relating to God and he does it by giving some simple instructions. He tells Samuel to go back and lie down and if you hear someone calling you say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Essentially, Eli teaches Samuel how to pray. Pretty simple but truly profound for the person who has encountered God but doesn’t know how relate to God.
We need to have Samuel and Eli’s story in our minds when we hear the word evangelism. In the course of your relationship with a person who doesn’t know God in Christ, you get the exciting and difficult task of listening to their life. And I’m sure like Eli you’ll hear how they encounter God time and time again but miss it. You’ll not be clued in to what’s really happening in their life. They’ll tell you of the powerful experience that serving others was for them. They’ll be overjoyed at new ideas they came across in the book they are reading. They’ll be boasting about the beauty of a sunset. All the while, God is whispering to them through those experiences but you might miss it. But maybe there will come that time, like Eli had, when we get clued in and recognize their God sighting. If that is true, then perhaps our call to evangelism is simply to help people relate to God. To give some simple instruction, a suggestive question, a hint to the God who is already there.