Being fully present to the Lord

Each morning in junior school the register was called. When teacher got to my name I was expected to reply, ‘Present, miss.’ On each occasion in Scripture, when God was calling a history-maker to initiate a significant advance of his kingdom, on hearing his name the chosen one would reply, ‘Here I am!’ He meant, ‘I am totally present here [in this place] and now [at this time]; I am giving my full attention as-a-person to you-as-a-Person.’

In these days we are constantly bombarded with impersonal data – by text messaging, emails and ansaphone recordings, as well as via television and radio – all of which we can listen to later by means of catch-up technology, thus avoiding face-to-face interaction in the here and now.

Actually the expression ‘Here I am’ occurs very few times in Scripture. Four individuals addressed this sentence to God on hearing the Lord call his name, usually spoken twice for emphasis (e.g. ‘Samuel! Samuel!).

  1. ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ (Genesis 22:11)

[] Genesis 22:1-19 mentions the verb to worship for the very first time – a noteworthy detail. Worship to be authentic cannot be performed by proxy (through an intermediary ‘priest’), nor merely uttered by rote (using liturgy like an absent-minded routine). Those issues were adjusted in some measure by Protestants in the Reformation, especially by the Anabaptists. However, even nowadays, we could allow a band, a group of singers and a ‘worship leader’ as well as the digital projector displaying lyrics to ‘do our heavy lifting’. Actually we should consider each song-writer, preacher and teacher as ‘a special gift through the generosity of Christ … to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church.’ (see Ephesians 4:7-15, all quotations from the New Living Translation).

[] Worship is in fact offering hospitality to the Lord. Good hospitality requires us to prepare in advance to minister to the well-being of one’s honoured guest: providing clean bed linen, towels, wardrobe space, and a welcome note with a single rose on the bedside cabinet. ‘Abraham [i] got up early. [ii] He saddled his donkey and [iii] took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then [iv] he chopped wood for a burnt offering and [v] set off for the place God had told him about’ (Genesis 22:3).

[] And Abraham demonstrated supremely that true worship involves testing; he responded to God’s call to inconvenience that took him out of his comfort zone.

[] True worship resulted from Abraham’s prior severing of his natural ties to homeland and family. Jesus himself, at the age of twelve loosed his childhood bonds to his natural mother and adoptive father in order to ‘be involved in my [heavenly] Father’s affairs’ (Luke 2:49, margin). Decades later he issued this challenge to all would-be followers: ‘If you want to be my disciples, you must hate everyone else by comparison – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes even your own life. Otherwise you cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:26-27).

[] On this occasion Abraham promised his two servants, ‘by faith’ that: ‘The boy and I … will come right back’ (Genesis 22:5), even if via the boy’s death and resurrection (see Hebrews 11:17-19)!

[] Thankfully, when Isaac was bound on the altar and the knife was raised, Abraham heard the Lord call him afresh: ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ He promptly responded, ‘Here I am!’ (Genesis 22:10-13). He had remained tuned in, so he was able to give face-to-face attention to the Lord, and so was able to discover the substitute sacrificial lamb of God‘s provision already held in readiness on the summit of Mount Moriah!

  1. ‘Jacob! Jacob!’ (Genesis 46:2)

As Jacob was about to cross the border from his famine-stricken homeland to spend his few remaining years by the well-stocked granaries of Egypt where his favourite son Joseph was the honoured Chancellor of the Exchequer, God met with the aged patriarch in a reassuring dream. Although years before God had encountered him, and caused him to limp ever after, changing his name from Jacob [= ‘Twister’ who had tricked his twin brother Esau out of his privilege as firstborn] to Israel [= ruled by God] (see Genesis 32:24-32), the Lord addresses him by his original name: ‘”Jacob!’ Jacob!’ he called. “Here am I”, Jacob replied’ (Genesis 46:2). He was told to go boldly to Egypt because he – and his nation of descendants after him – would be brought back to this promised land. Can you imagine how this narrative of their historic roots would inspire the exiles of Israel in Babylon, such as Daniel, on reading: ‘“I am God with you down to Egypt, and I will bring you back again …”’ (Genesis 46:3-4).

Question: Both Abraham and Jacob had heard God call previously and had also replied ‘Here I am’ each time. Was there a reason why, in these earlier encounters, each had heard God call his name just once‘Abraham!’ (see Genesis 22:1), and ‘Jacob!’ (Genesis 31:10-12)? We can but hazard a guess about a reason: was it because the later exchange introduced a crucial event in the history of their descendants. What insights do you suppose their descendants ‘by the rivers of Babylon’ during their exile deduced as they studied the historic records of God’s dealings with their nation?

  1. ‘Moses! Moses!’ (Exodus 3:4)

‘One day Moses … led the flock … of his father-in-law… far into the wilderness’ (Exodus 3:1). What might his thoughts have been on that quite ordinary day? ‘I’m a graduate of Egypt, reared in its royal family for my first four decades, and then – what a deep disappointment – I’ve been a fugitive of forty further years (Acts 7:23-30) on a prolonged post-graduate course in “sheepology” out here in the wild. Life is a sheer enigma that drains you of every last milliliter of zeal! And there’s not a lot to feast your eye on or to stir your spirit hereabouts.’ And now there loomed ahead a mountain soaring heavenward, soo to acquire the permanent label: ‘Sinai, the mountain of the Lord’ (Exodus 3:2).

Into the silence of his solitude there suddenly broke a show of pyrotechnics that the French might name ‘Son et Lumiere’ (‘Sound and Light’). ‘The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of the bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t the bush burning up? I must go [to] see it”. When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses! “Here I am” Moses replied

Maybe the sheep though they saw a sunset smiling through a thorn bush, but Moses recognised the warmth and power of the sacred flame of God’s presence. None of Moses’ former zeal had kept that flame alive; nor did his current despondency douche the fire! Yahweh was about to riddle out  his servant’s clogging ashes item by item and refurbish this human fire grate with deep-mined fuel, his own eternal fire. Deliverance was now underway.

  1. ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ (1 Samuel 3:10)

The young lad was asleep when God called him. The narrative of the event (1 Samuel 3:1-21) sets the scene with the ominous line: ‘The lamp of God had not yet gone out’ (verse 3), appropriately, if we remember how the book of Judges finishes. After the triumphs of Samson’s ministry, Israel is without a reliable spiritual leader and the people became spiritually rebellious (see Judges 17:1 – 21:25), that final verse summarizing their state: ‘In those days, the people of Israel had no king. All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.’

The story of Samuel the king-maker begins with his praying mother, who had been unable to conceive until her travailing intercession at the sanctuary of Shiloh. Samuel and his siblings followed by divine intervention, and Hannah expressed her gratitude in the name she gave her firstborn: ‘She named him Samuel [“Heard by God”], for she said, “I asked the Lord for him”.’ (1 Samuel 1:20).

Three times the Lord called the lad by his name, simply ‘Samuel!’ (3:3, 6, 8), who thought Eli the priests was asking that he fetch a drink or some other favour. When Eli realised it was the Lord who was calling the boy’ (3:8), he prepared him for the fourth summons from heaven – this time with the double voicing of his name: ’Samuel! Samuel! And Samuel replied: ‘Speak, your servant is listening’ (3:10). And the rest, as they say, is history! A turning point in Israel’s history, at that! – a period of spiritual revival.

We do well to ask ourselves, ‘Would I recognise the voice of the Lord when he calls me to a particular task that he might set me to do for the furtherance of his kingdom here on earth?

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