I have just begun reading through 1 Samuel. Hannah, grieved at her barrenness, cried out to the Lord for a son. God heard that prayer, granted Hannah's request, and gave her a son - and then, in gratitude for God's gracious gift, Hannah turned around and gave her son back to the Lord, to serve in the house of the Lord at Shiloh.
At a very early age, Samuel went to live and work with the priest Eli...and with Eli's two worthless sons, Hophni and Phinehas. These wicked men would abuse the Israelites who came to offer sacrifices, forcefully taking the best parts of the meat that was meant to be offered to the Lord. They took advantage of the women who served at the tent of meeting, forcing them into adulterous sexual relationships. They disregarded the correction of their father. We read that Hophni and Phinehas "treated the offering of the Lord with contempt" (1 Sam. 2:17). God sent a messenger to tell Eli that his two sons were such an offense to Him that He had resolved to destroy them both in a single day and to curse Eli's family from that time on. These were two really bad dudes! And they were young Samuel's new "family."
Samuel served Eli in the tent of meeting. You could say, Samuel literally grew up in church. The doctrines and practices of the Jewish faith and worship were a part of Samuel's every day life. Samuel knew about God, about God's people, and about their religion. But, in the middle of all this - the messy family situation, the daily exposure to the religion of his parents - did Samuel know God? Did God know Samuel?
I am a mother who once thought she would never have children (Hahahaha!), and who prayed fervently for a baby. I am a mother who desperately wants to give my kids back to God - I want God to make them His own children, and I want them to know and serve Him. I am a mother whose children now find themselves growing up in a world surrounded by godless men, men who mock God and who belittle and abuse their neighbors. And, yes, my children have grown up in church.
Yet I find that sometimes I fear for my children's souls. It is a daily, earnest prayer: "Lord, please grab hold of my children and make them yours! Let them know the beauty of Jesus, and give them faith to trust in the sufficiency of His atoning work. Give them a hunger for your Word, and a deep love for your church..." I know that it is possible to "grow up in church" and yet never truly, personally know God or love His people.
Yesterday, I read this verse: "Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him." (1 Sam. 3:7) You probably know what happens next, right? The LORD came and personally called Samuel into a relationship with Himself and appointed Samuel to be a prophet in Israel. Yes, by God's grace, Samuel did come to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him mightily. Samuel was passionate about the things of God and lived a life of service to God's people.
So that one little verse - "Samuel did not yet know the LORD..." - encouraged this mother greatly. Because it reminded me that knowledge of the living God comes from God Himself. God initiates that relationship, grows it, and establishes it securely. It's not my child, not the culture around him, not even his familiarity with sound doctrine, that determines if he'll grow to know and love the Lord. No. It is God.
As a mom, that truth comforts me more than anything else can - because I know that God is sovereign over the lives of my children, and that He loves them very much. "...the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him." I don't have to be afraid for my children, for their souls. Instead I can earnestly pray - with great hope - that God will in time reveal Himself to each one of my children, that He will indeed make them His own.
The LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD. - 1 Sam. 3:21