At one of my services yesterday I was preaching from 1 Samuel 3. One of the verses in that chapter that hit me like a mallet was verse 1 which says that 'the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.' The writer does not mean there was not any Scripture (the priests at that period would have read to the people from the Pentateuch and Joshua); nor does he mean that there were not any sermons (the priests would have instructed the people from these books), and neither does he mean that people were not attending public worship and participating in it (although aspects of their worship left a lot to be desired). The religious leadership was a big concern (Eli was ineffective and his sons Hophi and Phinehas were sinful rebels against God), and no doubt their behaviour was one of the reasons God was silent. Thankfully he had taken steps to prepare a servant who would be different, although at that time Samuel was still very young. The point that I suspect the author is making is that God was not speaking powerfully in a fresh way at that time.
It seems to me that one of the greatest tragedies that the church can go through is implementing a religious programme in the presence of a silent God, when he chooses to say nothing to them, and also chooses to say nothing through them to others. Such a situation does not include the absence of words; there were plenty words during the period of 1 Samuel 3, the problem was that God was not often involved. What was absent was the presence of divine power accompanying these words. Whenever I speak, I do so according to the energy I have. When God speaks, he does so according to his power and listeners are affected by what he says.
I don't suppose there has ever been a period in which so many words have been said or written about the things of God as today. Books come from Christian publishers in an increasing number, Christian newspapers and magazines appear regularly, and thousands, if not millions, of Christians are blogging about this or that. Yet in all we have to say, how many of us are aware of God speaking in power to us and through us?
I don't know how many words I read and spoke yesterday. Obviously I wanted the Lord to speak powerfully to me before I preached and through me as I preached. The message I preached was the gospel, which Paul says is the power of God unto salvation for all kinds of people. So hopefully God was at work. But what if he was not?
I often hear people say that if we returned to the Bible's message we will see blessing. The congregation I am in has never departed from that message in its history, nor have the other congregations in my denomination. But are we satisfied with merely repeating a true message about God that does not give evidence that he is speaking to us or through us in a powerful and widespread way?
Perhaps the source of the problem is that we would rather speak for God than to God. In one way, that is a very simple analysis of what is wrong. Yet it has been shown many times in church history that power comes through prayer. In 1 Samuel 1–2, true power (that is, power with God and power from God) was with a woman who prayed (Hannah), although few would have realised it. Earlier I said that I don't know how many words I read and said in preaching yesterday. More importantly, God knows how many words I used in prayer for power.