Eli was a priest in Israel at a difficult time in it's history. He was not a good priest. His sons ran wild in the temple doing things that made it hard for the people of that time. Eli was given charge of a special little boy. Samuel would grow up to be a great man of God. He was Hannah's child of promise (see 1 Samuel 1:1f)
Eli was not a good priest but in this instance he gave good advice.
"Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, 'Here I am, for you called me.'
Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, 'Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.' '
So Samuel went and lay down in his place." - 1 Samuel 3:7-9 ESV
Eli knew what to tell Samuel. He gave good counsel. He told Samuel to be available to God... to respond. That is the good part. The problem was that he told him to respond as a servant. That is what Eli was doing and that is why he was not a good priest.
"And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, 'Samuel! Samuel!'
And Samuel said, 'Speak, for your servant hears.'
Then the LORD said to Samuel, 'Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.'
Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli." - 1 Samuel 3:10-15 ESV
What a seemly heavy responsibility to give to a young boy. Tell Eli his servant attitude isn't going to cut it. Tell him his desire towards me is right but his approach towards me is wrong.
"But Eli called Samuel and said, 'Samuel, my son.'
And he said, 'Here I am.'
And Eli said, 'What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.'
So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, 'It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him.'
And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD." - 1 Samuel 3:16-20 ESV
Eli's servant attitude made him weak. Samuel's grace attitude made him strong. This prophet had strength to do the hard things.
Isaiah had a proper response. Instead of 'Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.' He said, 'Here I am! Send me.' (see Isaiah 6:8).
Grace doesn't makes us servants it makes us sons and daughters. We need a father not a impersonal authority. We need intimacy that has authority and accountability.
Eli was weak in faith because grace was external to him. He recognized it but never owned it.
We are little Samuels today. God has birthed us by prayer and promise and nurtured us in His house living fully on what He gives freely. Let's live like Samuel lived. Let's live in grace afraid sometimes but declaring what God has said to us even if we think our generation doesn't want to hear it.
Here we are God. We are what we are by grace. Send us out today with the message of grace on our lips. Let all that we do be a response to the calling of grace.