Then he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, lie down again.”
1 Samuel 3:4–5
Eli was old. He still had some reverence for God, but he had grown fat on the choice meat of the sacrifices that his sons were taking from the worshipers at the Tabernacle. When his sons were turning the Tabernacle into a place of adultery, Eli scolded them, but did not remove them or impose any consequences for their behavior. He honored his sons over God. It is obvious that Eli had not earned the respect of his sons. In contrast to his lax attitude toward his relatives, he was quick to judge and openly rebuke a godly woman pouring out her request to God.
It was not Eli's "godly example" that earned Samuel's respectful service, but that he was God's anointed authority over him. Samuel's job was to attend to Eli.
THREE TIMES when Samuel heard GOD call his name...he heard the voice of Eli and got up quickly to attend to his needs. It is likely this was in the very early hours of the morning. No grumbling. No second-guessing. An unmistakable voice. A quick response.
When Eli finally realized that "the voice" was not Samuel's imagination but was, in fact, God Himself calling to Samuel, he told Samuel to respond: "Speak, for your servant is listening."
Because Samuel was attentive to his God-given authority, as undeserving as it was, he was in a position to be attentive to God, as worthy as He was.