People of God: Remember to prepare for worship prayerfully and to be ready to worship the Living God and to hear His Word as it is read and preached to you.
Pray for your ears to be opened, your heart to be ready to receive, your mind to be fresh, our worship to be full of the Holy Spirit, and my preaching and proclamation of the Gospel to be clear! Our Larger Catechism instructs us helpfully:
WLC 160 What is required of those that hear the word preached? A. It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence,(1) preparation,(2) and prayer;(3) examine what they hear by the scriptures;(4) receive the truth with faith,(5) love,(6) meekness,(7) and readiness of mind,(8) as the word of God;(9) meditate,(10) and confer of it;(11) hide it in their hearts,(12) and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.(13) (1)Prov. 8:34 (2)1 Pet. 2:1,2; Luke 8:18 (3)Ps. 119:18; Eph. 6:18,19 (4)Acts 17:11 (5)Heb. 4:2 (6)2 Thess. 2:10 (7)James 1:21 (8)Acts 17:11 (9)1 Thess. 2:13 (10)Luke 9:44; Heb. 2:1 (11)Luke 24:14; Deut. 6:6,7 (12)Prov. 2:1; Ps. 119:11 (13)Luke 8:15; James 1:2
Pastor Phil Ryken says very insightfully: “Most churchgoers assume that the sermon starts when the pastor opens his mouth on Sunday. However, listening to a sermon actually starts the week before. It starts when we pray for the minister, asking God to bless the time he spends studying the Bible as he prepares to preach. In addition to helping the preaching, our prayers create in us a sense of expectancy for the ministry of God’s Word. This is one of the reasons that when it comes to preaching, congregations generally get what they pray for.”
Are you remembering to pray for the worship and preaching every week? This is so very important. Let me remind you to pray for the worship and preaching as if you were the one to lead worship and to preach! What needs more preparation the hard ground or the farmer who sows the seed? Listen to the wisdom of the great Charles Spurgeon:
“We are told men ought not to preach without preparation. Granted. But we add, men ought not to hear without preparation. Which, do you think needs the most preparation, the sower or the ground? I would have the sower come with clean hands, but I would have the ground well-plowed and harrowed, well-turned over, and the clods broken before the seed comes in. It seems to me that there is more preparation needed by the ground than by the sower, more by the hearer than by the preacher.”
I think it is extremely important to remember to prepare our hearts to listen. Remember that hearing in the Bible is not merely to hear auditory sounds, but to “listen and to be obedient”; we are to hear “from our hearts”; see Deut. 4; Psalm 78; Proverbs 2:1-7; “Hear, O Israel” is the Shema, and it means “Hear!” (imperative with the meaning of “listen and obey); our Lord often says: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” meaning that he who has received this in one’s heart and will obey (see also the Spirit’s work in Revelation 2-3: “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches”).
To hear takes due preparation of one’s hearts, not merely one’s ears. Our hearts are the soil. The soil of our hearts must be prepared and tilled like ground to prepare for seeding. The seed is the Word of God makes its way to the heart through the ear. All of us know how we can listen and hear someone and yet not truly HEAR THEM.
Remember our Lord’s teaching in Luke 8:4-15?
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
ESV Jeremiah 4:3 For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.
Pastor Ken Ramey in Expository Listening (Kress Press, 2010) writes that Christians can better prepare themselves to hear God’s Word read and preached each Lord’s Day if they will seek to do this each day (here are his helpful suggestions):
- Read and meditate upon God’s Word every day.
- Pray often throughout the week.
- Confess your sins daily before God.
- Reduce your media intake.
- Plan ahead, and schedule your week around the ministry of the Word: try to be home on Saturday nights; be careful not to watch or listen to anything that might cause lingering distractions in your mind during worship; get things ready on Saturday to avoid the inevitable Sunday morning rush; get a good night’s sleep because you’ll be doing the hard work of listening; get a good breakfast that will hold you over until lunch; as you’re getting ready and traveling as a family to worship seek to sing and pray together; arrive for worship at least 10 minutes early to get everything done (even the unexpected things), and sit down ready to receive.
- Be consistent in worship attendance.
- Go to worship with a humble, teachable, expectant heart (it is not the preacher who is on trial before you; you are on trial before God’s word as to whether you will hear and receive what is spoken if Biblical truth.
- Worship with all you heart: sing enthusiastically because you believe what you’re singing; follow along in Bible when read; listen attentively to prayers when prayed and respond with hearty “amen”; during the sermon follow along in the Bible; take notes).
- Fight off distractions
- Listen with diligent discernment so that you can determine humbly if what you heard was biblical and presented Christ and His Gospel to you and your family.
Let’s remember to pray unceasingly for one another that we will prepare ourselves better for hearing specifically, and worship in general, and that our worship services would be more excellent to God, and more helpful and transformative to us! Let us prepare our hearts for worship, and particularly for hearing the Word of God preached, and expect great things from our Great and Faithful God! (1 Thess. 5:18; Ephesians 6:18-20; 3:20-21).
Let us pray together to seek the best worship services we have ever had in the new year! Let us pray that God would send forth His Spirit upon us in such a way that we will all declare together: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the LORD!”
Here is a devotion to consider prayerfully before worship this week by Charles Spurgeon:
“These have no root.”- Luke 8:13
“My soul, examine thyself this morning by the light of this text. Thou hast received the word with joy; thy feelings have been stirred and a lively impression has been made; but, remember, that to receive the word in the ear is one thing, and to receive Jesus into thy very soul is quite another; superficial feeling is often joined to inward hardness of heart, and a lively impression of the word is not always a lasting one. In the parable, the seed in one case fell upon ground having a rocky bottom, covered over with a thin layer of earth; when the seed began to take root, its downward growth was hindered by the hard stone and therefore it spent its strength in pushing its green shoot aloft as high as it could, but having no inward moisture derived from root nourishment, it withered away. Is this my case? Have I been making a fair show in the flesh without having a corresponding inner life? Good growth takes place upwards and downwards at the same time. Am I rooted in sincere fidelity and love to Jesus? If my heart remains unsoftened and unfertilized by grace, the good seed may germinate for a season, but it must ultimately wither, for it cannot flourish on a rocky, unbroken, unsanctified heart. Let me dread a godliness as rapid in growth and as wanting in endurance as Jonah’s gourd; let me count the cost of being a follower of Jesus, above all let me feel the energy of his Holy Spirit, and then I shall possess an abiding and enduring seed in my soul. If my mind remains as obdurate as it was by nature, the sun of trial will scorch, and my hard heart will help to cast the heat the more terribly upon the ill-covered seed, and my religion will soon die, and my despair will be terrible; therefore, O heavenly Sower, plough me first, and then cast the truth into me, and let me yield thee a bounteous harvest.”
If you would like a book on how to listen better to sermons, I will provide you one upon request at no charge. The book is entitled “Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word” by Ken Ramey (Highly recommended by John MacArthur Joel Beeke, and Jay Adams).
I have come to learn and to believe that if the preacher prepares himself in heart and soul before he prepares his sermon, the sermon will prepare itself; the sermon will flow forth from the heart that is devoted to Jesus by His Spirit. In the same way, if the listener to the sermon prepares himself in heart and soul before he comes to worship, the worship will prepare itself; the worship and hearing of the person will flow forth from the heart that is devoted to Jesus by His Spirit.