last night we looked at how we are to hear the word of God. Specifically, how are we to approach the event of preaching in our services? The membership fully supports the place of preaching in our worship, which is good. We don't have people suggesting that modern 21st century man only has a 3-minute attention span! However, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, not in the mental assent to the idea of preaching but in the way we submit and respond to it. Let's face it, we all get lazy.
When we get lazy bad things happen. I sometimes think a phenomenon like the "psychic secretion" of Pavlov's dogs is going on. You know, Ivan Pavlov
noticed that dogs would salivate before food was put out. He realised that this secretion was stimulated by events leading up to the delivery of food. He was able to manipulate the reflex response through changing the experiences of the dogs.
What's this to do with services? No, I am not talking about members of the congregation salivating before the receipt of spiritual food! But, I would like to suggest that the routine of attendance week by week can stimulate other kinds of unhelpful behaviour if we are lazy and not careful. For example, daydreaming or even dozing off - that really bugs me! It may be my preaching, but those who dose are those who also tell me that they appreciate the preaching. Work that out. I can't help feeling that people can get into the habit of not listening very well, and not expecting much from preaching, and so certain behaviours kick in.
Preaching is a divinely appointed means of grace. It is not a motivational pep talk, not a turn at open-mike night at the pub, it is not a lecture, it is not 'sharing'. It is the proclamation of herald of the King of Kings which must be delivered, or the herald must die trying. He must be heard because he fears the King more that the crowd. This has implications for the preacher and his task. But it also has implications for the hearer. Through preaching people believe and are saved (Romans 10:13,14). Through preaching people believe and live. The hearers must
receive the message of the King.
So, to finish, here are four ways to improve the benefit we receive from hearing God's word week by week:
- Preparing Well
- Learn to see the preaching of the word as the most significant time of the week – you are meeting God in the midst of his holy people, hearing his holy message!
- Prayerfulness the night before and in the morning. Ask God to open our hearts to receive his message. Ask for God to help the preacher.
Receiving in the Right Spirit
- "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." Acts 17:11
- Examine the scriptures as the word preached. This serves two functions:
- It keeps your mind alive to what you are hearing
- It is a necessary check against bad teaching
"And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe." 1Th 2:13
- in faith – it must be believed as we receive. It really is God's word!
- in love – if we love God, we love his word and want more of it.
- in submission – ready to act on what we hear without complaint.
- meditation – after the service, spend time thinking and praying over what you have heard. It's the kind of thing Sundays are for!
- Keep a record of what you have learned – note the scripture reading, the main point of sermon, the main headings, a paragraph summary of message
- discussion – talk about the implications of the sermon with others
- live it! – a transformed mind, and obedience to God's revealed will (Rom 12:2)
Incidentally, this is not really new. You can find similar in the Westminster Standards ( e.g. see Question 160 of the Larger Catechism