Each week, Susan, our church secretary, sends out an email to the congregation with the subject line, “Preparing for Sunday Worship.” Included in this email is the text of Scripture from which the preacher will be preaching on the following Sunday. Whether you have been attending Faith Community Church for ten years, ten months, or even one month, it should be evident that we place a high priority on the preaching of God’s Word during the worship service. This emphasis on preaching is not just a matter of worship style, like choosing to sing old hymns versus contemporary choruses; or choosing to use a guitar and piano versus drums. This emphasis on preaching is a mandate from God’s Word:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
Preaching is God’s primary means of sanctifying us. We are also discipled by the company we keep and the books we read – but first and foremost by the preaching we hear. A preacher must be fully committed to preparing every week to stand and deliver God’s word. However, humanly speaking, the preacher does not bear sole responsibility for the outcome in the preaching endeavor; the listener also has an important role to play and bears some of the responsibility. I have sat under Pastor Tim’s preaching for over twenty-two years and I know that he is absolutely committed to being the best preacher possible. We should have a similar commitment to being the best listener possible. When the preacher does his part and you do your part, God’s Spirit will use His word to accomplish His purposes in your life.
So, I would ask you a question: What are you doing each week in preparation for worship and hearing God’s word?
My aim is to set before you some very practical ways that will hopefully help you in preparing to hear God’s word. Listening to the preaching of God’s word is not like listening to a lecture in math or biology, for the simple fact that these and any other academic subjects do not deal with the spiritual and do not confront our sinful flesh. But the preaching of God’s word does – at least it should do that. And this stirs up our flesh to resist hearing it. Our flesh resists anything related to communion with God, whether it’s hearing God’s word, reading God’s word, or praying Have you ever wondered why it is often so easy to stay up late watching a movie or reading a book, but as soon as you start reading your Bible or praying, you find it difficult to concentrate and your mind wanders, or all of a sudden you find it difficult to stay awake? Our flesh wages war against our spirit, resisting every spiritual act, including the hearing of God’s word. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves to hear it.
So here are a few practical steps to help you prepare yourself to hear God’s Word:
1. Read God’s Word daily throughout the week. Reading God’s word every day throughout the week will help you develop a healthy appetite for God’s word. You cannot expect to come to church on Sunday with a hunger for God’s word when you haven’t been feeding on it throughout the week. John Piper has likened daily Bible reading to eating an appetizer that cultivates a spiritual appetite for the Sunday sermon; it prepares and trains your palate for the main meal.
One of the best ways to get your palate ready for Sunday morning is to read and meditate on the passage that Pastor Tim preaches next. So the next time you receive Susan’s “Preparation for Worship” email, spend some time reading, meditating and/or studying the passage on your own. This will help you have a good, basic understanding of the passage, and will whet your appetite for Sunday morning.
2. Pray throughout the week. I refer to these as the prayers of preparation.
This is what the psalmist was doing when he prayed,
“Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).
Pray that God would give you a teachable spirit and that he would give you wisdom (James 1:5). I have made these verses a regular part of my prayers of preparation for Sunday morning.
We should also pray for the one in the pulpit. Preaching God’s word is an arduous task. We should always be mindful to lift up our pastor in prayer – not just on Sunday morning when he preaches, but throughout the week as he prepares. The command to preachers is to be ready in season and out of season; which means, preaching is always in season. If the preacher is in a spiritual valley or has an extra-full week with his other pastoral duties, he can’t just mail in his sermon. He has to bring it—every week. The challenging part is not getting up and preaching a sermon on Sunday morning; the challenge is being prepared to preach the next Sunday, and the next Sunday and next Sunday, week after week, month after month, year after year. Being ready in season and out of season, even when he himself might feel like he is out of season – he is still under divine command to be ready. Most people have no idea how difficult this is. Philip Ryken writes,
“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 preacher, 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.”
Prayer should be a regular part of your preparation for worship.
3. Confess Your Sin. Isaiah 59:1-2 teaches us that unconfessed sin will hinder our prayers to God:
“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
In a similar way, unconfessed sin will also hinder your ability to hear Him through His word. We should come to hear God’s word with a clean heart. James 1:21 says, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”Unconfessed sin is like a layer of clay over your heart, preventing the word from watering it. Confession of sin breaks up that clay and prepares your heart to receive the word.
4. Reduce Your Media Intake. This is something that I believe we should all continually evaluate in our lives. According to one recent survey, the average American watches over four hours of TV per day. That’s not including other media such as internet, radio, and movies. We are constantly bombarded with visual stimulation that conditions and diminishes our ability to be able to listen and comprehend God’s Word. Listening, truly listening, demands a great deal of concentration and self-discipline.
5. Plan Ahead. Make it a habit to plan ahead on Sunday mornings. Here are a few simple suggestions:
- Get a good night’s rest on Saturday night so you will be mentally and physically alert for worship on Sunday morning. It’s hard to listen when you are nodding off.
Eat a moderate breakfast. Eating too much can you leave you feeling tired and not eating at all can leave you feeling too hungry and easily distracted. A moderate breakfast that does not leave you in a “carbohydrate coma” will help you to remain alert and attentive during church.
Arrive at church ten minutes early so you have enough time to find a place to park, drop the kids off at the nursery, visit for a few minutes with friends and still have plenty of time to get settled in your seat.
When you fail to plan ahead, especially if you have small children, just getting to church on Sunday morning can leave you feeling rushed and maybe even frustrated, and your heart is in no condition to worship or receive God’s word. But if you plan ahead and arrive in a more relaxed way, you will be in a much more receptive frame of mind.
Greg and his wife Allison were married in 2003 and are the proud parents of five children. Greg holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Park University. He is the Chairman of the Faith Community Church Board of Elders, and serves in a variety of capacities, including the Orphan Ministry Board, the Orphan Ministry Board, and occasional teaching.