Preparing To Hear
Some books are like a pleasant conversation while out for a spring walk; you can saunter along the pages, nodding in agreement and emerging at the index some time later no worse for the wear. Other books, however, are a bit more demanding. They're the ones that jump on your back, make every step a deliberate challenge, and may even deliver a couple of kicks to your midsection when you least expect it.
I have been working through Gospel Worship, by Jeremiah Burroughs, which is just such a brutal, convicting, ultimately treasurable read. Burroughs, a prolific 17th-century English Puritan, had a high regard for both the cause and practice of worshipping our Lord. One of the subjects that continues to come up in his writing is the idea of preparing for worship, including the hearing of God's Word. This passage in particular stopped me cold:
"There must be a preparation of the soul so that, when to come to hear, you may receive the Word of God with all readiness. The soul must be made ready. Acts 17:11: "There were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind...Their minds were in a fit preparation to receive the Word..."
As I am writing this, it is a pleasant Saturday afternoon. I'm drinking coffee, the house is remarkably quiet, and the arrival of Sunday, the Lord's Day, may seem quite far off just now. But I believe Burroughs is right--there is a preparation that goes into coming to worship, and specifically, in hearing God's Word proclaimed Sunday morning. I was reminded of Exodus 19, which tells us how the sons of Israel were to prepare before coming into the special presence of Almighty God. That still holds true for us today--we don't become a more important class of Christian or somehow more worthy of grace by doing so, but it is still massively important to prepare our hearts and minds for worship of our God.
Now, the wife and I have three children. That means three times the opportunities for someone to wake up cranky, to not finish their breakfast, to take too long in the shower, to drop-kick a sibling on the stairs, to lose their retainer, and to otherwise generally make life as hard as possible between piling in the van and arriving, by a seeming miracle, on Sunday morning. But I believe that when things are important enough to us, we don't "wave the white flag" and just assume this is how it is going to be--we consciously look at how we can improve how we approach the matter at hand. While understanding life happens, here are several items I examined in terms of preparing for hearing God's Word:
Rest the Night Before. Of course, not everyone's situation is the same; life can hand us any number of circumstances that preclude a restful Saturday evening. But just as we would prepare for any important event with a "good night's sleep", we never want to engage in anything that we know is going to adversely impact what should be of the highest importance. We know that when we're groggy, trying to follow preaching gets much harder. On the Lord's Day, we are preparing to be able to worship our God in a special, amazing way, as rebels pardoned, forgiven, welcomed into the throne room of our God! When we compartmentalize Sunday morning into something that has nothing to do with the rest of the week, then all too often the rest of the week begins to bleed into our Sunday. The Bible has many verses that speak to the importance of continued priority of worship and reverence; pray, that like David, we may say, "I have set the Lord continually before me" (Psalm 16:8)
Adequately Plan Not To Be Rushed. Whomever coined the phrase "no plan survives contact with the enemy" was probably talking about getting small children ready for church. But if every week, we are strolling into church 10 minutes after the start of service, Starbucks cup in hand, have we really planned as if making it to church on time was important? Would we treat our job like that (and how long would we last if we did)? Would we show up late to our wedding or a funeral, apologizing about how long the barista took? Hebrews 10:23-25 talks about "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another". While this is a directive to not ignore going to church, it also speaks to priorities. Am I valuing 15 minutes of sleep more than assembling in a timely manner with my brothers and sisters in Christ? Am I waking up in enough time to demonstrate where my priorities lie? For many of us, this might mean simply looking at our mornings, and doing a better job of consciously planning on Sundays. Pray that our time is well-used and well-considered in preparing to hear the Word.
Dedicate The Time To The Lord. When life gets crazy, it is so easy to go into spectator/"warm body" mode on a Sunday morning. Yes, we made it to church, but our mind is running with what we have planned for Monday, if we added everything to the grocery list, maybe checking our social media notifications. Maybe we're tired, maybe we're fussy, but we have checked out. John 4:24 reminds us "those who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and truth". God doesn't receive worship by people whose hearts are far away, and who are engaged in something else entirely; we have to focus, jump in, and be involved. Take the time to pray in regards to what you are going to hear from the Bible. Yes, there are Sundays where we are really struggling, and may feel as if we are in the middle of the spiritual Mojave Desert. But we engage knowing that what God has done for poor sinners trumps how we feel in the moment. Pray that the Lord would give you the wisdom and focus to hear and respond in all worship and especially in the hearing of the Word.
Christian, if you are struggling with these things, you are not alone. All of us can benefit from a thorough review of how we handle the Lord's Day and preparation for the same. In speaking of coming together to worship, Burroughs writes, "So let us look upon God in His excellency and glory and have high thoughts of Him". May we pray for the wisdom and encouragement to do the same in hearing the precious Word of our Lord.