Last time we saw that God’s voice is to be found in Scripture, and we were warned that how we listen makes all the difference to us. The bare fact that God’s word is preached to us does not magically create transformation or blessing; how we hear matters very acutely. “Take care then how you hear,” Jesus says (Luke 8:18).
Since all of those who genuinely walk with Jesus get involved in a local church (as shown here, here, here, and here), my focus will be hearing God speak in the preached Word in public worship. Together we’ll consider ten points of action from Scripture.
- We must be born again. The natural man does not welcome God’s words and regards God’s infinite wisdom as folly (1 Corinthians 2:14). Indeed, he hates God’s word, and is unable to submit to it (Romans 8:7). This is why none can even see (much less enter) the Kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3, 5). Christ’s sheep, and only His sheep, hear His voice in the Word of God (John 10:27). No method can cure this problem; it requires a sovereign work of God’s life-giving Spirit.
- Pray. As we look to Scripture, we need to ask its Author for help. One golden prayer is, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). The wonders are there, but I may miss them. We must pray that we have integrity in how we accept God’s word (v. 80), and pray that God helps us incline our hearts to act on what we learn (v. 112), so that we do not forget it as soon as we finish reading or hearing (James 1:22-25).
- Pre-read. If we have chosen our church after Biblical priorities, the services are likely to go through books of the Bible verse by verse or chapter by chapter. This means we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves by reading the passage in advance. We should do that, asking questions, looking for applications, priming our mental pump. Then we will profit much more from the sermon.
- Get a good sleep. If church were magic, or if a shaman’s performance of rituals were the point, this wouldn’t matter. But it does matter. If I love God above all (Matthew 22:37), I will want to worship Him in the best frame of mind. So I will get to bed at a decent hour, and get up in time to be ready to worship with all my heart and soul, and receive the Word eagerly.
- Arrive early. If I’ve chosen a church Biblically, the leaders give thought and preparation to construct a service conducive to focusing on God, from the first moment to the last. I won’t show the thoughtless arrogance to decide that I don’t need to participate in all of it. Barring unpreventable events, I will arrive early enough to prepare myself fully to participate, and not to distract others from their own participation in worship by my late arrival. This is reasonable worship (Romans 12:1), and it is a small price to pay in honoring God (cf. 1 Chronicles 21:24).
- Pray. Again? Yes indeed, and this is another reason to arrive early. After all, I am a priest to God, part of a priestly people (1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6). It is my prayers that join with other saints to ascend as incense before God (Revelation 5:8). The pastor and other leaders are not my surrogate-worshipers. They equip me to serve (Ephesians 4:11ff.) – which they can’t do if I’m not there and in prayer for myself, for my church family, and for them (Ephesians 6:18-19).
- Take notes, or do something more effective. At our church we make it easy by handing out outlines, as many others do. Generally, the more of our senses we involve in learning, the likelier we are to remember. We see that principle put very vividly in Deuteronomy 6:6-10, with the call to memorize, teach, repeat, and write God’s words. Again and again Scripture calls us to memorize and remember, and warns us against forgetting (Deuteronomy 4:9; 8:11; 11:18; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; 119:9, 11, etc.). We should expect to work hard to grow as lifelong students of God’s word (John 8:31-32; 1 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 5:11-14). If note-taking is not your most effective way to retain, what is?
- Find ways to review, soon. If you are in a Christian family, discuss the sermons and Bible lessons afterward (Deuteronomy 6:7; 11:18-19, etc.). If not, make other opportunities to review with others (Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25). At our church, the Sunday evening service is devoted to finding creative ways to “dig deeper” into the Biblical truths expounded in the morning service. Plus, run over them prayerfully in your own mind.
- Be looking for “shoes” that “fit.” Perhaps you were tempted to wish that some absent person had heard the sermon you heard. But in God’s providence, he or she wasn’t there – you were. So what did the Holy Spirit say to you through the Scripture (cf. Hebrews 3:7ff.; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)? Did something hurt, make you wince or cringe? Was a favorite sin fingered painfully? Were you brought to see an area that needs to be changed? Then that was God, dealing with you, personally. Do not quickly turn away and forget (James 1:22-25). To do so is to harden your heart, and that’s the sure path to disaster (Hebrews 3:7ff.).
- Take action. Faith acts. Faith takes God’s Word to heart, holds onto it, and bears bumper crops of fruit (Luke 8:8, 15). Probably every Biblical sermon or lesson we hear calls us to some sort of action – and a vital, living faith would move us to hear God’s Word, and then to do God’s Word. This is another great reason to take notes. As you see some personal area needing repentance or growth, note it down and underline it, and return to it after the service is over. Then go ask forgiveness, or confront, or encourage, or volunteer, or reach out – whatever God’s Word called you to. This is the real way the living God relates to us and brings growth, and this is how we respond and know God’s blessing.
Have we unwittingly indulged in magical thinking? Let us repent, and approach God through His Word as He calls us to.