How Then Shall We Listen? Our Catechism's Tips on Listening to Sermons -- Part 1
I have often found question and answer 90 of the WSC to be one of the most practical in the entire catechism. It asks, “How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?” The question comes after the catechism has established that the Word is one of God’s primary means of grace, and that the Holy Spirit uses the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, to convince and convert sinners. I want to be convinced and converted by the Word. I want built up in holiness and comfort and faith unto salvation (WSC 89). So what can I do to not resist that work but rather to embrace it? This is the answer:
That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.
Recognizing that these are methods to be employed both as we read the Bible and as we hear it preached, the next few weeks I want to take the opportunity to unpack this answer specifically in the context of what it means to listen to the preached word. The answer can be split into four sections. We will deal with the first section this week, which comes with three subpoints: that the Word may become effectual to salvation, we should attend to it with diligence, preparation, and prayer.
First, diligence. We must pursue the Word. We must be intentional about hearing it proclaimed. Quite simply, if we want the Spirit of God to do the work He promises to do through the Word, than we must be there when it is preached! So a very easy thing that we can all do is simply show up to church. There are many reasons not to, of course. We are tired, we are feeling antisocial, there’s a work thing, or a school thing, whatever. We often attend to these other responsibilities in life with a diligence that is missing when it comes to the things of God. But to attend the preaching of God’s Word with diligence is so much more important, as it offers the promise of salvation. Fight the excuses that crop up to skip out on preaching with this promise. Maybe you’ve had that “pick and choose” mentality before: if you see the guest preacher isn’t someone you enjoy, or if the pastor is going through a book that bores you, you skip out until something better comes along. But it doesn’t matter if you like or dislike the preacher, the series, the whatever—if God’s Word is being opened up and proclaimed, do everything in your ability to be there.
Second, preparation. Don’t be caught off guard by preaching. At our church, the website lets you know the sermon text for each service well in advance of Sunday morning. Actually, the entire liturgy is uploaded online by Thursday night! Review the Scripture reading for Sunday. Mark down any parts that confuse you, or questions you might have, so that you can be ready to listen for the answer in the sermon. Other ways to prepare would be making sure you get enough sleep the night before, turning your phone off during the service, and bringing your Bible and notepad to church.
Third, prayer. Prayer is how we can be most diligent and most prepared. Pray that the Lord would give you a desire to sit under the preaching of His precious Word. Pray for the minister in his preparation, and pray for those who are in attendance in their reception. Pray that God would be glorified. Take your cue from the psalmist and pray that the Lord would speak to your personally through preaching: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law!” (Psalm 119:18).