In our fast-food, give-me-the-main-point, single-sheet-of-paper, I-want-it-now culture the sermon is often viewed as the most boring, long, and dry portion of the service on the Lord’s day. The truth is, we have forgotten how to prepare for, listen to, and apply the sermon which we hear from the Pastor’s lips on a Sunday. If the sermon is too long we leave the service grumpy because we will be last in line at our favorite restaurant, and by the time we have reached the lobby of the church we have forgotten whatever it was that the Pastor was up there talking about for 45 minutes. I want to offer a plea and some help for you as you will engage with the sermon on Sunday morning. I would like to do this in three sections; 1) how to prepare your heart; 2) how to listen attentively; 3) how you live out the sermon.
How to Prepare Your Heart
Sermon preparation is not something only for the preacher. Yes, he is going to spend 20+ hours a week studying for an hour long sermon. But the laymen, that is the church congregant, must also do a type of sermon preparation before entering the church doors on a Sunday. There are three main ways in which they may do that. First, your sermon preparation begins on Saturday evening. That evening you must begin to pray that the sovereign Lord over all things would open your eyes to His glory, your sin, and the wonderful nature of the Gospel. Saturday evening is for prayer, and longing for the streams of refreshing water which flow from the Word of God exposited rightly. Second, as you are getting dressed and preparing yourself for the Lord’s day you should still be praying. This prayer should be a plea for God to give you and your fellow Christians a heart that loves Him, ears that hear His Word proclaimed, eyes to see that which is in the text, and a mind to comprehend what the Pastor is saying. This could even be a prayer of repentance before you enter the Lord’s house. Perhaps you have wronged your husband, wife, sibling, or dear friend. Make it right before entering into the Triune-God’s house of worship. Lastly, as you enter into the church, may your affections be leaping out of your soul. May you truly enter into His courts with thanksgiving and praise (Ps. 100:4). Remember that the Lord is good. You are in His house to worship His name. May your mind and heart be full of thanksgiving and wonderful joy as you think of His providence in keeping you for the last week, on His Son’s glory as He rose on that glorious Sunday morning, and on the Spirit’s resurrection of your own heart. Come into His house with singing in your inward parts.
How to Listen Attentively
The preacher has been preparing this sermon all week. God has given Him a text and a zeal for the contents of it. The singing has just ended and the preacher has taken the pulpit. I imagine that He begins with prayer, as I do and all Pastors should before opening their mouths to speak. As the preacher prays, you must not simply listen to him as though he is praying and everyone gets to listen. Pray with him! Ask that the Lord may give him a zeal, passion, and love for his text. That God would grant comprehension, understanding, and retention to the people’s minds. Pray that the Lord would awaken the dead souls of the unregenerate person. Pray with your Pastor.
Next, he has finished his prayer and has begun to exposit the text. He does not need to spend time “grabbing your attention,” because your soul has been longing and waiting for this since you left the doors last week. Now, the exposition of the text is not your time to sit back and relax. There are two things you must be doing. First, you must have your copy of the text open. This is why we bring Bibles into church. Not because of tradition or to look cool. No, we bring our copy of the Word because we should be keeping the preacher accountable. Every word he says must be tested against what the text says. The Sunday morning sermon is not a place for the preacher’s opinion. Keep one eye on the preacher and one eye on the text. Follow him on the journey through the text, and take notes of every corner which you turn on that journey together. Second, pause occasionally to pray once again. This does not need to be long, just a simple, “Lord help my pastor now in this moment.”
How to Live Out a Sermon
There is an old Puritan tale that speaks of a man coming home to a sick wife after church one afternoon. The wife sees her husband enter the home, perhaps surprised he was home earlier than she anticipated, and says; “Is the sermon over already?” He responds, “the sermon has been said, but it has yet to be done.” Now, whether this is a true story I do not know, but the premise is the same; just because the preacher is finished, does not mean that the sermon has been done. There have been truths drawn up from the well of Scripture, and now it is your duty to not forget them, but to partake in those truths, to live them out, and meditate upon them (if the sermon was a feast, listening is taking a bite, and meditating is your chewing and digesting). When you exit the doors of the church you should have conversations about the text and the sermon, together with your family and friends you should never let the Word of God its teaching leave your lips. Football, hunting, and all other things should not be the primary point of discussion. The blessed man is said to love the law of God, and meditate upon it day and night (Ps. 1:3). Seek ways to live out and meditate upon the truths which are exposited in the sermon on the Lord’s day.