Seven Rules for Preparing to Hear the Word of God Preached
When Jesus says in Luke 8.18, “Take care then how you hear,” it’s obvious from vv. 4-15 that He’s talking about how we listen to the preached Word. Many heard His preaching with hardened and distracted hearts and recieved no real eternal good from it (vv. 11-14). Only a few heard with hearts softened by grace to both receive and bring forth fruit (v. 15).
With this in mind, three things are immediately clear: 1) Few listen to sermons well. 2) It’s hard to listen to sermons well. 3) It’s critical that we listen to sermons carefully and heartily if we expect to benefit from them. But how can we do this?
Much is lost and wasted by lack of preparation. The reason we listen poorly is because we poorly prepare to listen. Indeed, the very reason so many Sabbaths are lost on God’s people––for whose eternal benefit He provides them (Mk 2.27), is because they fail to prepare for them on Saturday. In such a case, the Lord’s Day, which is the Queen of our days, fattened with God’s gracious fare, the market-day for our souls, is practically imposed upon us, with its privileged duties being almost forced from us––all for lack of preparation.
So how do we prepare for hearing the Word preached? Let me give you seven rules or principles for your preparation.
- Lay aside all worldly thoughts, concerns, and business, in order that your mind may be free for God and the impressions of His Word and Spirit.
On Saturday night, shut up the eyes of your heart against the world as Nehemiah did the gates of Jerusalem (Neh 13.19-20). Whatever seeks your attention should be considered a distraction to the duty at hand, and should be kept out of your heart until the Sabbath is over. Otherwise, while your ears may receive the Sunday sermons, your mind and heart will get nothing, because they’re already filled the things of the world. Leave the world at the foot of the mountain when you ascend it in worship. Only then will you be able to hear well.
- Consider and meditate on the great importance of the Word of God.
It is the ordinary means appointed by God to convert the sinner and sanctify the converted (Js 1.18; 1Cor 4.15; Rom 10.17). Therefore labor to have a high esteem of the preaching of the gospel (Rom 1.16). God has appointed it in mercy to work both your conversion and eternal salvation. It was appointed for your benefit and you have every reason to expect that God will so use it if you so listen to it.
It is true that God can and does work where and when and how He pleases. He can work in your life without Sunday’s sermons and even without the church. He does not need means or instruments to do His will. But you do. Why? Because while He has not tied Himself to use means, He has tied you to use them, when you have them. Therefore no one has any reason to expect God will bless him when he willfully neglects those means by which the Lord has told him to seek His blessings–especially that primary means of the preaching of His Word.
Moreover, consider again that the intent of the Word is not only to regenerate (Rom 10.17), but to nourish, increase, and perfect your faith and spiritual graces (Eph 4.11-14). Your knowledge is imperfect, your faith is weak, your affections for the things of God are dull, and your will to obey His Commandments is often backwards. Is there no remedy for this immaturity!? Indeed, there is. The regular preaching of the Word of God was ordained for that purpose. But for those who slight His Word, is it any wonder if they sit barren under its powerful and faithful preaching?
- When you’re going to hear the preached Word, consider where it is that you’re going.
You’re going to meet with the great God of heaven and earth, a God that is not to be trifled with (Lev 10.3). When the Israelites were to hear God speak the Lord told Moses to have them sanctify themselves beforehand (Ex 19.9-11). What does this mean for us today? James tells us: “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (1.21).
Consider therefore that this God is present when you gather to worship Him and hear His Word preached; and consider that He speaks with you directly in the preaching of His Word (1Thes 2.13). Learn to say with Jacob, “Surely, the Lord is in this place” (Gen 28.16).
- Before you go to church, don’t fail to pray earnestly to the Lord on behalf of both the preacher and yourself.
For the preacher: pray that the Lord would teach him what he should teach the saints, and would direct and enable him to declare His mind to His people for their salvation and edification. Pray that he would be greatly helped by the Holy Spirit in his preparations, studies, and preaching. If the Apostle Paul coveted the prayers of the church, then so does your pastor (Rom 15.30; Eph 6.18-20; Col 4.3-4).
For yourself: pray that the Lord would fix your mind and make it serious, that He would enlighten your mind and open your heart (Acts 16.14) to understand and receive His truths, that you would have a heart to believe and embrace the truth in love, that truth would not float around in your thoughts to no purpose, but would sink down in your heart (Rom 10.10), for a faith only in the mind is no better than a devil’s faith (Js 2.19). Pray that the Spirit would use the preached Word to subdue your lusts and corruptions.
- Labor to come with a teachable and pliable frame of spirit.
There are three sorts of spirits that are opposite to this: 1) the caviling spirit that stands ready to raise objections to everything. 2) the angry spirit that stands ready to take up arms against every admonition and reproof. The conviction that should humble this person provokes him instead (compare the response in Acts 2.37 to that in Acts 7.54). A guilty conscience thinks the minister aims at him in particular and intends to disgrace him and therefore hates him for it. Yet, it’s noteworthy that those who are most angry at reproofs in a sermon are usually those who most deserve them. 3) the hardened spirit by which a man is “sermon-proof.” He’s resolved to hold his own (his own sins!) and not give over (Lk 7.30; Acts 13.46).
Instead, a meek, humble, and teachable spirit is joined with a tender heart and stands ready to receive the impressions of God’s truth (Acts 10.33). The sermon works to change, transform, and bless this person because he listens with a tender heart to the God of the Word.
- Come with an appetite and a longing desire to profit by the Word.
Nothing makes the wholesome food of God’s Word taste so good and do so well as an appetite for it (Mt 5.6). Some people come to the sermon already full of the world and therefore with no spiritual appetite for it. Would that the saints would wait upon the words of the herald of their Saviour like those who waited upon Job’s words (Job 29.23)! Would that they had the affections of David for it (Ps 42.1-2)! Would that they would pant after Christ, who is altogether lovely, as the world pants after its deceitful pleasures that satisfy not! Then we would see sermons work! But when people come with no appetite, with no desire for the Christ of heaven and already full of the dust of the earth, and sit down to be seen by men, the most blessed gospel-truths are to them but as tasteless as the white of an egg. Rather than relish the preaching of Christ and Him crucified, they find it stale and say with those in Amos 8.5, “When will the Sabbath be over!?”
- Having sought the Lord and taken pains to bring your heart into a right frame, come to the preached Word with expectation.
Jesus often said, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Mt 9.29); and truly, people usually do profit by sermons according to their expectations.
But take this caution: don’t ground your expectations on anything in the minister. If you come to hear a man, then you will leave after hearing a man; but if you come to hear God, then you will meet with God in His Word and leave after hearing from God in His Word (compare Acts 9.7; 22.9). Therefore expect your blessings, not from the minister–who is but a man, a jar of clay and nothing more–but from God’s promise to bless those who attend upon His Word (Prov 8.17; Jer 29.13; Amos 5.4).
May the Lord use these rules and principles for your edification. May He be pleased to open your heart to receive them and enable your will to put them into practice. Just think how much more profitable the preaching of God’s Word would be to you if you duly prepared to hear it. When we get nothing from the preaching of His Word and end the Lord’s Day no better than we started it, the fault is surely our own, for He is faithful who has promised good to us by it (Num 10.29).
––Your servant for His sake, Pastor La Belle
 Adapted from Rev. Samuel Cradock, 1659.