Sunday. For the preacher, it comes every week, right on time, relentlessly. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had to perform four weddings and a funeral, or if the Greek in Luke took some arm wrestling to understand, or if you were in a fender-bender and two days were spent on the paperwork. On Sunday morning when the band stops playing, the congregation doesn’t want excuses, they want preaching. They (rightly) expect the preacher to be prepared. The sermon should be well-researched, well-illustrated, well-delivered, and well-worth-getting-up-so-darn-early-for. I’ve got no problem with that. But I do have a question for the congregation: How prepared are you for the Sunday sermon?
It is not only the preacher who has preparation to do for the sermon. When you know you are going to an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant, you don’t gorge yourself on the leftover lasagna in the fridge a half-hour before dining out. Yes, the chef is the one with the most urgent preparation, but the customer comes ready to enjoy the meal. Sermons are best devoured by the hungry. This takes some spiritual preparation.
Ken Ramey has an excellent book called Expository Listening in which he gives a dozen tips on how to prepare for receiving the sermon at church. Here are three of my favorites.
1. Spend time reading and meditating on God’s Word every day.
I like this one. You know how on the Kellog’s Special K cereal box it guarantees that you will lose weight if you eat their product “as part of a balanced diet.” What they mean is, if you want to lose weight, get fit, and stay healthy, it doesn’t help to build a discipline of having one, huge, healthy breakfast per week, while scarfing down Twinkies and Donuts the rest of the time.
Likewise, the best gym work-out session is one that follows a long, consistent series of previous work out sessions. Spiritually, the most effective sermons are those who have heard as part of a “balanced diet” of Bible intake.
2. Sit down a few minutes before the service starts, and spend a few moment in silent prayer to prepare your heart for what you are about to hear.
Your church band’s last-minute practice and sound check may not be conducive to this happening in the church building. But even if it’s a few seconds of silence at home before you pack the kids into the car, the act of pausing to consider the gravity of the church event, is often enough to help you get more out of the sermon and songs.
3. Pray for those who will be preaching/teaching God’s Word.
My preaching professor warned us that people would sometimes come up directly after a sermon and feel compelled to tell you that they didn’t think it was a great sermon. I couldn’t imagine someone being that insensitive, until it happened to me. “Boy pastor, you looked really tired today. Your preaching lacked its usual passion. Did you get enough sleep?” You want to say to Mr Pew Warmer, “Perhaps the reason you’re always so rested is because you don’t serve in the church at all.” But you can’t say that, so you say, “Sir, you get what you pray for!”
Praying for the preacher not only provides real spiritual power in his battle against the obstacles Satan will put in the way of clear, convicting, proclamation of truth, but it also helps you to be less critical about what you are hearing.