During a visit with staff workers to a family, when we asked how that couple felt attending Sunday worship, both of them responded, "We often feel empty when listening to the sermon; it seems like we return home empty." When we inquired about their approach to listening to the sermon, they mentioned they hardly ever prepared themselves intentionally for it.
Many people don't benefit from sermons, possibly because the pastor isn't faithfully preparing and delivering the message. However, more often than not, it's the audience's lack of preparation and attitude that determines whether the message from the pulpit impacts their hearts and prompts a change in their lives. So, how does one prepare?
Absorbed in God's words quietly on Saturday evening
The more prepared, the more believers engaged in the service; the less prepared, the less engaged; no preparation leads to undevoted worship. I believe this principle of 'preparing the heart' applies not only to the pastor but also to the listener. If a believer doesn't humble themselves and quiet their hearts before God in worship, even the most brilliant sermon might not change their lives.
Many times, we overlook setting aside time on Saturday evenings to prepare our hearts, easily letting time slip away for entertainment, work, or staying up late. I've seen many young Christians posting on social media at midnight on Saturdays, then rushing to church on Sunday morning in a drowsy state and hastily grabbing breakfast. It becomes challenging to invest enough energy and vitality during worship and sermon time.
Therefore, on Saturday evenings, let's put away our phones and pray quietly for our hearts. We can meditate on a Psalm before bed, like Rev. Spurgeon, or focus on a passage of the Bible, preparing ourselves to fully engage in communion with God's life in Christ the next day.
Familiarize yourself with the sermon's scriptures beforehand
Usually, pastors announce the sermon's scriptures in the weekly bulletin on Saturdays (if your church doesn't, you can suggest this). Reflecting on these scriptures on Saturday evening or Sunday morning can make us more familiar with and confident in our grasp of the sermon's content. Also, ask yourself these four questions: 1. What is this scripture teaching me? 2. Am I obedient, disobedient, or doubtful about this teaching? 3. How can I seek salvation in Jesus Christ through this? 4. How can I live out this scripture's teaching in the smallest aspects of my life?
Rev. John Piper tells his congregation, "On Saturday night, read some delicious portion of your Bible with a view to stirring up hunger for God. This is the appetizer for Sunday morning's meal."
Cultivate the habit of taking notes
A male believer once asked me, "How can I stay focused during an hour-long sermon?" I said, "Try practicing taking notes during the sermon and make it a habit to write while listening." Note-taking helps believers stay attentive during sermons and prevents distraction or drowsiness. It allows for a clear review of the sermon's key points at home on Sunday evening. It also helps keep their brains in a state of continuous thought, elevating the quality of sermon listening.
If you want to understand the sermon, you need to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit rather than on your ability. It is necessary to prepare the heart to seek spiritual growth through every service.
- Translated by Abigail Wu