If you expect that this blog will divulge the secrets of the Pastor’s study, you are going to be sorely disappointed. It is not that I am unwilling to describe the process I go through in preparing a sermon. It is just that my intention is not to discuss my sermon preparation, but yours!
How do most people prepare for sermons? Frankly, they don’t! They assume that if they start listening when the Pastor starts preaching, that is sufficient. But soon attention wanders, and then the sermon is over. There may be a lingering disappointment that “I didn’t get much out of his sermon today!” But maybe the problem lies not only with the preacher, but with the listener.
Consider this statement: Inadequate preparation to hear a sermon can be as spiritually deadly as inadequate preparation to preach a sermon.
Our Westminster Larger Catechism asks in Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the word preached? The answer is “It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.”
So how should you “prepare” to hear a sermon? Here are some suggestions that may enhance your sermon-hearing abilities. First, read your Bible. A regular habit of Bible reading will acquaint you with the teachings of Scripture. These provide the general context needful for any sermon on any passage. You want to view the part (the passage being preached) within the context of the whole (the entire Bible).
Also, if possible, read and reflect on the passage to be preached before you arrive at church on Sunday. That is usually put in the bulletin the week before, and can also be deduced from wherever I’m currently preaching. If I’m preaching Romans 13:1-4, it is a safe assumption that I’ll be preaching on that passage, or the very next verses, on the next Sunday.
For the more adventurous, you may want to do a little study on the passage beforehand. Do you have a study Bible? Check out the “notes” on those verses. Matthew Henry’s commentary is another good source to give you reliable perspective.
As you read and reflect, make the passage and the sermon a matter of prayer. Here are some prayers you could offer: “Lord, please help me to understand what this passage means, and what it requires me to believe and do.” “Lord, help Pastor to clearly explain this verse, and help me to clearly grasp the meaning.” “Lord, use this passage to help me grow in my faith toward Christ, and my love and obedience to you.”
Another bit of advice may be crucial to some: get some good sleep before you come to church. If you stay out late on Saturday, and go to bed in the “wee hours,” you may be drowsy during the service. Sleeping before church keeps you from sleeping during church! Still another practical suggestion is to eat something before church. Your body needs fuel for your brain to work well. If you are physically unable to concentrate, perhaps a little breakfast will help!
Arriving at church on time, you will be able to visit the restrooms, get your bulletin, sit down and have a few minutes to quiet your spirit before the service starts. The sanctuary is a quiet place to collect your thoughts and to spend a few minutes in prayer. Pray for yourself, pray for me, pray for your fellow worshipers. Ask God to drive distractions away, and to make you attentive to the whole service – especially to the preaching.
So give it a try! See how it works! And let me know what you’ve experienced!