How to train your children (and yourselves!) to listen to sermons (Part 2: Receiving the Preached Word).
Brothers & Sisters, last week I gave you the first part of Dr Joel Beeke’s article on training your children to listen to sermons (courtesy of “The Outlook” magazine from the Reformed Fellowship Inc. – visit https://www.reformedfellowship.net/ to see the good work of this group!). I hope and trust that you found it useful not just for training children (for those with children), but also for your own preparations. I hope, trust, and pray that the second part proves similarly helpful for all of us in receiving the Word of God!
Isaac – Soli Deo Gloria!
Receiving the Preached Word
Here are some guidelines for you to teach your family about listening rightly to God’s Word
1. Dear family, listen with an understanding, tender conscience. Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3–23; Mark 4:1–20; Luke 8:4–15) presents us with four types of listeners, all of whom hear the same word. First, the stony-hearted, superficial listener is like a hard path. The sower’s seed, or the Word of God, makes little impression on this hard heart. If a minister addresses this person’s conscience, this hardened heart shifts the blame to others. Second, the easily impressed but resistant listener is like rocky ground. A plant begins to spring up from this seed, but it soon withers and dies because it lacks sufficient nutrients. The plant cannot survive because it cannot grow roots among the rocks. Jesus presents here a listener that seems initially to listen well to the Word. This listener would like to add religion to his life, but he does not want to hear about the kind of radical discipleship that involves self-denial, taking up his cross, and following Christ. Thus, when persecution comes, this listener fails to live out the gospel in practical ways. He wants to be friends with the world, the church, and with God. Third, the half-hearted, distracted listener is like thorn-ridden soil. As Luke 8:14 says, “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” This kind of listener tries to absorb the Word of God with one ear while thinking with the other about business, interest rates, pension funds, and inflation. He serves God only partially. His conscience is quickly quieted, and the Word of God is quickly choked by the thorns.
Finally, the understanding, fruitful listener applies the gospel teaching he hears on Sunday to his conscience and life throughout the week. He believes with his heart that if Jesus Christ has sacrificed everything for him, nothing is too difficult to surrender in grateful obedience to Christ. Before all else, he seeks the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33). Grace reigns in his heart. He brings forth fruit, “some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matt. 13:23)
2. Dear family, listen attentively to the preached Word. Luke 19:48 describes people who were very attentive to Christ. Literally translated, the text says, “they hung upon him, hearing.” Lydia showed such an open heart when she “attended” or “turned her mind” to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14). Such attentiveness involves banishing wandering thoughts, dullness of mind, and drowsiness (Matt. 13:25). It regards a sermon as a matter of life and death (Deut. 32:47).
We must not listen to sermons as spectators but as participants. The minister should not be the only one working. Good listening is hard work; it involves worshiping God continuously. An attentive listener responds quickly—whether with repentance, resolution, determination, or praise—and God is honoured in this.
Jesus commands us to understand what we hear. He challenges us to think, and that takes work. We are to attend to His Word. The word attend is derived from two Latin words: the first means “to” and the second, tendo, means “to stretch or bend.” From this we get the word tendon, or a sinew that stretches. Thus, the word attend literally means we must stretch our minds by listening. This implies reaching out with all our mental and spiritual powers to grasp the meaning of a message. Are you stretching your spiritual muscles as you listen to the Word? Are you attentive to the preached Word?
As you listen to the Word of God, ask yourself, How does God want me to be different on account of this sermon? Ask what God wants you to know what you did not know before. Ask what truths you are learning that He wants you to believe. And ask how He wants you to put those truths into practice. In every sermon you hear—even those on the most basic gospel themes—God offers you truths to believe and put into practice. Pray for grace to work at listening
3. Dear family, listen with submissive faith. As James 1:21 says, “Receive with meekness the engrafted word.” This kind of meekness involves a submissive frame of heart, “a willingness to hear the counsels and reproofs of the word.” Through this kind of faith, the Word is engrafted into the soul and produces “the sweet fruit of righteousness.”
Faith is the key to profitably receiving the Word. Luther wrote, “Faith is not an achievement, it is a gift. Yet it comes only through the hearing and study of the Word.” If the chief ingredient of a medicine is missing, the medicine will not be effective. So be sure not to leave out the chief ingredient, faith, as you listen to a sermon. Seek grace to believe and apply the whole Word (Rom. 13:14), along with the promises, the invitations, and the admonitions as they are spoken.
“The whole Word is the object of faith,” wrote Thomas Manton. Therefore we need “faith in the histories, for our warning and caution; faith in the doctrines, to increase our reverence and admiration; faith in the threatenings, for our humiliation; faith in the precepts, for our subjection; and faith in the promises, for our consolation. They all have their use: the histories to make us wary and cautious; the doctrines to enlighten us with a true sense of God’s nature and will; the precepts to direct us, and to try and regulate our obedience; the promises to cheer and comfort us; the threatenings to terrify us, to run anew to Christ, to bless God for our escape, and to add spurs to our duty.
4. Dear family, listen with humility and serious self-examination. Do I humbly examine myself under the preaching of God’s Word, trembling at its impact (Isa. 66:2)? Do I cultivate a meek and submissive spirit, receiving God’s truth as a student while being intimately aware of my own depravity? Do I seriously examine myself under preaching, listening for my own instruction rather than for the instruction of others? We must not respond like Peter, who said to Jesus, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” We must listen to Jesus’ admonition: “What is that to thee? follow thou me” (John 21:21–22). When the marks of grace are set before us, we must ask: Do I experience these marks? Do I listen for the truths of God, wanting to be admonished or corrected where I have gone astray? Do I relish having the Word of God applied to my life? Do I pray that the Spirit may apply his Word, as Robert Burns put it, to my “business and bosom”?
When a doctor tells you how to maintain your health or that of your children, do you not listen carefully so that you can follow his directions? When the heavenly Physician gives you divine directions for your soul, should you not listen every bit as carefully so that you can follow God’s instructions for your life?