How to train your children (and yourselves!) to listen to sermons (Part 3: Practicing the Preached Word).
Brothers & Sisters, over the last two weeks I have been directing your attention to an article written by Dr Joel Beeke 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 have found these articles useful not just for training children (for those with children), but also for your own preparations. I hope, trust, and pray that the third and final instalment will prove equally helpful for all of us in practicing the Word of God! Isaac – Soli Deo Gloria!
Practicing the Preached Word
The Word attended must also be practiced. Here are some ways to counsel your family on how to practice the preached Word.
1 Strive to retain and pray over what you have heard. Hebrews 2:1 says, “We ought to give earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” Thomas Watson said we should not let sermons run through our minds like water through a sieve. “Our memories should be like the chest of the ark, where the law was put,” he wrote. Joseph Alleine said one way to remember the preached Word is to “come from your knees to the sermon, and come from the sermon to your knees.”
An elderly woman told me, “I take thorough sermon notes. When I bow my knees on Sunday evening, I put my notes in front of me, underline those things that I should strive to put into practice, and then pray through them one at a time.” Encourage your children to imitate this woman.
2 Familiarize yourself with the truths you have heard. The Westminster Directory for Public Worship advises parents to engage in “repetition of sermons, especially by calling their families to an account of what they have heard.” When you come home from church, speak to your children about the sermon you have heard in an edifying, practical manner. Talk about the sermon in words that your youngest child will understand.
Encourage your children to take notes on the sermon. My wife and I have trained our children since they were age seven to take notes. After the last service each Sabbath, we read through those notes as a family and talk our way through the sermons. Sometimes the discussions help our children more than the sermons themselves. Even when conversation does not produce the desired results, continue to attempt this review of Sabbath sermons. It is better to fall short than not to attempt at all.
Share some of the lessons you are learning from the Word with your children. As you talk with them, these lessons will help others as well as become more embedded in your own mind.
Most important, familiarize yourself with the sermon by meditating in private upon what you have heard in public. Meditation helps us digest truth and personalize it. One sermon properly meditated upon with the assistance of the Holy Spirit will do more good than weeks of unapplied sermons. Meditate upon each sermon as if it is the last you will hear, for that may well be the case. If additional private study on the text helps you meditate, by all means, take time to do it. Read commentaries on the text, such as those by John Calvin, Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, and contemporary authors who soundly and ably expound the Scriptures.
3 Put the sermon into action. A sermon is not over when the minister says “Amen.” Rather that is when the true sermon begins. In an old Scottish story, a wife asked her husband if the sermon was done. “No,” he replied. “It has been said, but it has yet to be done.” Always seek to live out the sermons you hear, even if that means denying yourself, bearing your cross, or suffering for righteousness’ sake. Listening to a sermon that does not reform your life will never save your soul.
James 1:22–25 tells us, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” Too many people listen to a sermon, see themselves in the mirror of the Word, and leave church convicted, but on Monday morning, they abandon all the truths they have heard. Of what value is a mind filled with knowledge when it is not matched with a fruitful life?
True listening means applying the Word of God. If you do not practice the Word of God after you have heard it, you have not truly listened to God’s message. As seed that falls in good soil produces fruit, so the person who truly understands the Word produces fruit in his life.
Let me conclude with two pieces of advice. First, thank God for all that you receive from sermons. Give glory to God when you are able to put God’s instruction into practice. Second, lean upon the Holy Spirit. Beg God to accompany his Word with the effectual blessing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44). The preached Word will be a transforming power in our lives under the Spirit’s blessing. If these directions are ignored, the preached Word will lead to our condemnation. As Thomas Watson wrote, “The word will be effectual one way or the other; if it does not make your hearts better, it will make your chains heavier.”
Jesus warns us in Luke 8:18, “Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” All of the means of grace will be taken away from inattentive hearers on Judgment Day. It will be too late for them to hear another sermon. The market of free grace will be closed forever, and the door of God’s ark will be eternally shut.
Are you and your family active hearers of God’s Word? Are you doers of that Word? Or do you listen to sermons half-heartedly? If so, repent of your sin and begin to actively listen to his Word. It is not enough for you and your family to attend church. You must be active hearers and doers of the Word. Thomas Watson warns lukewarm listeners: “Dreadful is their case who go loaded with sermons to hell.”