How to train your children (and yourself) to listen to sermons (Part 1: Preparing for the Preached Word).
The following article is by Dr Joel Beeke, courtesy of “The Outlook” magazine from the Reformed Fellowship Inc. (visit https://www.reformedfellowship.net/ to see the good work of this group!). Last week I mentioned that we would continue in our meditations on the Lord’s Prayer – and we will! But sometimes one finds a resource of such value, that one simply must share it! We will continue our series on the Lord’s Prayer intermittently, with a few “guest” articles as we go! This particular series will be in three parts, and I trust that it will be of value – not just for training children – but for training ourselves to listen to sermons as well. Grace be with you all! Isaac – Soli Deo Gloria!
Every pastor receives the question from distraught parents: How can I train my children to listen to sermons?
In answering this question, I need to stress that everything I’m about to say is dependent on the Holy Spirit’s blessing. If you do everything I’m suggesting in this article, your children will not automatically listen well to sermons without the Spirit’s benediction. In all our endeavours as parents, no matter what sphere of parenting we have in mind, we need to remember, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Ps. 127:1 KJV). All our efforts, therefore, must be salted with earnest prayer as we labour to pull down the benediction of our heavenly Father upon our family and homes.
In conjunction with Luke 8:18, “Take heed therefore how ye hear,” I will offer some Reformed and Puritan teachings along with my own observations on listening to God’s Word, dividing the subject into three thoughts: how to prepare our families for the preached Word, how to receive the preached Word, and how to practice the preached Word. While studying each point, we should ask ourselves: Is my family really hearing the Word of God? Are we good listeners of the proclaimed gospel at church? Am I teaching my children how to be good listeners?
Preparing for the Preached Word
Pray for the conversion of sinners, the edification of saints, and the glorification of God’s triune name. Pray for children, teenagers, and the elderly. Pray for listening ears and understanding hearts. Pray for yourself and your family, saying, “Lord, how real the danger is that we will not hear well! Of four kinds of hearers in the parable of the sower, only one kind heard properly. Help us, Lord, to concentrate fully on Thy Word as it comes to us, so that we may not hear the Word and yet perish. Let Thy Word have free course in our hearts. Let it be accompanied with light, power, and grace.”
Pray that you and your children will come to God’s house as needy sinners, purging your hearts of carnal lusts and clinging to Christ for the cleansing power of his blood. Pray for the sanctifying presence of God in Christ, for true communion with Him in mind and soul.
Pray that your minister will receive the energy of the Holy Spirit, so that he will open his mouth boldly to make known the mysteries of the gospel (see Eph. 6:19). Pray for an outpouring of the Spirit’s convicting, quickening, humbling, and comforting power to work through God’s ordinances in the fulfillment of His promises, so as to impact your entire family for good (Prov. 1:23).
2 Stress with your dear ones the need for every family member to come with a hearty appetite for the Word. A good appetite promotes good digestion and growth. Peter encouraged spiritual appetite, saying, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2). Likewise, Solomon advised, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to offer the sacrifice of fools” (Eccl. 5:1).
A good appetite for the Word means having a tender, teachable heart (2 Chron. 13:7) that asks, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). It is foolish to expect a blessing if we come as families to worship with hardened, unprepared, or worldly-minded hearts.
If possible, try to follow the advice of the Puritans who said that preparation for worship should start on Saturday evening. Just as they baked bread on Saturday evening so it would be warm on Sunday morning, so your family would profit if you would study the Word on Saturday evenings a bit longer and more in depth than your normal family worship, thereby warming their hearts for worship on Sunday.
If you know the passage that will be preached on the Sabbath, spend some time studying it on Saturday night with your family. Make sure that you and your children get enough sleep on Saturday night. Then get up early on Sunday morning to prepare for worship without rushing.
3 Discipline yourself and encourage your children to meditate on the importance of the preached Word as you enter God’s house. The high and holy triune God of heaven and earth is meeting with you and your family to speak directly to you. Thomas Boston wrote, “The voice is on earth, [but] the speaker is in heaven” (Acts 10:33). What an awe-inspiring thought! Since the gospel is the Word of God, not the word of man, come to church looking for God. Though you should deeply appreciate your minister’s efforts to faithfully bring you the Word of God, pray together with your family that you see “no man, save Jesus only” (Matt. 17:8). Teach your children that ministers are God’s ambassadors, bringing you the Word of God (2 Cor. 5:20; Heb. 13:7). Say to your children, “Do not focus on the minister but on the Word of God he brings, remembering that one day you will give an account before God of every sermon that he has brought to you.”
Teach your children that every sermon counts for eternity. Salvation comes through faith, and faith comes through hearing God’s Word (Rom. 10:13–16). So every sermon is a matter of life and death (Deut. 32:47; 2 Cor. 2:15–16). The preached gospel will either lift us up to heaven or cast us down to hell. It will advance our salvation or aggravate our condemnation. It will draw us with the cords of love or leave us in the snares of unbelief. It will soften or harden us (Matt. 13:14–15), enlighten or darken our eyes (Rom. 11:10), open our heart to Christ or shut it against Him. “The nearer to heaven any are lifted up by gospel preaching, the lower will they sink into hell if they heed it not,” wrote David Clarkson. “Take heed, therefore, how ye hear!”
Furthermore, teach your children that every Sabbath they are receiving spiritual food and supplies for the coming week. The Puritans called the Sabbath “the market day of the soul.” As the Puritans went to market each week to stock up on supplies, so we stock up on our spiritual goods for the week by listening to sermons, then meditating on them throughout the week to come. All of that must be reinforced with daily devotions and Christian living.
4 Remind your family periodically that as they enter the house of God they are entering a battleground. Here’s how to talk to your children: “Dear children, many enemies will oppose your listening. Internally, you may be distracted by worldly cares and employments, lusts of the flesh, cold hearts, and critical spirits. Externally, you may be distracted by the temperature or weather, behaviour or the dress of others, noises, or people moving about. Satan opposes your listening to God’s Word with might and main, knowing that if you truly hear it, he will lose you. So Satan tries to disturb you before the sermon begins, distracts you during the sermon, and dismisses the sermon from your mind as soon as it is finished. Like a bird plucking away newly sown seed, Satan attempts to snatch the Word from your mind and heart so that it cannot take root. When you are tempted during worship by Satan, follow the advice of Samuel Annesley who encourages you to rebuke him, saying, ‘Be gone, Satan! I will parley no longer. If others neglect salvation, therefore must I? Will their missing of salvation relieve me for the loss of mine? Through Christ, I defy you.’ Pray repeatedly for strength to overcome all your enemies by listening well.”
5 Finally, teach your children to pray that they might come with a loving, expectant faith (Ps. 62:1, 5). Teach them to come pleading God’s promise that his Word will not return to him void (Isa. 55:10–11). Teach them to come with reverential fear of God, with reverential delight in God, and with reverential expectation and faith in God’s Word (Ps. 119:97, 103). Ask them to pray that they might be able to say like David in Psalm 119, “Thy word is very pure; therefore Thy servant loveth it” (v. 140), and to love God’s testimonies “exceedingly” (v. 167), more than gold (v. 127), to the point where it nearly consumes you (v. 20). David’s love for God’s Word was so fervent that he would meditate upon it “all the day” (v. 97). In dependence on the Spirit, cultivate such love for the Word of God in yourself and your children.