To close this summer’s series on Spiritual Disciplines, a less commonly discussed discipline: hearing the Word preached. We all need Scripture. And as a foundation God has given His church pastors and teachers; we need them even if we think for a moment we do not. What a joy and privilege to read daily! To study weekly. To meditate throughout our day. Yet, our elders have been given to us, to shepherd our souls. They have the great burden that they would see Christ formed in us (see Galatians 4:19). Hebrews 13 reminds us to let them shepherd us. Our pride may say otherwise. But we must obey our Lord, who calls us to submit to our elders, listen to them, and gather regularly to hear the word preached. We must not forsake God’s plan for His church by assuming our Sundays would be better spent sleeping.
The Discipline comes in when we sit down to hear. Are we hearing, or listening? Are we attentive? Our minds and bodies sometimes fight this–not out of willful disobedience. Sometimes the issue is a lack of Spirit-willed self-control. We cannot listen, we distract ourselves. We cannot listen, we are clinging to worry and musing upon possible solutions. We heard someone cough and sit in bitterness that our train of thought was disturbed. We are tired, and sit the entire time simply counting down the time till we can run to Starbucks, or set up the hammock for a nap.
The Puritan, Richard Baxter, taught his fellow pastors that one of their great duties to their congregations is teaching them to prepare their hearts on Saturday for the time of Sunday worship. What if our Sunday worship was the celebration or culmination of a week of worship? Pursuing the proper activities and vocations in their proper times: work, chores, family relations, leisure, and personal worship throughout the week, and then on Sunday corporate worship.
Our Sabbath needs to be a delight, as we recognize the work of God our Creator, and our Redeemer (see Exodus 20:8-11; and Deuteronomy 5:12-15), and celebrate the resurrection on the Lord’s Day (see Revelation 1:10). We turn our foot (as Isaiah instructs in chapter 58) from our own selfish ways, to delight ourselves in God–or we do not obey. “Delight yourselves in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
Here are some ways in which you can work towards having an attentive heart and mind on Sundays, so the Sabbath can be a delight and a rest to God’s glory (not yours).
1. Do some physical preparation. Meal prep as much as possible on Saturday. Get all the laundry done so no one wonders where a particular article of clothing is on Sunday morning. How much preparation would you put into going on vacation? Can you put in at least a little towards creating a restful Sunday? Read through Luke 23:54, 56; start viewing Saturday as a day of preparation. On those weeks when you plan all day Saturday activities, split the preparations between Friday and Saturday evenings.
2. Read through Jeremiah 17:19-27. Sometimes we cram so much into our weekends that our bodies, minds, hearts and souls feel no refreshment. We tell ourselves we are free in Christ to do as we please (as though only nine of the ten commandments are good). We also worry “What if I don’t work? What if I don’t fit in more me-time? What if I miss out on ______?” We either work too much, forgetting that God in His Sovereignty will be taking care of us; or we cease from work and overdo the extra-fun so as to wear ourselves out. We turn away from rest, and away from worship. We have to set our minds straight–that God in fact will take care of us even if we do not work on Sunday. The PCA has set provisions to help us fight legalism–the same parameters Jesus taught to His disciples. We do what is needful or helpful. Basement floods? Take care of it! Neighbor needs help? Help him! Feel like repainting, and it ought to wait till Monday evening after work? Yes, wait till Monday evening, it is not needful.
3. Find a few heart and mind helps. Find a few favorite hymns to listen to while you clean, do yard work, iron, etc. Find a few favorite psalms to make a “Sabbath meditation.” Let your last prayer for the evening be to confess your need for Him, and your desire to come to Him for rest, and to learn, and to enjoy Him.
4. Bake something special for your family to enjoy on the Sabbath–taste it and remind yourselves of the goodness of YHWH. Find other ways to remind yourselves that He is Beautiful, He is Good, He is Gracious and Compassionate, and nothing will separate you from His perfect love.
5. Go to your church’s worship service knowing the purpose: to hear the Word preached, to worship corporately in song, prayer, attentive listening, and confession. Do not let your Sunday worship be about you, and your felt needs that ought to be addressed in small groups, in meeting with your elders, or a mentor. So plan to be attentive–take a journal, do whatever it takes to make yourself listen, hear, and remember. The rest of the day, muse upon and ponder the Scriptures taught. Talk around the lunch table of lessons learned, favorite liturgies or songs shared, etc.