First, before coming to God’s house to hear His Word, prepare yourself and your family with prayer.
As the Puritans were fond of saying, we should dress our bodies for worship and adorn our souls with prayer. 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 ears to hear and hearts to understand. Pray for yourself and your family, saying: “Lord, how real the danger is that we will not hear Thy Word as we should! Of the four kinds of hearers in the parable of the sower, only one kind heard properly. Focus our minds, Lord, to concentrate fully on Thy Word as it comes to us so that we may not hear the Word and yet perish. Give us faith to hear and profit from it. Let Thy Word have free course in our hearts. Let it be accompanied with light, power, and grace.
Pray that your minister will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to open his mouth boldly to make known the mysteries of the gospel (Eph. 6:19). Pray for an outpouring of the Spirit’s life-giving, illuminating, and convicting power to work through God’s ordinances in the fulfillment of His promises so your entire family is motivated for good (Prov. 1:23).
Second, stress the need for every family member to come with a hearty appetite for the Word.
A good appetite promotes good digestion and growth. Peter says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2). 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 to worship with unprepared, unbelieving, hardened hearts. [Watson, Body of Divinity, 377.]
Third, 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). [Boston, Works, 2:28.] What an awe-inspiring thought! Since the gospel is the Word of God rather than the word of man, come to church looking for God. Teach your children that ministers are God’s ambassadors who bring you the Word of God (2 Cor. 5:20; Heb. 13:7). Manton wrote, “So much preparation there must be as will make the heart reverent. God will be served with a joy mixed with trembling.” [Manton, James, 146 (James 1:21).]
Remember that every sermon counts for eternity. Salvation comes through faith, and faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom. 10:13–17). 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 hearts to Christ or shut them 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. [Clarkson, Works, 1:430–31.] “Take heed therefore how ye hear” (Luke 8:18)!
Furthermore, teach your children that on every Sabbath they are offered spiritual food and supplies for the coming week. The Puritans called the Sabbath “the market day of the soul.” [James T. Dennison, Jr., The Market Day of the Soul: The Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England, 1532–1700 (Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria, 2001).] As the Puritans went shopping for food each week, so we must stock up on 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 family worship and Christian living.
Fourth, remind yourself and your family periodically that as they enter the house of God they are entering a battleground.
Many enemies will oppose your listening. Internally, you may be distracted by worldly cares and employments, lusts of the flesh, a cold heart, or a critical spirit. Externally, you may be distracted by behavior or the dress of others, noises, or people moving about. Satan opposes your listening to God’s Word, 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 tries to erase the sermon from your mind as soon as it is finished. Like a bird plucking away a newly sown seed, Satan attempts to snatch the Word from your mind and heart so that it cannot take root. Resist him by the power of Christ. [Puritan Sermons 1659–1689 (Wheaton, Ill.: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 4:187.]
Fifth, pray that you might come with a loving, expectant faith (Ps. 62:1, 5).
Come pleading God’s promise that His word will not return to Him void, that is, not having accomplished the purpose for which He sent it forth (Isa. 55:10–11). Pray that you and your family might be able to say with the psalmist 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), and to the point where they nearly consume you (v. 20). The psalmist’s love for God’s Word is 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 in your children.
As the Holy Spirit blesses such preparations, we will find ourselves ready to receive the message God is giving us through the ministry of the Word…
The Beauty and Glory of the Word of God
Joel R. Beeke