Are You Ready to Hear?
I can almost hear the sound even today: three loud beeps over my high school's intercom system. They were loud enough, distinct enough, and annoying enough that they pierced through every other sound, even band practice! It was how they let you know that someone was about to make an announcement. The beeps were annoying but necessary. If you begin speaking and people aren't ready to listen, then they won't hear you. The beeps essentially told everyone at my high school, “Stop talking! Put down your instruments! Put away your pencils! Get ready to listen!”
We're exploring in this series of posts what the Westminster Shorter Catechism says about how we should read and hear God's Word. Part of the mystery of how God works is that, even though (as the Catechism says in answer to question 89) “The Spirit of God makes the reading and especially the preaching of the word...effectual,” yet there are obligations on our part if the Spirit is to make the Word effectual in our lives. That's what prompts Question 90 – “How is the Word to be read and heard that it may become effectual to salvation?”
In our first post, we discussed the significance of that word “effectual.” God's Word is given with a purpose, and we want it to be effectual – to accomplish its purpose in our lives.
In our second post, we looked at the first of seven things the catechism says should be present if our hearing and reading is to work. We saw that we must be diligent, not being casual and not giving up but rather working hard to hear rightly and to understand.
In this post, we'll discuss the second item on the catechism's list: “That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with... preparation.” How do we prepare to read or hear God's Word? Let's think of it from the other direction – What are things that hinder our ability to effectively receive God's Word? What makes our private reading or public listening go in one ear and out the other? Two things come to mind – physical obstacles and spiritual obstacles.
Preparing the physical environment involves minimizing distractions, creating a place where you can focus your attention on the Word you are receiving. This might mean silencing a phone or other potential distraction, setting aside other tasks, and maybe even reconsidering where and when you are reading. On Sunday morning, perhaps it would help to wrap up conversations a few minutes earlier, finding a seat and giving your mind time to calm down before the worship service begins. It might mean having a pen and some paper nearby to jot down notes, thoughts, or questions to help you read diligently.
As part of our physical preparation, I would recommend silence – not just from distractions, but from your own words and thoughts. Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 reminds us that “to draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.” Don't rush to conclusions about what you are hearing. Pause, be silent, and allow God's Word to speak first.
In addition to preparing our physical environment to help us hear better, we can also prepare our spiritual context. Peter addresses this in 1 Peter 2:1-2 when he urges Christians to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” Preparing spiritually involves a great deal of heart preparation. If you are approaching the Word of God with a distracted and sinful heart, you are unprepared to hear the Word. Remember what Jesus said to do if you are about to worship and suddenly remember that someone has something against you? First go and be reconciled, then come back to worship (Matthew 5:23-24). Though Jesus was talking about worship, the same applies to our reading and hearing of his Word. Part of preparing includes dealing with personal sin and offenses, keeping short accounts so that our sin does not hinder our hearing.
Preparing to hear God's Word is necessary because, without sounding too obvious, it is the Word of God. Preparing ourselves to hear it rightly gives God's Word the honor and respect it deserves. When we prepare, we are acknowledging that these words are important and meaningful, they are not to be taken lightly. We are willing to do everything in our power to be able to hear and respond.
But as our next entry will show, it is not our power that makes us ultimately able to hear.