Why Private and Family Worship Helps Us Gain Hope From Preaching

Howdy!

For this week’s lesson we are continuing to ask questions about the means of grace. As we have spoken of previously our LORD has provided to us in His mercy ways that we both receive from Him the blessings of the Christian life which are born from above. That is prayer, reading the Bible, fellowship, and worship are all instruments, or means, by which we are fed, strengthened, and nourished to know Jesus better and to be able to fight against the evil world around us. If we struggle with how to go about certain things it could be that we are exposing our own laxity at taking advantage of the opportunities provided by God through our local church and her minister.

Last time we heard a good, direct message to ministers that they take serious their calling and in many ways the WLC question we are looking at this morning does the same, just now to the people in the pew. Part of the troubles we face today is often the congregation doesn’t expect much out of itself, let alone its ministers. Today’s Q/A is a challenging word for all believers to take a moment and do some self-examination: how much do I attend upon grace? Let’s read:

Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the word preached?

A. It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation and prayer; examine what they hear by the scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

Everything goes better when the people involved want it to. The list of advice that WLC 160 gives to the folks gathered around for the preaching of the word may sound like a lot of work. I am busy with a seemingly never-ending list of activities, meetings, and kids being at four different places at once. It’s a wild time in my life, so I know the constraints of time. However, what the Divines have in mind here is not something outside the ordinary regular spiritual life of the Christian. None of the items listed are an addition to what we are already supposed to be doing in private and family worship. If we are taking a moment to read the Scriptures and pray, either by ourselves or in a group then, in the words of Jon Bon Jovi, you are halfway there already. Part of being actively involved in the preaching that goes on in morning and evening worship is to already know the Bible. In some sense for the seasoned mature believer sitting in the midst of a sermon should be a strengthening exercise confirming already existing faith, and as the catechism says hiding it in your heart.

Often the reason why we don’t obtain anything out of worship is because we have not done any preparation to be there. Getting in the right frame of mind is an important part of our being enriched by the means of grace. That means first of all treating the Lord’s Day as a special day given by God for our benefit, not as a second Saturday with a little religion thrown in the first half. Sometimes we come to Sabbath School (if we come at all) groggy and a little rushed because we have slept in too late. We would never think in a million years that to be tardy to work is acceptable, so why are not as punctual when it comes to the things of the Holy God? Is it because we fear our earthly bosses more than our Heavenly Father? Well, we witness to our answer by our conduct in preparing to meet with Him. If Sunday worship gets in the way of our non-Church activities so much we need to skip it then we speak loudly with our actions.

That’s why the WLC uses the word diligent to describe what our manner should be to sermonizing, and to worship in general. In the old days people used to refer to Sunday services as the preaching. Now most folks think worship is talking about the singing part of the bulletin. However, we understand that it means the whole shooting match, everything from the Call to Worship to the Benediction. To go back to private and family worship for a second we ought to think of those two activities as practice for what we do on the Lord’s Day. It’s part of the training we do for our families to help them not just pay attention to the minister, but to be ready to receive the blessings on offer in the sermon. We believe that it is a unique opportunity in the life of the believer for the Holy Spirit to work in their lives. It’s not a theology lecture, a TED talk, or a syrupy uplift moment. Sometimes preaching is boring because it’s just a reading of what some theologian said at some point somewhere. If  you’ve ever heard my preaching you will know that I almost never give long quotations in the middle, or say a poem to tug the heart, or give vain life advice. That’s not what is supposed to happening. The preaching of the word is supposed to be a testimony from Heaven to sinners of the hope and assurance they have in Christ and to call unbelievers to receive the gift and grant of faith. To be able to benefit then from a sermon one needs to be engaged in the activity of it. How to do that is how we will end today.

In closing, this Q/A should probably be in our bulletin every week as a reminder of why we come together partially to hear me talk for 30-35 minutes in the morning and 20-25 minutes in the evening on the first day of the week. It’s an activity witnessed to in Scripture by Christ Himself, and commanded to Peter and the Apostles, and then by extension to the Church in her ministers. In some sense while Isaiah 55 teaches that nothing which proceeds from the pulpit ever returns void it is certainly helpful to the hearer and the speaker for both of them to be on the same page and seeking the same end. We can only do that if we work together to ensure that we are both, in my preparation through the week in handling the text prayerfully and pastorally and then bringing it to the sacred desk on Sunday for your benefit, and if those who are diligent in their wanting to hear of Jesus are intentionally in their willingness to meditate and contemplate the goodness of God in Christ and the fullness of the Word preached.

Here is a last word:

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Benjamin Glaser

Pastor, Bethany ARP Church

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