Sunday, November 28, 2010

Listening in Prayer.

The moment of the sermon has been one of my most intense, dedicated, and deep times of prayer for many years now. When the man in the pulpit was my pastor, I labored in prayer for him, the congregation, and myself throughout those all-too-brief moments. We have 20-40 minutes together hearing the Word as the people of God - for some this will be all they get all week long. We will be relentlessly barraged with the collective wisdom of the world (which is no wisdom at all) the moment we leave this building. For many its gravity will be so massive that escape will require supernatural intervention. And so, in the moment of the sermon, I have prayed.

Now that I am the man in the pulpit, I desperately hope that they are praying through this moment. This is the Word of God, not a script. This is the inspired Word of God, not an opinion piece. This is the Word of God - the very food for the covenant people of God at this place in this moment - and we must hear Him. So we must pray.

In reading George Whitefield (1714-1770) I came across a sermon he preached about listening to sermons. Permit me to share his thoughts with you:

"If you would receive a blessing from the LORD, when you hear His word preached, pray to Him, both before, in, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put in practice what he shall show from the book of GOD to be your duty.

This would be an excellent means to render the word preached effectual to the enlightening and enflaming your hearts; and without this, all the other means...will be in vain.

No doubt it was this consideration that made St. Paul so earnestly entreat his beloved Ephesians to intercede with God for him: 'Praying always, with all manner of prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and for me also, that I may open my mouth with boldness, to make known the mysteries of the Gospel.' And if so great an Apostle as St. Paul needed the prayers of his people, much more do those ministers who have only the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Besides, this would be a good proof that you sincerely desire to do, as well as know, the will of GOD. And it must highly profit both ministers and people; because GOD, through your prayers, will give them a double portion of His Holy Spirit, whereby they will be enabled to instruct you more fully in the things which pertain to the kingdom of GOD."

[Sermon 28, from Luke 8:18]

Dear friends, this is not a moment of entertainment. In Ezekiel 33:30-33 the prophet is told that those who are coming to hear him are listening to him as they listen to a love song. It sounds good, moves the emotions, but results in no change of life. We do not attend to the moment of the sermon to be amused - or ears tickled, as the case may be (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

When you arrive at the building, do not be distracted by the facility. Be swayed not by the multitude of "programs," "groups," events, etc. You need a Sword (Hebrews 6:17), not a Swiss Army knife. Attend in prayer, aware that God the Holy Spirit has drawn you to this place at this time. He has - Lord willing - moved the preacher to the needful text in the Book He Authored. He has guided this servant through the sermon preparation process - this servant who is in chains not of steel but enslaved by the fire in his soul. The exact individuals are in the room who need to be in the room at that moment - the lost, the saved, the confused, the hungry, and (Lord, please!) the spiritual masters who are already praying. This is a Spirit-saturated moment. His Book, His people, His purpose to be revealed. Do not waste this moment. Pray. Pray that in this great hour such a power will occur that is comparable to the first chapter of the Bible.

20-40 minutes out of 10,080 spent in the midst of wolves, devouring lions, angels of a false light, deluding spirits, and the doctrines of demons. These things will seem "good for food...a delight to the eyes, and...desirable to make one wise" (Genesis 3:6). These things will seem right to the emotions, the thoughts, and the mass opinion of humanity. "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12). If the way that feels right, seems correct, and is agreed upon by my friends leads to death, how can I know the right way? A way that originates outside the heart, mind, and collective wisdom of humanity must be in order. And so we gather to hear the Word of God spoken through His servant to His covenant people. We must pray for the potency of this moment. Through it God will move us toward conformity to His Beloved Son (Romans 8:29) and will reveal more fully His plan to sum up all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). We must have this Word. We don't need to hear stories, jokes, or thoughts about how wonderful we are (we'll get this the rest of the week). We need the Word.

So, beloved brothers and sisters, pray in the moment of the sermon.

If you're interested in reading on this subject a little more, consider Ken Ramey's Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God's Word (Kress Biblical Resources, 2010). It's a relatively short, easy read (and it isn't expensive). While there aren't many works on this topic, this one stands out in its clarity and focus.