This is the last post on the art of listening to a sermon from Acts 10. It will highlight habits that can help our children to be God-centered.
The habit of anticipating worship during the week (vv. 32-33)
The first thing that I instill in our children is an anticipation for the preaching of the Word. In verse 32 God told Cornelius to send to Joppa for Peter, and “When he comes, he will speak to you.” Cornelius’ response was, “So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God” They were waiting with anticipation of what God might say.
And there are numerous ways to promote such anticipation. The first is an inward attitude adjustment, described in 2 Peter 1 as “virtue.” In discussing the golden chain of sanctification in 2 Peter 1, the apostle says that we must have this prerequisite before we can ask God for more knowledge. The Greek word implies a commitment to God’s way before we even hear what God’s way is. It is the opposite of being double minded. A person who is double minded is always weighing the odds. He is willing to follow God if it is safe, comfortable, or attractive. Such a person would not be willing to give God a blank check because God might write more than they are willing to give. That is a lack of virtue. Virtue is a willingness to do what God will call us to do even before we know what that might be. In verse 33 Cornelius showed a pre-commitment to hear/obey all things commanded by God. God is pleased to give increased knowledge to such a person. In John 7:17 Jesus said, “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He is saying that an attitude of virtue (wanting to do God’s will) will make a great difference on whether God opens the Word up to your understanding.
But there are other ways to help our children anticipate the preaching of the word on the next Sunday. Reading the Scriptures that will be preached is helpful. Praying for wisdom for the pastor as he prepares the sermon is another. Using the techniques for listening that were outlined in the previous post is yet another.
Karen Burton Maines, in her book on Making Sunday Special, points out how the Jews made the whole week revolve around the Sabbath. The three days after the Sabbath were reflective and the three days leading up to the next Sabbath were anticipating it. A person will get much more out of a sermon if he has been praying for the pastor the week before and if he has been praying that his own hear would be eager to change. One person said that on Sunday morning the congregation gets what it has prayed for the week before. So there is preparation.
The habit of coming early to worship
with hearts prepared (vv. 24,27)
In verse 27 we find that the people had gotten there before the preacher had. “And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together.” They had come early, and as the rest of the chapter shows, they had prepared their hearts to worship and to listen to God. Coming early is simply a way of showing respect for God. We model what we think of worship to our children by our timeliness.
The habit of thinking of God’s throne room when in worship
Verse 33 says, “we are all present before God.” Very few Christians think of worship as coming into God’s very throne room. Yet that is exactly the way Hebrews 12 describes it.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant… (Heb. 12:22-24)
When our children think of the angels present in the public assembly and the fact that by faith we are joining the worship of heaven, it has a tendency to transform their worship.
When you listen to a sermon, you are not simply listening to the pastor. You are listening to God speaking through the sermon. According to Scripture, God uses the foolishness of preaching to be His mouthpiece today. When Jesus sent out the 70 preachers in Luke 10, he told them, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16). Pierre Marcel’s masterful book, The Relevance of Preaching, says, “[Jesus] makes it a point to affirm that when they proclaim the good news it is as if he himself, the Christ, proclaimed it in person. It is and remains the word of God; it retains its same power and effectiveness” (p. 12). And he goes on to give many Scriptures which show that the preaching of the Word regenerates hearts, gives faith, sanctifies the saints, confers hope. It is called the power of God. And Paul is amazed that God banks so much on the foolishness of preaching. But it is not because of the preacher. It is because God stands behind His ambassador and carries that Word to the hearts of His people, assuming of course that the preacher is willing to preach the Word.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus knew that something was different because they felt their hearts burning within them as they heard the Word of God being preached. Why? Because God was quickening that Word to them. They were in the presence of God.
And this consciousness of God’s presence with us in His royal covenant ceremony ought to affect our inward emotions and ought to affect our outward demeanor. Even our dress is reflected by what we expect in worship or perhaps what we have experienced in worship. But it is especially affected by what we consider the preaching of the Word to be. If we really consider “preaching [to be the] demonstration of the Spirit and of power” in the church’s life (1 Cor. 2:4), we are more likely to eagerly listen. To sum up this series of posts, I will quote from an old Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals article. They say,
“So what is the right way to listen to a sermon? With a soul that is prepared, a mind that is alert, a Bible that is open, a heart that is receptive, and a life that is ready to spring into action.”