I told my wife before our church’s prayer meeting last night that I was setting myself up for major discouragement: I was going to ask our church what they could remember about Sunday morning’s sermon. As in the sermon I had just preached three days before. As in the message I had slaved over in study and prayer for the glory of God and the good of their souls . . . you get the idea. Please do not misunderstand: God has blessed me with a congregation that loves the Word of God and is more attentive to the Scriptures than any I have ever had the privilege to preach to. They are truly one of the deepest sources of joy to me. Still, I knew that by Wednesday evening, there was a good chance there would be crickets chirping when I asked for some feedback (beyond, “oh you did such a good job with it!”) .
So why would I set myself up for such a fall? Two reasons.
First, it provided an excellent opportunity to point out how prone we are to be hearers of the Word only, to take in Biblical preaching approvingly and thankfully, only to forget its instruction and application and instruction by the Sunday afternoon football game. It offered a chance to explain the purpose of preaching as more than simply the weekly box to be checked off, or a performance to be admired or critiqued, but God’s means of cutting us and binding us up and conforming us to Christ. It afforded me the chance to commend jotting down the major points on the little note pads for later review I have begun leaving in the pews. This sort of culture-building takes time, but it starts with these kinds of loving encouragements, it seems to me.
Second, as we are focusing on becoming Biblical pray-ers on Wednesday nights, I wanted to commend to them the practice of “praying through” the sermon after it has been preached to them. Any of us can be discouraged when we look down at our watch and see that, after pouring out our hearts for every need we can imagine, less than five minutes has passed! This is often because we are not allowing the endless resource of Scripture to be the kindling for the flames of the roaring fires of our prayer. Just as our private meditations on Scripture should aid our prayer, so should the Biblical sermons we hear – specifically prepared for and applied by a pastor who knows us and loves us – provide ample fuel for our prayers throughout the week.
So after a bit of coaxing, a few members began reciting some of the major points from Sunday’s sermon on John 15:17-16:33 . . . Jesus’ followers live in a world that hates them for Jesus’ sake . . . the gracious working of the Holy Spirit is necessary to convict the world of sin and righteousness . . . Christians are to find sorrow in the world and joy in Christ, and not to get those two backwards. With these once more before us, we took some time to tease out the applications for ourselves in prayer, i.e. “Father, search my heart and expose where I take delight in the world. . .I praise you for the work of the Holy Spirit, apart from which I would still be dead in my sins and in love with the world,” etc. Then, we prayed together.
Joining the two spiritual disciplines of sermon-listening and prayer together will make both of them more effective and greater sources of joy for any child of God. This is the kind of practical lesson that the Puritans knew and taught so well. And now their heirs, men like Donald Whitney, J.I. Packer and Dr. Ray Van Neste, bring out so well to spiritual weaklings like me.
I am sure it will take time for this sort of teaching to take root and bear fruit throughout my church, but I am confident that the Holy Spirit is already at work in creating a greater joy in Christ in each of us. After all, I listened to Sunday morning’s sermon.