If you’re like me, Sunday mornings can often feel hectic and anything but restful or even spiritual. As you’re thinking through changes for the New Year, I’d like to suggest some ways to help your hearing of God’s Word be more effective and to even make your Sundays less stressful.

Why Prepare?

Matthew 13 records the Parable of the Sower, where Jesus illustrated God’s Word as seed landing on different soils, each representing a person’s heart and with four different outcomes. His point was that the result of hearing God’s Word always depends on the condition of the hearer’s heart. While there are several applications from this, here are three that immediately come to mind:

1. Satan hates the hearing of God’s Word

Jesus explained that when anyone hears the Word, the Evil One desires to snatch away what is sown in their heart. God’s Word brings glory to Christ, salvation, life transformation, and fruitful living (2 Cor 4:4, Rom 1:16, Heb 4:12, 2 Tim 3:16). Satan hates these things. While talk of spiritual warfare usually evokes ideas of resisting Satan’s temptations and wrestling in the spiritual realm through prayer, have you ever thought of your pew as a battleground? How about when you’re having your quiet time or family devotions? I would submit that anytime you hear or read Scripture you enter a spiritual arena where the Enemy of your soul fights hard to prevent the Word from being effective.

2. Our hearts must be prepared to receive God’s Word

Jesus said God’s Word is like seed landing on the soil of our hearts. But for seed to be effective, the soil it lands on must be ready. This is where many people fail. It’s a serious thing to hear the Word of God week after week, so don’t be careless in your hearing. You might need to “break up your fallow ground” (Hosea 10:12) beforehand to receive the very words of God (1 Thess 2:13).

Garden Hoe in Fresh Soil

3. Hearing isn’t enough

Hearing with spiritual ears isn’t as easy as you might think. In the parable, each person heard the Word of God, but only one heard with a good and honest heart that produced fruit. Our hearts will not naturally submit to God, repent and receive the Word, which means the problem lies with the “soil,” not the sower or the seed. James 1:22 says we fool ourselves when we merely hear the Word but don’t apply it.

How to Prepare

With all of this in mind, here are some practical ways that you and your family can prepare your hearts to hear the Word of God on Sundays in particular, though most can apply to any time you are hearing or reading Scripture.

1. Prepare Physically

• Decide Saturday night which service you’re going to.
• Lay out and iron clothes for yourself and your family the night before.
• Have everything ready to go (car gassed up, breakfast planned, diaper bag packed, Bibles ready).
• Get plenty of rest Saturday night. Decide when to get up to get everything done to leave on time, and then count back however many hours you need for sleep. Saturday is not the night to stay up late. Without enough sleep, our minds are dull and our fuses are short.

Shirt and Cloth Hanger

2. Read your Bible ahead of time

Find out what text will be preached and read the passage before church – individually or as a family – to stir up hunger for God. If you think of the sermon as the meal, the appetizer is the Scripture that you read beforehand (Saturday night or Sunday morning) to give you a taste for spiritual things.

“I have treasured your words more than my daily bread.” Job 23:12

3. Pray for God to give you a good heart

Jeremiah 24:7 says, “I will give them a heart to know Me,” so ask God for a good and honest heart, a soft and receptive heart, a humble and fruitful heart. Here are some verses you can pray before you leave or in the car on your way to church:

• “Examine my heart and mind” (Ps 26:2)
• “Create in me a pure heart” (Ps 51:10)
• “Give me an undivided heart” (Ps 86:11)
• “Turn my heart toward your statutes” (Ps 119:36)
• “Search me and know my heart” (Ps 139:23)
• “Give me a heart to know you” (Jer 24:7)

4. Forgive and bear with each other
Jesus said that when you come before the Lord make sure there’s nothing between you and someone else (Mt 5:23-24). Quarrels and anger from Saturday or Sunday morning can ruin your worship service. Colossians 3:8-16 offers some great reminders on keeping our attitudes in check:

• Rid yourself of anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language.
• Do not lie to each other.
• Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
• Bear with each other and forgive one another as the Lord forgave you.
• Put on love, which binds all virtues together in perfect unity.
• Let the peace of Christ rule you and let the word of Christ dwell in you.
• Teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
• Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

5. Purify your mind
James 1:21 says to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you.” God’s Word can become un-receivable if your heart is calloused by the godless, trivial, empty, suggestive and immodest entertainment of the world. Such “moral filth” can choke the Word and leave you spiritually weak. But as you think on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8), your unshriveled heart will become hungry to hear God’s Truth.

“Turn my eyes away from worthless things.”
Psalm 119:37

6. Come with a spirit of teachability
James 1:21 also describes an attitude of humility as you receive the very words of God. Note David’s words in Psalm 25:4-5: “Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me.” If you come thinking you know it all or won’t get anything out of the sermon, you won’t hear with spiritual ears and will miss the opportunity to grow and bear fruit. “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Ps 119:18). Talk with each other afterwards about their insights and how they want to apply the Truth.

7. Be prepared to think
God says to prepare our minds for action (1 Pet 1:13) and that our thinking should be mature (1 Cor 14:20). Come to church ready to think deeply about what is sung and prayed and preached. If you desire the truth of God’s Word more than riches or food (Ps 19:10-11), you will pay attention to how you hear and how you can immediately apply it to your life.