[NOTE: though not itself a rant, this is a companion-piece to Wasted pulpits: a rant. It was prompted by the meta of that post.]
And [Elijah] lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, "Arise and eat." 6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, "Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you." 8 And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:5-8)On this, Charles Spurgeon remarks,
All the strength supplied to us by our gracious God is meant for service, not for wantonness or boasting. When the prophet Elijah found the cake baked on the coals, and the cruse of water placed at his head, as he lay under the juniper tree, he was no gentleman to be gratified with dainty fare that he might stretch himself at his ease; far otherwise, he was commissioned to go forty days and forty nights in the strength of it, journeying towards Horeb, the mount of God.(Morning and Evening, October 5 AM)
Yet the preaching of the word does not produce holiness and wisdom ex opere operato, as it were. That is, while the Word preached is powerful, it is not magical. The Word preached must fall on good soil; we must hear the Word "in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance" (Luke 8:15).
Now, riddle me this: which is the great crime — that so many good folks suffer wretched sermons? Or that so many good sermons do not find good, fertile soil?
Think about it.
Perhaps I'll develop this further another time, but the faithful sermon we hear changes our status before God. Of course, I'm not talking about justification, but about accountability. The pan-Biblical principle is: greater privilege = greater responsibility. In this particular connection, we certainly see it in Jesus' words: "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin" (John 15:22).
So let's say you are in a church that teaches the Word of God — which you should be. As you listen to the Word faithfully preached, something is happening to you. This is true whether you feel it or not, whether your behavior changes or not. Something is happening. What is happening?
What is happening is this: your responsibility-index is rising.
I have thought this often in my pulpit ministry, usually heavy-heartedly. I have seen folks come in and go out, their lives unchanged. But though their behavior has not changed, something has changed. What?
They will never be able to say, "I never heard that. No one ever told me that. That was never explained to me from the Word."
So, how to be sure not to waste the sermon you're hearing? Just a few suggestions.
First, pray. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law" (Psalm 119:18) is always a good prayer. Recognize that something in your heart will always resist the Word, this side of glory. Something within you will be repulsed by the beauties of the Word, will deflect the should-be convicting truths of the Word, will always want to twist the uncongenial doctrines of the Word. You cannot overcome it yourself. You need the freeing and illuminating work of the triune God.
Second, remember who you are. If you're a Christian, you're not in assembly to be a spectator. You're not there to be Simon Cowell. You are called by God to be a disciple, which is to say you are a student (Matthew 28:18-20; John 8:31-32). You are called and commanded by God to learn and grow. You must get your mind challenged and renewed by the Word of God. And to do that, you are going to have to listen, think, learn, and memorize. Yes, memorize. God tells you,
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart [= committed to memory]. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:5-9, with a host of other verses)And as I say to anyone who offers the "I can't memorize" excuse, if you know enough English to understand the challenge and offer the excuse, you can memorize.
Third, don't be a sluggard. Note well —
Whoever is slothful will not roast his game,Again, perhaps we'll revisit this another time, but for now just think those over. You crave spiritual growth, do you? You are spiritually hungry? Well, here is a feast, faithfully laid out before you every week. What are you doing about it? Are you expending any diligence, any effort to take it in? Are you working hard to keep it, to consider it, to soak it in?
but the diligent man will get precious wealth. (Proverbs 12:27)
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. (Proverbs 13:4)
The sluggard buries his hand in the dish
and will not even bring it back to his mouth. (Proverbs 19:24)
If you don't (for instance) take notes, is it really because you have a more effective way of focusing, listening, concentrating, and remembering?
Or is it just because you're too lazy?
You might as well be honest with yourself. God already knows the truth. Is learning the Word just not as much of a priority to you as learning when and what channel your favorite TV show is on, learning a foreign language that amuses you (— or computer language, or computer game), learning the names and statistics of the players on your favorite sports team, learning your favorite recipe?
Perhaps that's enough challenging for now, eh?
God gives us His word. We are to do something with it — something besides grading the delivery of it, and forgetting it. We are to take it in, meditate on it, and put it to work for His glory.
We'll close with Spurgeon's words:
We are not to retain the precious grains of truth as the Egyptian mummy held the wheat for ages, without giving it an opportunity to grow: we must sow it and water it. Why does the Lord send down the rain upon the thirsty earth, and give the genial sunshine? Is it not that these may all help the fruits of the earth to yield food for man? Even so the Lord feeds and refreshes our souls that we may afterwards use our renewed strength in the promotion of his glory.PS — oops! Don't look now, but your responsibility-index just went up another notch, again!