We rightly expect our pastors to spend hours preparing before they preach on Sundays. But what should the people in the pew be doing? How can God’s people prepare to receive the message the preacher has prepared?
While reading through Acts, I noticed a pattern of preparation tucked away in chapter 10. When Peter arrived to preach the gospel to Cornelius, he was welcomed with these words: “I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (Acts 10:33).
Cornelius displays the desire we ought to have as we wait on God’s Word to be delivered to us. We can prepare our hearts for preaching by cultivating five characteristics.
1. Eagerness to Hear from God
As soon as Cornelius heard from the angel that God had a message for him, he “sent for [Peter] at once” (v. 33). When Peter arrived, Cornelius had been expectantly looking for him, longing to hear more about this God he feared and worshiped (vv. 2, 24). Cornelius said the audience was ready to hear everything Peter had been “commanded by the Lord.” He understood that while Peter was the messenger, the message was from God.
When you sit under the teaching or preaching of God’s Word, are you more easily impressed with the speaker than affected by the God who’s speaking through his Word? Do you long to hear a message from God through this messenger? If not, confess your lack of longing to God and ask him to give you a heart that’s eager to hear his voice.
2. Gratitude for the Messenger
Cornelius knew the difficulties Peter endured to deliver God’s message to him, traveling an arduous 30 miles from Joppa to Caesarea. He appreciated Peter’s willingness to faithfully obey God against what the religious leaders taught about association with Gentiles (v. 28). As a man of and under authority, Cornelius recognized he and Peter were under God’s authority and wanted to hear “all that [Peter had] been commanded by the Lord.” Cornelius also trusted that Peter’s preaching came from a heart of love for him, so he commended Peter for being “kind enough to come” (v. 33).
What’s your attitude toward the messenger—the teacher or preacher—you’ll hear bringing God’s Word? Are you grateful for the time and sacrifice the messenger has invested in preparing? Do you respect the preacher as one who speaks on behalf of the Lord? Do you receive the preaching as an act of kindness to you?
3. Commitment to Community
Do you respect the preacher as one who speaks on behalf of the Lord? Do you receive the preaching as an act of kindness to you?
Cornelius was attentive to the others around him who also gathered to hear from God. As the head of the household and the one who received the angel’s message, Cornelius could have asked for a private audience with Peter. But he wanted everyone in his sphere of influence to hear the message, so he gathered his family and friends (v. 24). Cornelius showed he wasn’t concerned only for what God had for him but also for what he had for others.
Do you listen to God’s Word in the context of a community? Do you pursue others with whom you can learn from it? Do you invite others to sit under the Word with you? Do you pray for your church friends and family as they hear it preached?
4. Attention to God’s Presence
Cornelius was aware he and his fellow hearers were together “in the presence of God” (v. 33). When you sit under Bible teaching and preaching, are you attentive to and pursuing God’s presence? Do you practice the presence of God by praying throughout the teaching time, asking God to speak to you and to give you ears to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7)?
5. Readiness to Hear and Do
Cornelius said he and his household were ready to hear “all” Peter had to say to them (Acts 10:33). This kind of listening requires active attentiveness that seeks to receive and understand the whole message, including each individual part of the whole. Cornelius was “no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts” (James 1:22–24). He put the preaching immediately into practice by believing the gospel and being baptized (Acts 10:47–48). Spurgeon once told his congregation of a Scottish woman who rightly quipped on her way out of church, “The sermon has been said, but it is not yet done.” The best way to hear preaching is to be ready to do it as soon as possible.
Do you employ the means necessary—taking notes, turning off your phone—to hear the whole message? Do you try to understand both the overall flow and the individual parts of the message? What do you need to do to overcome distractions? Are you willing to hear everything God might be saying to you, or are you prone to selective hearing? Do you respond to the sermon with fresh faith in God, repentance for sin, and plans to love and serve the people God gives you? What steps will you need to take to be a doer of the word on Monday, not just a hearer on Sunday?
Are you willing to hear everything God might be saying to you, or are you prone to selective hearing?
Sincere followers of Jesus struggle to hear preaching with prepared hearts. The preacher’s imperfect delivery, those noisy kids down the row, spiritual warfare, and so many other factors hinder our hearing. What might happen if we learn from Cornelius and practice these five ways to prepare our hearts for preaching?
Let’s pray that God would grant us the same measure of grace he gave Cornelius and his household that day: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (v. 44). Can you imagine the glory and grace that would fall on churches full of hearts ready to hear and heed all the good news the Lord has given preachers to deliver?