Meditating on the Word: Three After Worship Practices
Old stories about our theological heroes are as heartwarming as they are encouraging. I especially love the story about one time professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, John Murray, who was apparently in the habit of driving theological students to and from church. It appears that Professor Murray made a practice of engaging in an hour of silent meditation after worship. He wanted to process and apply God's word. On one occasion, a new student was in the car who did not know about "the hour of silence." Not surprisingly, this young man wanted to discuss the message with his professor. As the story goes, he soon repented of his ignorance!
Now, this humorous story raises an obvious question, "What do we do after hearing the word preached?" How do we benefit from God's Word proclaimed? It has been my experience that people are untaught as to how they ought to think on and assimilate what they heard in the preaching. So, in order to help not only the individual improve his time immediately following the service but also the family gathered around the lunch table I would offer a brief word of guidance.
First, ask yourself and the members of your family what sin needs confessing as a result of hearing the message? Let's face it, we are in a continual and irreconcilable battle with the presence of sin until we sleep in our graves as in our beds or until we meet the Lord in the air. Likely, and rightly, any sermon we hear until then will have something to do with sin. What is more, the Christian life is a life of repentance (I'll mention faith in a minute!). So, ask, of what do I need to repent after hearing God's word preached.
Second, I should ask what I heard that I must believe. The Christian life is not simply a life of repentance. The Christian life is also a life of faith. It is a believing life. The Bible is familiar territory to the Christian who has responsibly explored its terrain. The Christian knows not only in whom he has believed but what he has believed. But the most familiar things are often not only dear to us but they are the hardest to hear. Let me illustrate what mean. Did you know that over 50% of car accidents happen within five miles of a driver's home? If that's not staggering enough, over 75% occur within 15 miles of home! What does that tell you? It tells me that we pay the least attention when we are in areas most familiar to us. That is a good lesson for Christians. Sometimes we pay little attention to the message because we think we have heard it all before. That may be true. But the call to hear and believe is just the same no matter how familiar is the message.
Third, because I am not merely to be a hearer of the word but a doer of the word also, I need to ask myself what I need to do because of hearing the preaching. If the Holy Spirit is working in me to do the good works that were prepared in advance for me to do, then I must ask myself this question. For example, let's say I hear a sermon about hospitality. I am pricked in my conscious because my family has not practiced hospitality. I need to act. However, I need to act wisely. For instance, it would be a good idea to inform your wife about your new conviction before inviting a group over to your house for dinner! Now, as humorous as that may sound the truth is we need to act in wisdom. We need to act on our conviction but wisdom calls for planning. Someone may wonder why. The answer is simple. We don't want our first attempt at obedience (in this case, hospitality) to be a failure so that we say, "Never again!" Act but act wisely.
Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R Publishing) and Managing Editor for Place for Truth.