Because the preaching of God’s Word is the most significant and challenging part of public worship, it requires mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual participation from not only the pastor but also the listeners.
For the pastor, preaching is an exhausting process. In fact, some think that preaching just one sermon is the equivalent of a full eight-hour work day. Thus, pastors who preach two sermons are working sixteen hours in one day. While others may not agree with this somewhat exaggerated statement, preaching two sermons in one day takes a ton of energy out of the preacher. Pastors also have to labor for hours prior to preaching in order to prepare the messages God has put on their hearts. In his article “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?” Thom S. Rainer concluded that “70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.” Obviously, good, biblical sermons don’t write themselves. Pastors must devote many hours to praying, studying, and writing out their messages (and hopefully getting some rest!) before they stand before the congregation.
Because the preaching of God’s Word is such a crucial part of God-honoring worship, the congregation must also come prepared to receive what God says to them. But this does not happen automatically. It requires some planning and special effort on our part, and we will benefit far more from each worship service—and each sermon—if we prepare ourselves in at least two ways.
First, we must prepare ourselves spiritually. Receiving the preached Word of God is challenging work; it requires alertness and active listening on our part. Yet it is also one of the most important things we do as growing Christians! Just as physical trainers teach athletes to stretch their muscles and warm-up prior to intense exercise, so we should take some time to “stretch our spiritual muscles” before we participate in public worship. This means we must prepare our hearts and souls to receive biblical truth from God, truth that is sure to stretch us spiritually as we are clearly reminded of the awesomeness of God, the lostness of unbelievers, and even the lingering sinfulness of our own imperfect hearts. The glorious truths of Scripture should produce great joy in our hearts, but they are not always easy to receive, since they also call on us to confess sins and to change our lives in significant ways.
We should remember that prayer is the most important way for us to prepare ourselves spiritually for worship, as we ask God prior to each service to make our hearts receptive to whatever He wants to teach us. Another way to do this is to find out in advance what text is going to be preached (which is often posted in the church bulletin or on the church website) and to spend some time reading it and contemplating what it says, either the night before or the morning of the worship service. Take some time to pray over the specific passage of Scripture, asking God to help you understand it better as you hear it preached and to show you how to apply it to your own life. We can also prepare ourselves spiritually by singing hymns or listening to Christ-exalting music as we get ready for church.
Second, we must also prepare ourselves physically to worship God with our church family. It is easy for us to forget that our bodies are involved in worship too! We use our eyes to watch the pastor and read the Bible. We use our ears to hear the music and to listen to the preaching. We use our mouths to sing and to pray. Sometimes our legs are used for standing to sing or pray with our church family. Likewise, our mind is vital for all of these things and for contemplating the life-changing truths that are proclaimed to us from Scripture. Sometimes we try to distinguish the spiritual worship of God from anything that we do physically, but we can’t do that. When we worship God, we do so physically.
This means that when our bodies are exhausted, it is hard to participate fully in worship. We’re far less likely to benefit from the sermon if we are too tired to even listen to what is preached. We owe it to ourselves, to our church family, and certainly to God to be sufficiently rested prior to attending worship. Are we going to bed at a good time? Parents, are you making sure children get their sleep on Saturday night so that the entire family will have the physical energy to benefit from the church service? If you’re blessed to attend a church that has two services on Sunday, are you faithful to attend both services as often as possible, and are you trying to rest before attending the evening service? Sometimes the most pious thing we can do on Sunday afternoon is take a nap so that we’ll be physically prepared for the evening service. Whatever our particular schedule may look like, we should make every effort to limit our evening activities the night before we attend worship and to prepare ourselves physically as well as spiritually.
 Thom S. Rainer, “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?,” June 22, 2013, https://thomrainer.com/2013/06/how-much-time-do-pastors-spend-preparing-a-sermon/.
Note: This post is an excerpt from A Hearer of God’s Word: Ten Ways to Listen to Sermons Better.