to draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools
Getting to church on Sunday morning can be such a hassle that we get very little out of the experience and begin to wonder, “what’s the point?” This week I am showing you from Ecclesiastes 5 how we can get to church, get over the hassle and get to something great! Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s dissertation on how to avoid a meaningless life. In Ecclesiastes 5 Solomon shows us how to avoid meaningless worship. To see the introduction to this week’s series of posts, see Worship Mindset #1, Careful.
After he tells us to guard our steps, Solomon goes on to say, “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil (Ecc. 5:1b).” To listen is to stay focused. It is to tune in. In the context of worship, “listen” relates to one’s readiness to receive the words being spoken. Worship is not a brainless, mindless activity. Those who truly worship God are attentive, engaged, mindful.
The Bible teaches that listening is critical to faith.
Romans 10:17 – Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
James tells us that we need to be more ready to hear
Jesus told a parable about a sower, seed, and soils. In the parable the seed represents the Word of God and the soils represent how it is received. Some soils are hardened to the point that the seed is never received. Other soils are shallowed out and the seed finds no depth. Some soil is filled with weeds that later choke out any fruit the good seed sought to produce. It is only when the seed is received deeply, singularly, does it find good soil and bears the fruits of salvation.
Listening is essential to salvation, therefore it is critical to worship.
Worship is not singing. Worship does not end when preaching begins. Singing is great. Giving is good. Prayer is essential, but preaching the Bible is central to worship. In 2 Timothy 4:2, the apostle Paul told pastor Timothy to, “Preach the Word. Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Unfortunately, this statement
God has ordained preaching to be the main delivery system of the Word of God in worship. Is it any wonder that we are dealing with so much distraction and that our attention span is quickly eroding?
There is no need to share a statistic or clever illustration to prove that our listening skills are fading. In this age of information, we all feel it. Our minds are quickly changing channels on media and content. Have we left sufficient bandwidth for being mindful of the Word of God in worship?
To get to church and get over it, you don’t need a shorter sermon. Instead of wondering what it is going to take to “get this sermon over with” why don’t you instead find a way to get into it?
How can we lengthen our listening? May I suggest the following:
- Biblical meditation and memorization – Long periods of concentrated time in the Word of God will help train our minds to better receive the Word of God. With social media, we consume thousands of images and words per day. It is a meaningless scroll through an otherwise colorful world. We are being shallowed out. Scripture memorization helps us think deeply about God’s Word. The more we work on memorization, we begin to move into meditation, being filled up by the Word of God. As we dwell more and more on the text, the Holy Spirit begins to bring its meaning to light.
- Use a paper Bible. While using a digital version of God’s Word can be helpful and convenient, it is that matter of a sudden notification that it’s your turn on Words with Friends that may bring an end to your mindfulness in worship. Your pastor was just about to turn the corner on a life-changing truth when your aunt Becky hits you up on Messenger. The Word of God was just about to help your marriage, but aunt Becky couldn’t wait to show you her #mostamazing baked spaghetti. Aunt Becky’s baked spaghetti may be spectacular, but it is not eternally life-altering. I don’t know about you, but I know me. I can’t concentrate when little red notifications start popping up on my phone. One thing I do know. My paper copy of the Bible is not connected to Instagram. That helps me. It may help you listen. Go paper!
- Add sermon podcasts to your listening. The best way to learn how to listen to sermons is to listen to sermons. One of the benefits of our
digi-devices is that there are countless podcasts of preaching available to us. I have several podcasts from churches and seminaries to which I subscribe and listen regularly. Yes, preachers listen to preachers!
- Be physically prepared to listen. It is really hard to listen to preaching if you are not physically prepared. Staying up until 2 a.m. watching Netflix and hitting a Monster on the way into life groups isn’t what Paul meant by being
Sprit-filled. Your body and mind need rest. Perhaps the reason you got nothing out of last week’s sermon is that you had nothing left. You got nothing out of it because you brought nothing to it. How much better might that otherwise boring sermon be if you brought something to it such as a curious mind, a rested body, and a ready spirit? You might be amazed at how much better your preacher can be if you would get some rest.
As a preacher, my job is to work hard to make a sermon seem like 20 minutes. It should be interesting, passionate, and beneficial. This is the Word of God! If it is boring, that’s my fault! But if I am working hard to make a sermon seem like 20 minutes, I am trusting that God’s people value preaching enough to give me at least 20 minutes. I’m going to try to bring you something great. You bring you!
Ultimately, what’s the motivation for being mindful of the Word we are receiving in worship? Solomon explains that “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.” He is attentive to the Word in worship because he doesn’t want to make a mistake. He wants to be informed of what pleases God. It terrifies him to think that something he believes to be right is wrong. How often does this happen in our modern worship contexts? People are emotionally hyped and mindlessly entertained. As appealing as the experience may be, this is not worship. Worship is not for us, it is from us. Mindless worship is the self-serving sacrifice of a fool who is uninformed by God’s Word. For us to get to church and get over it, we have to bring an awakened curiosity;