"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." James 1:18-21
This portion of Scripture has a lot to say about how to benefit from the Word of God. Today I am thinking of Jesus' parable about the sower and how when he sowed the seed it fell on four different types of soil and resulted in four different types of results.
From these verses here in James, as well as in Jesus' teaching it is clear that for the teaching of the Word to be effective there must be some preparation on the part of the hearer. The seed of God's Word can only produce fruit if it falls on fertile soil.
When prepared hearers interact with a prepared teaching the result is a spiritual harvest.
James is presenting a point of view quite different from the mindset of modern church-goers. He is placing the responsibility on the hearers of the Word to make sure they are spiritually prepared when they show up for the teaching. It is apparent that he understood the power was in the truths being taught not in the techniques of the teacher.
The modern church is characterized by a vastly different attitude and approach. Many 21st century believers come to church unprepared and expect the preacher to move them with his presentation and oratory skills. No wonder there are so many anemic Christians and unhealthy churches.
Certainly, the more skillful a communicator is the easier it is to receive his teaching, but even the most skilled teacher can only sow the seed and the seed is subject to the soil upon which it lands. It is the duty of any preacher or teacher of the Word to show up well prepared and to work hard to continually hone his communication skills. That is a given. But the listener shares an equal responsibility to show up prepared.
A healthy church is a place where a well-prepared teacher of the Word interacts with properly prepared hearers in the power of the Spirit. In that atmosphere the preaching gets better and the people get better!
How do you prepare?
James gives a couple of insights on that!
First, prepare your attitude. He specifically mentions the problem with anger. Angry people don't learn well for a host of reasons. I think there are people who come to hear the Word for inspiration. They want the teaching or the sermon to make them feel good - or bad - who knows? But coming to church just to get moved emotionally is not healthy. The Word is about instruction not just inspiration. It is your responsibility to come with an open mind and a teachable spirit. James suggests the attitude of humility.
Second, come prepared to actively involved yourself in learning. Bring your Bible. Bring your pen to jot down notes. Expect to hear from God and to be convicted by the Holy Spirit. Understand that growth results from obedience. James says the Word is like a mirror that will show you the spiritual flaws in your life. If you are not prepared to take an objective look at your soul, save yourself the hassle of coming because once you hear the truth you are responsible for what you do with it.
Spiritual growth and health are the result of prepared teaching connecting with prepared hearers. When the seeds of truth are planted in good soil your get a spiritual harvest!
Want to help your preacher be better? Be a better hearer! Expect him to be prepared but prepare yourself.