Q: What makes the word effective for salvation?
A: The Spirit of God causes the reading and especially the preaching of the word to convince and convert sinners and to build them up in holiness and comfort through faith to salvation.
Q: How is the word to be read and heard in order to become effective for salvation?
A: For the word to become effective for salvation, we must pay careful attention to it, prepare ourselves, and pray for understanding. We must also receive it with faith and love, treasure it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.
In Children’s Church this week and last we took care to emphasize several theological points:
- The importance and privilege of Scripture as an instrument of God for the benefit of our life after salvation
- The critical role of the Holy Spirit, not just in divinely inspiring Scripture, but also in understanding it and making it fruitful in our lives
- The centrality of preaching and teaching to corporate worship on Sundays
This week, in taking some time with the latter catechism question, we discussed some practical issues when it came to getting the most out of the reading and preaching of the word. For while it is true that we depend on the Holy Spirit to graciously enlighten and enliven us to the truth, we can work as hard as we can to be fertile and prepared for its sowing.
Kids intuitively and intimately understand that the zone of “paying careful attention” is a tricky one. We are often distractible, nervous, antsy, and bored. Or tired, sleepy, docile, and resistant. Oftentimes we are defeated in difficulties with our attention because we mistake it as our inevitable processing of the world; we passively just let it be what it is, leaving the onus of engagement to the external agents trying to capture our attention instead of actively directing it ourselves.
Again, it is a struggle with sin. We can be victimized by it, trapped in our nature, or we can seek salvation and grace and — with the assurance of power and rescue and support — take steps to turn into a different direction. When we take a step back from our situation, we can see that we are not our impulses, and instead of being buffeted by whatever grabs at our attention, we can choose to follow the truth.
With this attitude, we can become active learners of the word rather than passive hearers. Older students can take notes. The preachers at our church usually take care to announce and outline the structure of their sermons from the outset. Parents can write these “three main points” down and challenge their children to notice when the preacher is hitting each one in the course of the sermon. Or younger students can look for a single illustration, example, or lesson that they can understand and latch onto. They can then reflect upon it imaginatively, or make a picture of it, or think of questions, connections, and hypotheticals around it.
We also become problem-solvers of our situations. If there is a recurrent distraction, we can choose to move or ask for help in addressing it. We can interrogate what is HALTing us: whether we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Pastor Dan’s adult Sunday School class is going through Powlison’s model of Biblical counsel and change, which is a more intensive and thorough investigation.
There’s been a great deal of emphasis paid to the 10:20 initiative at our church (NewCity’s push to come to Sunday worship a little earlier). Even though the structure of our service itself is designed to transition us into hearts of worship, it pays to give oneself an anteroom to put the brakes on the momentum of our quotidian busy-ness and ease into a day of Sabbath. It’s a great time to address issues of physical needs, emotional hangovers, and situational distractions before worship. Relatedly, some people greatly benefit from a leisurely walk or a time of singing before the “meaty” part of their daily devotional.
Most importantly, though, is that we seek supernatural aid — pray for understanding — whether we are finding it hard to pay attention or not. Our efforts and intentions are moot without the grace of the Spirit and magnified with it. Turning to prayer redirects our hearts to communion and aligns us with his sovereign will. We move from hapless to hopeful, and the word lights up from dross to treasure, comfort, and tool.
One last word: we’ve begun basic scripture memorization. The children have practiced Psalm 95:6-7 with hand motions. Have them rehearse it for you!