The Westminster Shorter Catechism pastorally states:
Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
Q. 89. How is the word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.
Today we have the great privilege of living in a world that offers Christians a wide range of “daily devotionals.” From paper copies to e-readers, Kindle books and digital online resources, the Christian certainly has no excuse to offer for why he is not reading and studying the Word of God. For many years I have suggested a plan to help students of the Bible to actively engaage in the primary means of grace given by God each week. If WSC 89 is correct (and it is!) then it seems to me that the best “devotional” to use each week is the preached Word heard on the Lord’s Day. That is not to say that other material is wrong or unhelpful It is to emphasize that the preaching of the Word is an effectual means to equip pilgrims on their journey in this world. Indeed, it is the primary means!
In a recent online discussion, I was struck by a single thought: “What did the people of God do for the first 1600 years of the church without “devotional books” and a personal copy of the Bible?” During that time most people did not have access to the Bible, and if they did, they would not have been able to read it. Many were illiterate, unable to read the Latinized version of the Scriptures. What did they use to feed their souls? Simply put, it was the preached Word that they heard each week. Preaching is, simply put, “the primary means of grace given by God to help His people.” It is, in fact, more important than a Bible reading plan, a daily devotional book, or other methods. Again, that is not to say that those things are wrong. I use a Bible-reading plan, and I encourage others to do so. However, the preached Word is still the primary means “of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.”
The process I suggest is rather simple and born out of an examination of the Westminster Larger Catechism 160 which states:
Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the word preached?
A. It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.
There are two categories in my system: preparation and response. Each week we hear the Word of God preached and, per the instructions of the answer to WLC 160, we are to prepare for it and respond to it. Therefore, our week can be structured as follows:
PREACHING (sowing the seed into your heart):
- LORD’S DAY (Sunday): AM and PM sermon preached. If you take notes, great. If not, it doesn’t matter. Note taking during sermons are not required, but I typically encourage it. That is a decision you will need to make.
RESPONSE (tending the soil of your heart):
- MONDAY-WEDNESDAY: Read the passage preached on the Lord’s Day. Review your notes. Look up noteworthy cross references. Consider one or two applications from the sermon as it applies to your life. Keep a journal of thoughts and other items. Endeavor to memorize one or two verses that were used in the sermon. Pray for the Spirit to use the preached Word to bring forth fruit in your life.
PREPARATION (preparing the soil of your heart):
- THURSDAY-SATURDAY: Read the next passage that will be preached on the Lord’s Day. Begin to ask questions of the text, pray over and through the passage. Jot down observations and highlight issues that you hope to see resolved in the sermon. Pray for the preaching of the Word of God and your pastor as he studies. Pray for the Spirit to open your mind, eyes, and heart as you prepare for the Word of God preached.
This process can be done individually as well as in times of family worship. It can be altered to fit your needs in whatever way is helpful. I simply offer this process as a guideline.
I suspect that if the people of God utilized something like this suggested process they would be further strengthened and equipped for their service in the Kingdom of God.