I was surprised and perplexed as I examined my curious, contradictory behavior.
My wife and I go each summer for a week to the ChautauquaInstitution in western New York state, where we hear outstanding ministers from a variety of pulpits.
I always take a notepad to the worship services and sit with pen ready to take notes.
Why do I not take a notepad to the worship service when I am in my home church?
At Chautauqua, it’s obvious that I expect to hear something remarkable. I want to be prepared to discuss the sermon with others later.
I go with heightened expectation because the visiting minister is renowned. I go ready to hear and be inspired.
Why do I not go with heightened expectations at home?
At Chautauqua, am I not engaging in a type of hero worship? Do I feel that someone who preaches in a tall-steeple church has more to say than someone who toils day after day in an unknown place?
If I went to my own church with the same attitude of expectation, that something wonderful would happen there, with notepad open and pen poised, would I experience the same joy?
Jesus said, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear” (Mark 4:9). It is my job to hear.
The preacher, no matter how brilliant or inept, cannot do the hearing for me. I am the one charged with the hard work of hearing.
Even at the Chautauqua worship services, with a renowned speaker pouring out wisdom, I see attendees reading newspapers, texting, moving around and talking to a neighbor. Some seeds are falling on hard ground.
In my graduate classes, I talk to students about being prepared to learn. “Come to class with expectations,” I say.
One of my professors would routinely recite an old adage: “A student who comes to class without a pencil is like a soldier going to war without a weapon.” In other words, be prepared to learn.
Most people do not realize that listening is hard work. Many people feel they can read or text and still listen. They are dead wrong. They can hear the words; however, hearing the words is not listening.
I like that feeling of expectation, of being prepared to learn or be inspired. I like the excitement that propels me to find a seat where I can both see and hear the speaker.
I must admit that I never grow tired of those Scriptural nuances that make the stories come alive and help me remember, but I must remember to stay focused.
Jesus nailed it. Some seeds do fall among the weeds, some do fall on hard ground, but a few fall on good ground.
As any farmer or gardener knows, good ground is prepared ground. One doesn’t just go out and toss seeds anywhere. The ground must be turned, enriched and often moistened.
If I am to be excited by the prospects of worship in any venue, I must prepare the ground – my heart, mind and soul – to receive the seeds that will be sown. Jesus certainly shifted the burden of responsibility.
So I’ve changed my behavior. When Sunday morning comes, I will be in my home congregation with notepad and pen in hand. I will be there filled with expectation.
MitchCarnell is a consultant in organizational and interpersonal communication. He is the editor of “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World” and an active lay member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C. He blogs at MitchCarnell.com.
A member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, he is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.