The easiest of the Disciplines related to the intake of God’s Word is simply hearing it. Why consider this a Discipline? Because if we don’t discipline ourselves to hear God’s Word regularly, we may only hear it accidentally, just when we feel like it, or we may never hear it at all. For most of us, disciplining ourselves to hear God’s Word means developing the practice of steadfastly attending a New Testament church where the Word of God is faithfully preached.
Jesus once said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28). Merely listening to God-inspired words is not the point. The purpose of all methods of Bible intake is obedience to what God says and the development of Christlikeness. But the method Jesus encourages in this verse is hearing God’s Word.
Another passage emphasizing the importance of hearing is Romans 10:17: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” This doesn’t mean that a person can come to faith in Christ only by hearing Scripture, for multitudes have become believers as Jonathan Edwards did, through reading the Bible. Still this verse concerns itself with hearing. We may add, however, that most who, like Edwards, were converted while reading Scripture are also like him in that they heard the proclamation of God’s Word prior to conversion. Furthermore, whereas this passage teaches that initial faith in Christ comes from hearing the inspired Word about Jesus Christ, it’s also true for Christians that much of the faith we need for day-to-day living comes from hearing the Bible’s message. From a scriptural word about God’s provision may come the faith that a family with financial struggles needs. Hearing a biblically based sermon on the love of Christ may be God’s means of granting assurance of faith to a downcast believer. I recently heard a tape-recorded message that the Lord used to give me the faith to persevere in a matter. Gifts of faith are often given to those who discipline themselves to hear the Word of God.
There are other ways we may discipline ourselves to hear God’s Word in addition to the most important way, which is hearing it preached as part of a local church ministry. (I say this realizing that some do not have the opportunity to hear God’s Word through the ministry of a local church.) The most obvious of these is by Christian radio and tapes. These can be used in creative ways and times while dressing, cooking, traveling, etc. If neither of these media is available in your area, consider shortwave radio and mail-order tape-lending libraries. Although shortwave radio is common overseas, most Americans don’t have one and rarely think of the medium. But many of the best Bible teachers on traditional AM and FM stations in the United States also can be heard practically anywhere in the world (including the United States) on the powerful, if lesser quality signal, shortwave stations. And there are several cassette-lending libraries nationwide, each with thousands of sermons on tape. Usually they ask for payment only to cover postage costs or for a nominal rental fee per tape. Check the classified ads of Christian publications, contact the office of ministries that distribute cassette tapes, or check with several local churches to get names and addresses of some of these tape libraries.
One other text worthy of note on this subject is 1 Timothy 4:13. There the Apostle Paul instructs his young friend in the ministry: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” Though a lot more explanation could be given, it’s enough to say that it was important in the ministry of Paul and important to the Lord, who inspired these words, for God’s people to hear God’s Word. Since this is so, it should become a disciplined priority for us to hear it. If someone says, “I don’t need to go to church to worship God; I can worship Him on the golf course or at the lake just as well, if not better, than in church,” we may agree that God can be worshiped there. But the ongoing worship of God cannot be separated from the Word of God. We are to discipline ourselves to go and hear the Word of God.
A brief word is in order here about preparing ourselves to hear the Word of God. If you enter the typical evangelical church two minutes before the start of the worship service, it sounds almost like you’ve walked into a gymnasium two minutes before a basketball game. Part of my pastoral heart appreciates the good things represented by people who are glad to see and talk with each other. There is a spirit of family reunion in the air when the family of God gathers together. But I think a larger part of my heart longs for reverence and a spirit of seeking God among those who come to hear His Word.
For a while a congregation of Korean Christians used our church building for their midweek service. I was impressed by the way they entered the worship center. Whether they were first to arrive or came in after the service had already started, they immediately bowed in prayer for several moments before arranging their belongings, unbuttoning their coat, or acknowledging the presence of anyone else. This served as an effective reminder to their own hearts and to everyone else of their main purpose for that time. Most churches I’m familiar with could stand more of this kind of thing.
One of the English Puritans, Jeremiah Burroughs, wrote in 1648 the following words of counsel regarding preparation for the discipline of hearing God’s Word:
First, when you come to hear the Word, if you would sanctify God’s name, you must possess your souls with what it is you are going to hear. That is, what you are going to hear is the Word of God.… Therefore you find that the apostle, writing to the Thessalonians, gives them the reason why the Word did them so much good as it did; it was because they did hear it as the Word of God. “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of man but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
So hearing the Word of God is not merely passive listening, it is a Discipline to be cultivated.
Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 29–31.
I have prepared a 13 week study of Donald Whitney’s classic book. It is available as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. Through this service, you get access to thousands of Bible lessons for one low monthly cost. This Study Guide is also available on Amazon.