He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. -- Nehemiah 8:3
If you are messing around with a Rubik's cube, checking your Facebook, or talking to your neighbor during the sermon, then chances are you're going to miss out. Likewise, if you sit down at home and quickly read a chapter of the Bible to cross it off your list of good deeds before rushing off to do something you're actually interested in, then you're doing it wrong. Pay attention. Keep your eyes on the speaker and his power point. Put away your distractions. Sit by someone who won't talk to you. At home, turn off the TV, set aside a significant amount of time, and read it a few times to let it soak in. In both cases, take notes, ask questions, and think about it.
#2) Celebrate God's Goodness
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. -- Nehemiah 8:12
Don't let the God-talk go in one ear and out the other. Really take it in! When you read that God parted the Red Sea to rescue people from slavery, don't just nod your head. When the preacher shares a promise from the Word of God to you, let it sink in. Let out a "Hallelujah" or "Amen" or even a "Woohoo!" Seriously, take some time after you read or during the song of response time after the sermon to actually celebrate the goodness, power, salvation, grace, righteousness, justice, or whatever aspect of God was highlighted in the Scriptures that day. You'll find that doing this even when you don't feel like it can actually jump start your heart for God and it does wonders for changing your perspective and priorities.
#3) Obey Immediately
So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. -- Nehemiah 8:16
On their second day of reading the Bible, the Israelites learn about the Feast of Booths. They don't just make a mental note to learn more about it or plan to do it next year. That very day they go out and build booths to live in during the feast. We need to respond to God's Word by obeying right away. When you hear a sermon about forgiving someone who has wronged you, do you decide to be more forgiving next time or do you take action immediately? How would it change your life if you actually called up a friend who had hurt you right after service and told them you forgave them and wanted to work things out? When you read the Bible and it tells you something you should or shouldn't be doing, don't just make plans for the future. Take action that very moment.
#4) Confess Your Sin
They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God. -- Nehemiah 9:3
We have a habit of reading the Bible and pointing our fingers at other people. We read a commandment about honoring our parents and think of how bad of a job our siblings or children do at that. We read about Samson and judge him for his violence. While others certainly have their problems and Samson was a big sinner, there is someone else you need to be pointing your finger at when you read the Bible. Yourself. When the Israelites heard God's Word here, they spent hours confessing their own sins. When you read the Bible, ask yourself the hard questions. How am I like the sinners in this story? How do I break these commandments? Read the Bible this way and you'll start to see some real growth and a deeper appreciation of the cross that makes salvation possible.
The people of Israel respond amazingly to God's Word here. We all can learn from them and I hope you find these tips helpful. The Word of God is a powerful thing if we would actually give it the attention and respect it deserves. Would you join me in trying to take it more seriously?