Paul was pulling an all-nighter in the first-century church of Troas. Eutychus, bless his heart, couldn’t take it any more. Around midnight, despite the “many lights in the upper chamber”, he dozed off in his seat and schlumped right on out the window, falling two stories to the ground. Paul, after checking for a pulse like the problem-solver he was, simply resumed his talk and carried on until sunrise. All the folks clucked and fussed over Eutychus, who doubtless protested and blushed and looked for a table to crawl under. I mean, come on. Imagine having your name recorded for thousands of years’ posterity as “that guy who fell out the window while Paul was preaching”, by none other than the visiting preacher’s personal blogger, Luke.
But you know what’s worse than falling asleep in church? Sitting there wide awake and leaving unchanged. I’ve done that more times than I can count. The Eutychus Syndrome lives on in a spirit so soundly asleep that no still, small voice can budge it.
Confession #2: I’m easily distracted. I’m also the church pianist. I can prepare myself for a sermon and listen actively, but as soon as it’s over, I’m on my feet. I play the invitation, then the closing hymn. I fellowship with other folks. I mentally gauge how long it’ll be before I can get Sunday dinner on the table. I get in my car and wonder how soon I can afford to buy gas. And I’ve completely forgotten the preaching. It’s like I’ve been… sound asleep.
Spiritual change is not a magical, automatic effect of listening to a sermon; it’s the result of deliberately acting upon a decision prompted by the Holy Spirit.
The Eutychus Syndrome; or,Why You’re Falling Asleep in Church:
- You’re unprepared. The Holy Spirit isn’t my “I’m-saved!” badge; He’s my teacher, and He’s awfully good about making sure I get something out of a sermon… when I bother to ask Him. If I don’t, inevitably I find myself allowing a mental to-do list, a person sitting near me, or a loose thread hanging off my sleeve to distract me from the preaching. If you haven’t prepared your heart and mind for a meeting with the Word of God, you’ll gain very little from even the best of sermons.
- You’re unengaged. Sing, pray, and give when it’s time to sing, pray, and give. You’re setting up a pattern of participation. I’m a huge advocate of taking notes during the sermon, whether you ever revisit them or not; studies have shown that, between the motor activity of writing and the necessity of condensing points, your recall is dramatically improved when you take notes. Write down anything that stands out – the major points, a verse you want to revisit later, a quote or precept that speaks to you, a completely unrelated idea the Holy Spirit brings to mind. Seriously, take notes. Some of the most life-changing words I’ve ever heard, I’d have missed if I wasn’t listening for something to write down. Active participation doesn’t just keep you awake; it keeps you ready to receive whatever the Holy Spirit has for you.
- You’re unconvinced. The devil doesn’t need to mess with my mind during a sermon. I’m good at that already. If something isn’t sitting well with me, if I’m predisposed to ignore what is being said, if I’m already thinking up counter-arguments, I’ve already lost the battle. The next service, it becomes a little easier to tune out the preaching, and before long, I’m ready to check out as soon as the pastor says, “Open your Bibles.” Take ruthless inventory of your heart and chuck whatever’s speaking louder than the Holy Spirit.
- Your preacher is uninspired. Yay. Finally someone else can take the blame for my being bored in church… Or can he? Pastors wear a lot of hats, and thus have their share of “off days”. A fast-increasing number now work outside jobs because their churches can’t financially support them. Figure in the hours of study and preparation, the never-ending visits, the extra property maintenance, the personal involvement in many issues outside his own house, the pressure of being responsible for the spiritual health of the church… Behind the curtain is an exhausted, sometimes spiritually depleted man spread very thin, and then we wonder why he’s not encouraging us. When was the last time you spent more than two sentences in prayer for him? When was the last time you asked him if you could take on a responsibility for him or his wife? Can you honestly say you give sacrificially of your time and money to help ease his burden?
- You’re walking away unchanged. A life-changing decision may happen at the altar, but a changed life begins after you go back to your seat. Make a spiritual plan of action to apply what the Holy Spirit has taught you. Spend the ride home recalling what you’ve heard. Talk about it with others. Look over your notes and study out anything that’s not clear or is begging for some elaboration. Spiritual change is not a magical, automatic effect of listening to a sermon; it’s the result of deliberately acting upon a decision prompted by the Holy Spirit.
Tuning out during a sermon didn’t seem like a big thing to me until I realized that if I can’t bring every thought into captivity when the Word is preached to me, I’ll never be able to do it when it’s just me and Jesus, when He is pleading with me to just give Him a little more of myself, just spend a little extra time with Him, just focus on Him already! Eutychus has an unfortunate enough legacy, but I certainly don’t want to be these guys – the ones to whom Jesus finally said, “Go back to sleep. There’s nothing you can do now.”
Being physically tired is not an excuse – it is an opportunity to sacrifice my personal comfort for communion with Jesus Christ Himself. Already knowing what is being preached is not an excuse – the Holy Spirit still has something to teach me. Having too much to do is not an excuse – I’ve already got dinner in the crock pot.