II. If you would profit, prepare your hearts to the reading of the word; the heart is an instrument needs putting in tune. 1 Sam. 7:3: “Prepare your hearts to the Lord.”
To do anything well, it takes some preparation. To work in the garden, one would set out enough time, get the necessary tools and wear appropriate clothes. To go to a restaurant or make a meal, one would prepare.
Reading Scripture, likewise, takes preparation. When a Christian comes to the words of Scripture, we are coming to meet God (for it is the Words of Scripture which the Spirit of God uses to transform the human heart).
Solomon in Ecclesiastes writes
Ecclesiastes 5:1–3 (ESV)
5 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
Watson gives two directions to prepare oneself for Scripture reading: preparation of the thoughts and preparation of the affections. First, thought: “In summoning our thoughts together to attend to that solemn work we are going about. The thoughts are stragglers, therefore rally them together.”
This would entail composing oneself for the work. First, find an appropriate place to read without unnecessary distraction. That does not mean a cubicle in a library; one could read successfully in a sidewalk cafe among many other people — provided there were no one with you who was expecting your attention at that time. A lack of distractions probably entails putting away the electronics. Leaving your cellphone out while you are reading is likely an unwise decision.
Second, it requires some determination to engage in the action: There was must be a decision to direct one’s attention to this task.
The second preparation is of the affections: “In purging out those unclean affections which do indispose us to reading. Before we come to the water of life, let us cast away the poison of impure affections.”
The order here is appropriate: affections typically follow thoughts. Our affections may not be fully turned in our desire direction in a moment, but we have significantly more say over our affections than most people think. We tend to treat emotions (better, affections) as something which just happens to us. But our affections will be affected by what we think, and how we determine to direct our attention.
It may take some period of time to draw one’s attention in the right way. It will likely take a definite effort to clam oneself. There should be a pray to this affect. We may wish to first engage in some brief consideration on the importance of what we are about to do.
Failure to take such care explains why many gain so little in their reading, “Many come rashly to the reading of the word, and no wonder if they come without preparation, they go away without profit.”
Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit,” in The Bible and the Closet: Or How We May Read the Scriptures with the Most Spiritual Profit; and Secret Prayer Successfully Managed, ed. John Overton Choules (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1842), 19–20.