Hearing without hearing. This is a common problem we all face. We hear something said but for whatever reason – needy children, wandering thoughts – our mind and heart are not engaged with what is said. We might say, “It went in one ear and out the other.” Jesus understood this tendency in those He taught and would often close out His teaching with the words “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt 11:15; 13:9; Mark 4:23). Jesus wasn’t questioning whether a person had ears or not, but whether a person was engaged with what was actually said.
How easy it is for all of us to drift into and through our time of corporate worship, week in and week out, and come away having heard a lot and yet not hearing anything. As a result, despite sitting through hundreds and even thousands of sermons, we never really change. The Word has not done its work and we are the worse for it.
Receiving from a sermon requires two things: the work of the person to listen well and the work of the Holy Spirit to cause what is heard to affect the heart. When these two things come together, the spiritual impact of a person’s life is abundantly fruitful (Matt 13:23). So to help us to listen to a sermon well, here are ten suggestions:
Before the Sermon
Listen well by remembering you are entering into a spiritual battle
Satan is not only a liar and deceiver, but he is also actively snatching away the Word that has been sown in the heart (Matt 13:19). We must understand that listening well is a spiritual battle. Satan will do everything he can to ensure that the Word of God does not take root in the heart and produce spiritual fruit. Why? Because the Word sown in fertile soil grows to produce spiritual armour for our battle with Satan. To not listen well is to leave us spiritually exposed.
Listen well by protecting Saturday night
A soldier would never enter the battle unprepared, and neither should we. Do all you can to protect Saturday evening from other activity and use it to prepare your soul to receive the Word. Turn your mind to the passage being preached. This can be found in Friday’s weekly bulletin or on the front page of our website. Prayerfully read the passage and remember or jot down any questions that may come to mind so that you can enter a sermon already engaged with what is being said. Then get to bed early and get enough rest, so you are not tempted to nod off while listening!
Listen well by praying
Begin Sunday in prayer. Pray for the preacher, the congregation and yourself. Pray for the preacher to expound the Word with clarity and conviction. Pray for yourself and the church, that the Holy Spirit will help you to be receptive to the Word and grant you the conviction and the power to obey it.
Listen well by anticipating God to speak
We must come to a sermon knowing that the Word of God is, dare I say it, the very Word of God. And with that knowledge comes the expectation that God actually speaks to us with an authoritative voice through the voice of the preacher. The Apostle Peter said, “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11 NIV). Knowing this will help us come with our hearts and minds ready to hear from God.
During the sermon
Listen well by using a physical Bible
There are many reasons for this, but here are a few. A physical Bible will not cause distraction by an ill-timed text message or the temptation to look up something else. A physical Bible will also allow you to look at the passage within its greater context, seeing themes, key words etc. Also, we don’t only remember by seeing things but by locating them. A physical Bible helps us to locate truth on an unchanging page, day in and day out.
Listen well by taking notes
This can be helpful for some people to stay focused and retain information. Just the physical act of writing something down helps to fix it in our minds. It also protects us from getting tired and distracted. There is the added benefit of having notes for later reference. This can be particularly good if you are in a life group that is tracking with the sermon series. Every week we provide sermon notes for this purpose.
Listen well by assessing what the preacher says
Preaching must be a public encounter with the Word of God. It is the preacher’s task to explain what God says accurately, passionately, and clearly and why it matters in the here and now. We call this expository preaching. It is preaching that exposes the meaning of a text, rather than “impositional” preaching which imposes a meaning on a text. It is our task as listeners to test what is being said against what is written in God’s Word. Instead of rebuking the Bereans for scrutinizing the teaching of the Apostle Paul, they were commended (Acts 17:11). We can listen well by following their example.
Listen well by being physically present weekly
We all benefit from listening to sermons online at a time and place when convenient. But that is not the best thing. The Bible speaks about “not neglecting to meet together’ (Heb 10:25). And there is good reason for this. The means of grace through which the Lord grows and matures His church are predominately an “assembled” means of grace. This means that when communion is taken, it is taken together. When prayers are spoken, they are spoken together. When songs are sung, they are sung together. And when the scriptures are preached, they are received together, collectively as a physical expression of Christ’s universal church each week, at a particular time, in a particular place, under a particular set of unique circumstances.
After the sermon
Listen well by talking about what you heard
It is in those critical minutes and hours after the sermon where convictions, encouragements, and promises can take root in the heart and mature or can be quickly snatched away (Matt 13:19). After the sermon “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24) by honest discussion and questions around what was taught, what was learned and what we plan to do about it.
Listen well by being a steward of what you heard
Most of us think that the stewardship of the Word belongs to the preacher only. But that is not where the stewardship ends. Once the Word is preached, the stewardship, or we might say, the responsibility, moves from the preacher to the receiver. With this reception of truth comes a responsibility before God to be a doer of the truth we receive. James tells us that to do otherwise is to be deceived: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). We are called to allow the Word to do its work by faith and not bury this precious treasure in the dirt (Matt 25:14-30). At the end of the message, pause and ask, “What is God calling me to do as a result of this message?”. Perhaps it is to repent of or avoid a particular sin, believe a precious promise, edify God for a particular attribute, carry out a certain good work etc. Biblical preaching always requires a response.
This Sunday, as with every Sunday, we have an immense privilege to sit under the preached Word of the Living God, who is ready to communicate to us. Let us till the soil of our heart well, so that the Word of God might immediately take root and bear fruit for the maturity of Christ’s church and the glory of His name.