How to Listen to Sermons
How well do you remember sermons you've heard?
(That's Bruce Ware from back in November. Remember? Something about "beholding," right?)
Several years ago the speaker at a conference I was attending asked the group to share with him something from a sermon they'd heard. Any sermon, anything at all.
After an uncomfortably long pause, a couple of people unearthed scattered bits–a story here, an illustration there, a single phrase, a sermon title.
Oh, did I mention this was room full of preachers at a pastor's conference?
Now, to be fair, we can't be expected to recall everything from the hundreds of sermons we'll hear in a lifetime, especially on the spot without any context. The Holy Spirit has a marvelous way of bringing to mind things we've heard when we need to hear them. You never know when a sermon you're struggling to connect with your present experience will strike at the heart of some future circumstance. God works like that.
Nevertheless, it's easy to come to worship on Sunday ill-prepared to receive God's word delivered from the pulpit. It’s easy to miss out on the great blessing of hearing the teaching of Scripture week in and week out.
When I teach our high school Sunday school class, Spiritual Boot Camp, I like to begin the year with a little calculation I did of what all the sermon-hours they’ll log in their lifetimes add up to. The average adult church member has heard enough sermons to equal a seminary graduate’s amount of theological instruction: around 900 hours!
Only you aren’t graded on the sermons you hear.
I came across a helpful little booklet by Christopher Ash called Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons. Ash gives what he calls seven “ingredients for healthy sermon listening.” His points are well worth repeating:
1. Expect God to speak.
We must realize that we come not to hear the voice of man, but God's voice. When Scripture speaks, God speaks. Paul commended the Thessalonians for recognizing and accepting his preaching "not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God" (1 Thess 2:13). We need to come expecting to hear, not bracing ourselves to stay awake. (Would someone please remind my one year old of that?)
2. Admit God knows better than you.
It's easy to come to Scripture looking for comfort and encouragement. But what if you need correction, warning, or a call to radical change? It takes humility to recognize we don't have it all together, and God is not afraid of offending us if need be. The sermon you need the most may be the one you like the least.
3. Make sure the preacher says what the passage says.
Be an active listener. Don't be afraid to flip the pages of your Bible and check out cross-references! Ask yourself, "Where did he get that from?" Don't be cynical and critical; be alert and discerning.
Check back tomorrow for the next four points . . .