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How to Listen to a Sermon

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The purpose of this article is to equip the people of God (particularly at CAB) to get the most out of the weekly sermon. In order to derive the greatest blessing from the preaching ministry, you must get 7 things. 

PREGAME: BEFORE THE SERMON

1. Get rest.

What you do with your body affects your ability to listen to a sermon. God gave us a soul and a body. So, be aware of the inseparable connection between the two. For example, if I stay up until 3 am playing video games or binge-watching Netflix [1], I cannot expect my mind to be attentive to what the preacher is saying the following morning. Also, though it is not wrong to have a good time on Saturday night, there is a way of doing it that disregards the importance of hearing the preached Word on Sunday. Here are some tips:

  • Get to bed at a decent time.
  • Be mindful of what you eat and drink Saturday night.
  • Wake up so you have plenty of time to get ready (especially if you have kids!).
  • Turn up the worship music all morning and sing along!

2. Get desperate.

Leading up to the sermon, cry out to God the way David did: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1; see also Psalm 42:1) Why pray like this? Because God promises to answer these prayers: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” (Psalm 81:10) So, before the sermon, sing desperately for God to fill your heart and soul. Here are some helpful tips: 

  • Turn your songs into prayers to God. 
  • Find your seat before the service starts and quiet your heart. 
  • Expect the Spirit of God to move in you that morning. 

GAMETIME: LISTENING TO THE SERMON

3. Get understanding.

The first thing preventing you from listening well is being oblivious to what preaching is. For example, if I am ignorant of what a funeral is, I might show up in workout clothes cracking jokes! Similarly, if we do not understand what true preaching is, we might be listening to the preached word of God with an inappropriate attitude or mindset.

What is preaching then?

Preaching is worship from the word (the preacher) that creates worshippers through the Word (the congregation). It is not enough for the preacher to faithfully explain the meaning of Scripture (that is only teaching). He must also be enthralled and captivated with the meaning of what he is heralding from Scripture. Therefore, boring preaching is not preaching! On the other hand, if you are bored with true preaching, you may have a spiritual defect in your heart.

Preaching is also the means by which King Jesus rules over his church and manifests his glory to our hearts in the present day. When a humble and godly man is truly preaching, it is as if [2] King Jesus himself were speaking audibly to you. Now, if you think this is too high a view of preaching, listen to how Paul the apostle charges Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word.” (1 Timothy 4:1-2) He could not have given a more serious preface to the command: “preach the word.” Paul had an extremely high view of preaching because it deserves a high view. 

4. Get focused.

If you listen to a sermon the way you watch TV or listen to a song, you are probably not listening well. The apostle Peter would agree: “Preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace… of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13) The phrase “preparing your minds for action” is literally translated “gird up the loins of your minds.” This phrase alludes to when a man would tie up the extra cloth of his robe before running into battle (see picture below). If he didn’t do this, he would trip and fall. Similarly, if we don’t pick up the slack of our minds, we will stumble in our listening.

GIRD-YOUR-LOINS-900Therefore, focus and fix your mind! You must listen to a sermon the way a girl listens to her beloved father’s last words on the hospital bed. You must listen to a sermon the way a cancer patient and her husband listen to a doctor describing the best way to defeat cancer. Every word counts. Every moment matters.

So, what would it say about the girl if she kept checking her phone as her father said his last words? Or what would it say about the cancer patient’s husband if he kept leaving to go to the bathroom or thinking about what he wants for lunch? It probably means they do not sense the gravity of the situation. It is no different from listening to the preaching of God's word.[3] Here are some helpful tips:

  • Go to the restroom before the service starts or refrain from drinking too many fluids.
  • Turn off your phone, put it away, and use a physical Bible (obviously there are exceptions). 
  • Don't assume mind-drift is natural, Satan wants your mind to wander! So, fight to fix your mind when you sense it drifting. 

5. Get help.

Without the Spirit of God, our listening and preaching will be in vain. Without the Spirit of God, no one is even able to receive the word of God with meekness (1 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:7). Therefore, you must pray for the Spirit’s help in order to have “the eyes of your hearts enlightened.” (Ephesians 1:18) Not only should you pray for yourself, but also for the preacher! For he himself must preach in the power of the Spirit, lest you trust in the wisdom of man rather than the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5) Here are some helpful tips:

  • Pray during the songs before the sermon. 
  • Pray as the preacher goes up and begins. 
  • Say quick prayers impulsively throughout the sermon quietly in your heart. 

6. Get proof.

The only sermon worthy of your listening is one faithfully derived from the text of Scripture. All others are mere opinions in comparison to the One whose Word brought galaxies into existence! But how do you know if the preacher is getting his sermon from the text of Scripture? Here are two standards you as the listener should always look for:

1) The preacher quotes the biblical text. Whether it is recited from memory or read aloud, there must be some biblical text that is central to the sermon and heard by all. The text must take center stage as he goes throughout the sermon. The preacher reads a portion of the text, followed by his explanation. But even if the preacher quotes the text, it does not necessarily mean everything else he says is worthy to be listened to! Which leads to the next and most important standard.

2) The preacher shows you where he gets his points from the text. A lot of sermons consist of the preacher saying a bunch true things about the text after he reads it. But there is a difference between explaining the Bible and showing where you got your explanation. The problem is when preachers don't show where they got what they are saying from the text. Instead, they assume you see it, without making sure you actually see it. 

What's wrong that?

It trains listeners to put their trust in what a man says, rather than what the Bible says. You should never “take the preacher’s word for it” when they are explaining the passage. You should never be left wondering, “Where is he getting this from the text?” Unless you can actually see where he gets his points from the Bible (because he is showing you), you don’t have good reason to listen. You should listen to the preacher--not primarily because he is trustworthy, charismatic, or easy to understand--but because you can actually see his points in the words of the Bible. Sermons that continually direct your eyeballs to the specific wording of the text demonstrate total submission to God's word. As a result, you are trained week-in and week-out to put your confidence in the Bible, not in what a man says about the Bible. Here are some practical tips:

  • Listen with your Bibles open and eyes on the text. 
  • Constantly ask yourself throughout the sermon, "Where is he getting this from the text?"
  • Ask yourself at the end, "Am I impressed with the preacher or the passage?"

7. Get into it!

“Can I get an ‘Amen!'” Preachers ask this out of joy in what they are preaching, and in hopes of drawing you into that same joy. The only thing greater than a solo joy is a shared joy. The preacher is not preaching for his joy alone, but for yours as well! What increases the preacher’s joy, is to hear the congregation overflow with encouraging responses. And the congregation’s joy increases as they see the preacher’s joy swell up. So, do not hold back! If you have a sense of worship in your hearts, respond appropriately to the preacher with an, “Amen!”, “Preach it!”, “Come on!”, “That’s right!”, “Yes, sir!”, “Let’s go!”, “Bless the Lord!” For his joy will only increase to your benefit.

Footnotes

[1] This is when you watch hours of a single show or series on Netflix in one sitting. Another term is "eye guzzling." 

[2] “as if” is being used very carefully here. A preacher is never to abuse such “borrowed authority,” lest he disqualifies himself and hurt the church.

[3] This is not meant as a condemnation against anyone who has done this before, but if it is a repeated pattern in your listening, it may reveal a spiritual defect in your heart.

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