Do I listen to my pastor’s sermons, or do I just hear them?
To listen implies engaging the mind and processing the preacher’s words. To hear means the sound waves are entering my ear canal but I’m not concentrating on them.
What a privilege I’ve enjoyed to take seminary courses on preaching, and to speak hundreds of times over the years in pulpits and at conferences. But I’ve heard a whole lot more sermons than I’ve delivered.
Yet I never had a course on listening to a sermon, or what I can do to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and enhance the efficacy of that sermon for my life. I’ve learned the following suggestions the hard way, because listening well isn’t an inherent strength of mine. Like me, do you need to heed the following suggestions?
- Prepare your heart for the message.
Before leaving for the service, do I confess any known sins and ask the Holy Spirit to expose wrong attitudes or behaviors that I’m unaware of? Do I ask Him to convict me of anything that might impair my hearing or harden the soil of my heart before the pastor sows seeds from the Word? Do I ask the Lord for a teachable spirit, for receptivity so the content will comfort my afflictions as well as afflict my comforts?
The next suggestion expands on the first one.
- Pray for the preacher and those who attend to his message (and that includes me).
No matter how eloquent or knowledgeable he is, my pastor can only reach the ears of listeners. When Paul took the gospel to Philippi, the first convert was Lydia. Acts 16:14 says, “Lydia….was listening, and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” No Bible teaching or preaching is merely a human endeavor. God’s Spirit must be involved to illumine our minds, to comfort us or to convict us as needed. The logical outcome of that truth is to pray not only for the communicator’s effectiveness, but for the hearers’ receptivity, for my own openness to what the Spirit needs to say to me through the text for the day. Only God’s Spirit can shuttle truth from my ears, through my mind for understanding, then to my heart to prompt application.
Spiritual warfare against preaching is another reason for me to intercede for the speaker and for all of us in the pews. Satan opposes the communication of God‘s Word and doesn’t want it to have life-changing effects.
Preachers will tell you that before they go to the pulpit, it’s typical for them to experience some form of warfare: relational conflicts; feelings of inadequacy; an escalation of a particular temptation or discouragement over a recent criticism from a member. Do I go to battle for him, and ultimately, for myself as a listener? Do I claim 2 Thessalonians 3:3 on his and his listeners’ behalf? “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”
- Takes notes during the message.
I’m aware that folks possess different learning styles, different ways of processing content they read or hear. It’s the analytical learner who most naturally processes information by note taking. And the Holy Spirit often comforts or convicts whether or not a person writes anything down.
Despite those acknowledgements, jotting down key points or principles keeps my mind from wandering and increases the likelihood that I’ll remember the material long after the sermon is over. After all, I can’t apply a truth during the week if I cannot remember it!
Several college-based research studies revealed that students who took notes during a lecture remembered the material better than a control group not taking notes, even though the note takers turned in their notes immediately following the lecture.
- Ask yourself application questions.
A good preacher will present ideas and venues for application. Yet we can increase the likelihood of carryover into our lives by mulling over questions of this sort while we listen:
- What am I hearing that challenges me? Why?
- What insight in this text encourages me? Why?
- How should this truth affect my choices this week?
- What impact should truths in this text have on my relationships? My employment? My role as a student?
- How would my schedule change if I apply this point?
- What attitude or action springs logically from the truth of this text?
- What contexts or venues I’ll experience this week are most appropriate for application?
- What am I hearing that should evoke gratitude to God?
- Within 24 hours, do you communicate to someone else an insight you gleaned from the message?
Which verse, quote, anecdote or truth resonated most with you? Why? Who else could benefit from hearing about it? Call, text or email someone and cite your most important takeaway. Tell why it meant a lot to you. If you believe the entire message is especially pertinent to someone you know, send a link to the message on the church’s website.
Perhaps what you share will have the same positive effect on your friend or relative. By restating the point in writing or over the phone, you’ll cram it deeper into the creases of your mind. It will be a form of personal review of the message. We learn something better when we articulate it to someone else.
What tip would you add for gleaning the most out of a sermon? Let me hear from you.
Which of these suggestions do you most need to apply so you become a better listener during messages?
When we listen to a message instead of just hearing it, the Holy Spirit is more likely to penetrate the darkness of our despondency with a ray of encouragement, or to penetrate the darkness of a sin pattern with a convicting beam of light.
The person who preaches isn’t the only individual who needs to prepare for the sermon!