Let me ask you a question, “In your lifetime, how many sermons have you heard?” Has it been one hundred? Five hundred? How about one-thousand? If you had to add it up, how many would it be? Now, let me ask you another question, “How many of these sermons did you actually listen to?” There is a difference.
Hearing (as I’m using it) refers to simply perceiving sound with the ear. Listening, on the other hand, goes a step further. It takes what the ear has heard and processes it with the mind. Listening makes sense of what is heard. It’s like sitting in a crowded restaurant that has lots of noisy chatter buzzing around you. You are hearing everyone’s conversations. But you are not listening to anyone. (Which is exactly why your wife, sitting across the table, is fuming mad at you.)
It’s always struck me as funny that we work very hard to train preachers how to preach. But we don’t training congregations how to listen.
George Sweazy has said, “The skills of the hearers are more important than the skills of the preacher.”
Let’s be honest, between the two of us, in many ways, you’ve got the harder job. As you sit in your seat, there’s plenty of things to distract you from listening to the sermon. Your mind wants to wander. Your cell phone beckons a text message. Your eyelids feel heavy. Your “to do” list needs to be written. Your purse needs to be cleaned out. Your wallet needs to be rearranged. The list goes on and on. There’s plenty of ways to disengage from the sermon. However, there are also plenty of ways you can be sure to engage yourself in the sermon and listen well.
Here’s a few tips:
Pre-Sermon: Get Ready!
- Read Ahead – Long before Sunday service, you can get ready for the sermon by reading ahead. Use the “Sermon Text” calendar in the bulletin (or on the church website) and read the text in your devotion time or even as a family on Saturday at the dinner table. Begin to ask yourself questions about the text. Discuss its implications.
- Prepare Yourself – Avoid the chaotic Sunday morning rush. Go to bed at a reasonable time on Saturday night. Lay out everyone’s clothes if you need. Wake-up on time. Eat a good breakfast. Grab your Bible. Mute your cell phone.
Remind yourself of where you are going and Who you are going to meet. Jesus deserves our preparation
- Sing Your Best – Some people object, “I don’t feel like singing at church.” Here’s an important rule: never let your emotions be your guide. Emotions are fickle and untrustworthy. Try this: when you don’t feel like singing, do it anyways. Your emotions will often fall in line with your will. Sing loudly. Think about the words. Even if the song or style is not your favorite – singing well prepares you to listen well.
- Pray Your Hardest – When you wake up Sunday morning, pray for God to teach you. Confess your sins. Anticipate God’s Word. During the opening and offering prayers, don’t just listen; pray! Pray in agreement. Pray in earnest. Pray for God’s Word to speak and for God’s Spirit to move. Often, with the sermon, “you’ll get what you pray for”.
Mid-Sermon: Get Set!
- Open Your Bible – I intentionally do not display Scriptures on the video screen. Why? Because I would rather you look into your own copy of God’s Word and become more familiar with it. So, for starters, bring your Bible. When I “invite you to turn in your Bibles”, please accept my invitation. Turn to the text at hand. Run your finger along the verses as we read. Follow the passage verse by verse and word by word. (Any translation will work – but to follow exactly I use the updated NASB, ‘95.)
- Engage Your Mind – Jesus told us to “love the Lord your God with all your…mind.” Christian thinking is an act of Christian worship. We love God by actively thinking about Him. Discipline yourself to pay attention. Process what’s being said. Take notes, if that helps. The thirty to forty minutes of Sunday preaching is the most important part of your week. Not because I’m important, but because Christ is important. We listen closely whenever our President addresses the nation. Rest assured, the state of the union is much less important than the state of your soul.
- Examine Your Self – At the end of 2 Corinthians Paul said, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” Let yourself be uncomfortable during the sermon. Let yourself be convicted. Allow the Holy Spirit to work repentance in your heart. Personally, I’m not too keen on dramatic invitations. I’m less interested with what you do in the altar, and more interested with what you do in the week to follow. However, the elders are available during the final song up front to encourage and pray with you if you need. Whether or not you come forward, is not the question; whether or not you obey, is.
- Discuss Your Thoughts – Don’t leave the sermon in the sanctuary, take it with you. Talk about it with your family. Around the lunch table, ask, “What was the sermon about? What did you learn?” Specifically discuss ways the sermon can be lived out that week. Explore other passages that relate to the one at hand. See if you can summarize the entire sermon in one, simple sentence.
- Do Your Part – James 1:22 tell us to be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” As Leland Ryken has said, “If we are not doers, then we were not hearers, and the sermon was wasted on us.” Let it be the light and lamp to guide your daily walk.
Before you can “trust and obey”, you must first “hear and listen.”
Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 sums it up well, “Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools…Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought…For God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few.”
He who has ears to ear, let him hear!