I believe in preaching. But hearing God’s Word is no less important.
Preachers often put in hours to prepare a sermon fit for the people. But how can we – the listener – make more of what we hear?
Let me offer ten recommendations:
1. Accept that you (yes you!) really do need to hear preaching. Here is the truth: we will gain little from sermons unless we first believe we really need to hear them. Preaching is one of God’s greatest means to help us grow in our Christian life (Colossians 1:27). Do we believe that? We should!
2. Read the passage beforehand. If your preaching-team preach consecutive sermons, you are off to a great start. It is now easy for you to read Sunday’s passage ahead of time. Such prior reading can create in the soul the same sort of desire that arouses when reading a menu. Ponder the passage in prospect and you will eagerly await the meal!
3. Rest well the evening before. I doubt I’m the only preacher who often looks out upon a tired congregation. There can be many legitimate reasons for this, but some of the factors are controllable. Could it be that our Sunday morning worship is often ruined by our Saturday evening leisure? TV and smartphones are keeping many of us awake till the wee small hours. Does this make for sharp concentration on a Lord’s Day morning? If you cannot keep your eyes open during the sermon it may be a sign that your Saturday night routine needs some tweaking.
4. Sit nearer the front. This might not apply to everyone, but I would say that if: a) your hearing is not so good, or b) you are easily distracted, you would be well advised to sit near the front. This always baffles me: we want to hear preachers clearly, yet we fill church halls from ‘back to front’. Should it not be the other way around?
5. Look and listen. Truly hearing God’s Word takes real concentration and the help of God’s Spirit. In addition, our eyes can also help our ears. Looking at our bible can help us follow what the preacher is saying, and looking at the preacher can help us grasp his message (which isn’t just conveyed in verbiage but with facial expression and body posture) .
6. Take some notes. There are different schools of thoughts on this but many people find taking notes a helpful way to stay with the preacher. As well as helping listeners focus, notes enable the hearer to review the sermon later. I do have one caution though. Remember that a sermon is not an academic lecture. God is addressing you through His Word! So every once in a while, drop the pen and simply worship God!
7. Be aware of typical distractions. Wherever there are people, there will always be distractions. At one level, this is part and parcel of worshiping in community. However we can be prepared for some distractions during the sermon and pray for God’s help to re-find our focus when something causes us to wander.
8. Think about the sermon, but don’t stop listening to it. Although our primary posture during sermons is one of listening, it is inevitable that we will often find ourselves ‘conversing’ with the sermon. Questions will arise in our minds. We may even have a “quibble” with something the preacher has said. All of this is well and good; but a word of caution. Don’t be so absorbed in your own thoughts that you stop following the thoughts of the preacher. Listen to the whole sermon.
9. Talk about the sermon afterwards. A great way to maximise sermons is to talk about them. I frequently talk about the sermons I preach (and listen to) with my wife. This is less on a “critiquing level” and more on a personal level. How does the passage affect us? How does it speak into our lives? Whether with a fellow member, friend, or in the family, some kind of brief discussion will promote application and a prayerful response to God’s Word. Try it!
10. Review the sermon during the week. Why not download and listen to the sermon again on Monday? Or read over last week’s sermon notes in your morning devotions? However you do it, some further reflection on the sermon will surely be beneficial.