By Chuck Lawless
WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — I admit it. I’m not a good listener. I’m so accustomed to preaching most Sundays that I struggle listening to others (and my wife will undoubtedly affirm that). So, I’m a bit hesitant to talk about how to listen to a sermon, except that I’m really talking to myself as much I am to you, the reader.
So, you’re welcome to eavesdrop on these suggestions:
1) Pray for the preacher and the sermon long before the service.
If I wait until the sermon starts to begin praying (or worse yet, never pray for the preacher and the sermon), I’ve not adequately prepared myself to listen.
2) Deal with any known sin in your life before the service.
I know this step sounds “preachy,” but it’s nonetheless imperative. Unconfessed sin will block your heart and your ears. My suggestion: Before Sunday spend 30 minutes asking God to reveal all your sin to you. Then, just listen. Let the Spirit of God uncover your heart. Confess. Repent. Get ready to listen.
3) Have a copy of the Bible with you.
It may be a printed copy or an electronic copy (see point number five below) but have a copy you can look at for yourself. Even if your church posts the Scripture on a screen, having the Word in front of you can help you listen. If you don’t have a copy, ask a leader in the church to provide you a copy.
4) Sit where you can most pay attention.
If the windows distract you, don’t sit near them. If you know you can hide in the balcony, sit someplace else. And if sitting with particular people causes you to lose your attention, you may need to sit with someone else. Hearing the Word of God matters.
5) Put your phone away.
This is one reason why I’d prefer you have a printed copy of the Bible with you, though I realize that’s not the world Westerners live in. Facebook can wait. Don’t respond to email during the service. If you want to tweet something positive about the sermon, write it down and tweet it later.
6) Just before the service, ask God to help you hear the Word as it applies to you.
You may have worries you can’t ignore, so ask God to speak to them. Maybe you have company coming after church and you’re thinking about them; if so, ask God to teach you from His Word so you’re the best host you can be. Don’t try to put your thoughts on hold — ask God to speak to them.
7) Listen especially to the Word of God being read.
The Word is mighty in itself, apart from the one who proclaims it. Listen to it closely. Let the stories sink in. Even if you think the preaching could be stronger, the Word of God still has power.
8) Take notes.
Even an outline will help you remember the points, but you may need to write as much as you can to stay focused. Hearing, seeing and writing the points will only reinforce the Word in your life.
9) Listen especially for at least one nugget of truth and application for your life.
Go to church expecting God to speak to you through the sermon. Knowing your life’s needs, listen for the truth that intersects with you. Word-based preaching can speak to your life.
10) Write down one or more action steps you will take in your life after hearing the sermon.
I encourage you to do that before you ever leave the worship space. Write it down. Be specific. For example: “I will ask my neighbor’s forgiveness.” “I will repent of X, Y and Z.” “I will plan to pray for my family once a day.”
Tell somebody about your commitment so you are accountable for obedience. Then go be obedient.