Let’s begin with this concession: Preachers should prepare well and hone their presenting skills to preach meaningful, engaging, and applicable sermons. The Bible is not boring, and sermons shouldn’t be either.
With that said, in an age of multi-tasking, total and convenient access to the Internet, and increasing demands on our emotional energy, how can we fully engage, listen, and respond to the sermon from start to finish? What can the listener do to get the most out of every sermon?
Start before the sermon does.
There is something refreshing about the rhythms of each week and knowing that Sunday is coming. It is the day Christians around the world set aside to gather to worship God through song, giving, fellowship, service, and biblical instruction and exhortation. We all know that on Sunday we will hear a sermon from the Bible. We will be challenged intellectually as we learn new things about God and His ways, but more importantly, we will be challenged spiritually to turn from sin, trust God, and join His mission. The preaching ministry, therefore, is a sanctifying work of God.
So before Sunday morning, before the sermon even begins, prepare your own heart and life for God to speak. Here are a few practical suggestions for how to start before the sermon does:
- Protect Sunday morning so that you can be physically and mentally present. There may be exceptional circumstances related to work or health that make attending church impossible from time to time, but as a rule you and your family need to know that Sunday mornings are reserved for worship with your church (Hebrews 10:24-25). Irregular attention to biblical preaching within the congregational setting atrophies our heart muscles so that when we do hear a sermon, we are much less prepared to respond.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and give you a willing heart to respond to Him. We all have blind spots, and apart from the grace of God, those blind spots grow into spiritual blindness that detour us from God’s purposes.
- Confess your sin. Ask God to reveal current sin, and then repent of it. Our persistent sin creates a calloused, unresponsive heart. So examine your practices and change your patterns of life. Examine your relationships. So far as it depends on you, live at peace with others (Romans 12:18). If you know you have offended someone, do what you can to make it right before Sunday morning (Matthew 5:24).
- Expect a corporate encounter with Jesus. Every time we open the Bible, we encounter Jesus, but that’s not all. When God’s people gather around God’s Word, the Holy Spirit works through the community of faith to transform us and move us with others to advance His Kingdom. While podcasts and live streaming serve an important role in Gospel proclamation, Jesus meets with us when we meet with His people.
- Arrive early. Arriving late or just in time for the worship service is better than not arriving at all; but when you arrive early, you not only prepare yourself to listen, your expectancy encourages others who may not be so eager to hear. When other people see you when they walk in, they see evidence of God’s transforming work and their faith finds strength in yours.
Preach the sermon with the preacher.
Our brains are trained to expect fast moving presentations. We are less comfortable than ever with undistracted stillness. We have shortening attention spans. All of this makes the time of sermon delivery an oddity. Students experience something similar in the classroom, but most adults have few opportunities during the week that are similar in kind to the worship experience. We are just not used to being talked to for an extended period of time. So staying attentive, no matter how engaging the sermon is, presents a challenge. So consider these practices:
- Remove distractions. Our smart phones are the main culprits at this point. Bible apps, such as YouVersion are amazing, but our devices are often a temptation too great to bear. Many productivity gurus tell us to turn off notifications, email, and social media while we work. That is good advice for worship as well. With just a few taps on the screen to explore our timeline, we can miss God’s Word to us.
- Engage the text with curiosity. Rather than simply listening to the preacher’s words, join him in exploring the text, discovering its meaning, and considering its application. This is the difference between passive and active listening. To help with this, have a pen in your hand. Circle, underscore, and highlight key phrases in the Bible passage. Take notes on the handout provided. Stay curious.
- Pray throughout the sermon to ask the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, convict, and transform your heart. Rather than evaluating the sermon or delivery, examine yourself and ask the Spirit to work in you.
- Think beyond the moment. While letting your mind wander to unrelated topics is not helpful, imagining what God could do if you trusted and obeyed Him can be a great motivator. Rather than responding to the sermon with excuses, shame, or fear, let your heart and mind remember that nothing is too difficult for God (Jeremiah 32:27).
- Turn to Jesus. Every sermon is God’s invitation for you to come closer. So take your next step. Open up that previously undisclosed area of life or attitude of heart, and keep surrendering to Jesus’ rule and reign. If you’re not in Christ, accept His invitation to trust Him as Lord and Savior. In that moment, He will rescue you from sin and move you from death to life.
Let the sermon linger for a while.
We may remember the impression Sunday’s sermon made on us, but we often have little clarity about what difference it makes by Monday morning. Other demands and ambitions crowd out what was so important just a few hours earlier, but here a few suggestions for letting the sermon linger a little longer:
- Review the text and your notes. Before going to bed on Sunday night, pick up your Bible and re-read the text and review your notes. Pray through the sermon and ask the Holy Spirit to seal His Word on your heart.
- Repent. Not every sermon requires a major change in lifestyle (although some do), but every sermon calls us to understand something better, to think differently, or to change our behavior. So in the flyleaf of your Bible or in a journal, write one statement that describes your response to the sermon. Keep it concise and make it concrete. It could be something that was actually said during the sermon or something the Holy Spirit brought to mind as you prayed and considered the text and application.
- Retell the sermon. Share with others what God showed you or how He changed you. Use social media, discuss it over lunch, or talk with your family around the dinner table throughout the week. Use your notes as a discussion guide, or retell the sermon by developing questions that can help you start a Gospel conversation that week with someone who is far from Christ.
Preaching is not just for preachers. As you join the sermon from start to finish, the Holy Spirit will change your life little by little, week by week.
This article originally appeared at Crosstied.org and is used with permission.
Featured image credit, edited.