It is easy to sit in a chair for twenty, thirty, forty-five, sixty, or seventy-five minutes (depending on the preacher) listening to a preacher open the Word of God. After the pastor sits down and everyone heads for the door the typical take-away is often a humorous illustration, and maybe a point (hopefully a main point) from the sermon.
How does a person get more than that out of a sermon? How can a person fully engage the preaching and get the most out of the presentation of God’s Word each week?
Active listening is a big key. Coming prepared to listen, hear, and receive. A mind that puts all other tasks on hold so that it can consider what is being preached. No preacher is perfect or infallible. Perfection and infallibility are reserved for Jesus and the Bible. So discernment is needed, but not to the level looking for ways to deconstruct a Bible-based message. Rather there is an attitude of expecting God to speak and having a spirit tuned to hearing the voice of the Spirit through the presentation of the Scripture.
The blog 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Sermon adds some more key thoughts on this matter:
The Art of Listening might well be the most the important skill a Christian must develop, because Christianity is at its essence all about the Word of God. In fact, God himself is the Word (John 1:1) and the Word became flesh (John 1:2)—safe to say that if God is the Word then how we use our ears is pretty important. Furthermore, you can only come to faith through hearing (Rom. 10:14) and then you grow mature through hearing (Matt. 13:23).
The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord (1 Sam 3:21).
Do you get it? Seeing God happens through hearing. Our vision is through our ears. My friend, if you have either not yet come to Christ, or you have but are frustrated, confused, and not really growing, then I would bet big money that your problem revolves around not listening as you should. Here are some tips on listening well to a preacher, or to the Word of God in any context:
1. Get in range regularly
The reason Zacchaeus collided with Jesus was because he climbed the tree. If the soil is not in range of the sower then it isn’t going to receive any seed. This first point isn’t rocket science: you need to be regularly exposed to God’s word. Try to do a few minutes of personal time each day with the Bible, and obviously ensure you are at church each Sunday. Get in range.
2. Be expectant to receive
The good news is that the Word of God is supernatural stuff. It is living and active and burrows right inside us, doing us good (Heb. 4:12) and it will always achieve its purpose (Isa. 55:11). So listen expectantly. If it is a topic or preacher that you are not too excited about, then pull yourself together and get excited—the issue is the pizza, not the delivery boy or the box it comes in.
3. Understand it
The Parable of the Soil (Matt. 13:23) stresses the importance of not just hearing but understanding. Take notes, listen again to the download, discuss it at small group, go over the Scriptures again. One way or another, check you that you ‘get it’.
4. Mix with faith
Hebrews 4:1-3 speaks about two groups of people who heard the same message. One group benefited big time. The others thought the message was useless. What was the difference? Only one group mixed the incoming word with faith. As you listen, be assured that God has your best at heart, and set yourself to receive the word and to obey it with joy and conviction. Not because you ‘have to’ but because you ‘get to.’ God isn’t looking for blind, begrudging obedience. He is looking for faith!
5. Actually do it
The difference between the foolish and wise builders in Matthew 7 was that one put the word into practice and one didn’t. If you don’t actually obey the word then your life and faith will be built on sand. You will continuously be unsure that ‘Christianity really works.’ So, if you hear a message on forgiveness but do not forgive, then your house may fall flat. James says that you will be a like a man who looks at himself in the mirror and then goes away and forgets what he looks like—you will be insecure in who you are and in who God is. Obey. Put it into practice. Then you’ll grow.