HOW TO LISTEN TO A SERMON

By DARYL R. COATS

1187 HWY. 529 - TAYLORSVILLE, MS 39168

"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."

Plenty of books have been written on the subject of how to preach a sermon. In fact, most Bible schools and seminaries offer courses on the subject. But I've never seen a book or a course designed to instruct someone how to listen to a sermon.

Until recently, perhaps there was no need for such instruction, beyond Paul's warnings about "preaching" that is "good words and fair speeches" and "enticing words of men's wisdom" instead of a "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (Rom. 16:18, I Cor. 2:4).

But such warnings are wasted on people who won't listen to what's being said. Because of television and movies and advertising and computer screens and picture books and magazines, modern man has been trained to focus on what he can see, not what he can hear.

Even then, thanks to the constantly shifting images of MTV and film editing Ä and to the speed with which TV shifts its focus from one subject to the next Ä modern man pays less attention to what he sees than to the format it is presented in. Consequently, most of the visual diet consumed by modern man is a spiritual, moral, and intellectual wasteland.

Gone are the days of all-night sermons (Acts 20) or half-day sermons (Neh. 9) or multi-point sermons (Matt. 4-7) preached to congregations that stood (or sat on cushionless (and often back-less) pews. Gone are the days when politicians debated for hours instead of issuing meaningless "sound bites."

Gone are the days when the ancient senates met at daybreak, the days when small towns conducted open public forums, the days when each citizen felt a need and an obligation to listen to hours of debate, discussion, and presentations. Gone are the days of traditional classroom lectures and instructions. For modern man, sounds are nothing more than background noises; he can study with a stereo blaring next to him, exercise while wearing a walkman, and drive while the car radio is on because he is not paying any attention to what he is hearing. He isn't listening to it.

In such a culture, it is hard for many people, including Christians, to listen to sermons. Even though "the foolishness of preaching" (not the foolishness of the "message," as the counterfeit "bibles" claim) is God's preferred method of communicating the gospel (Rom. 10:13-15); I Cor. 1:21-29), even though many Christians hear two or more sermons a week at church, too many of God's people pay no attention to what they hear. For them, sermons are times for doodling, daydreaming, whispering, and "cutting up."

Some cultural critics see this problem as "irreversible," yet God's word offers a cure for it. You see, "all scripture ... is profitable ... for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16-17. Part of that instruction includes how to listen to a sermon. In the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, God gives us an account of a sermon preached from "a pulpit of wood" to a crowd of people. In that account He includes eight things that will make us better listeners.

LISTEN DESIRINGLY

"And all the people ... spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had commanded to Israel: (Neh. 8:1). These people desired to hear God's word. You won't listen like you need to if your desires are set upon the cigarette you plan to light up after services are over, upon lunch, upon TV, or upon some sporting event or other worldly entertainment. Desire God's word, desire the blessings that come from it, desire to come together with God's people to hear it preached.

LISTEN UNDERSTANDINGLY

"And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding" (Neh. 8:2). People won't listen to what they don't understand. You can do two things to increase your understanding of what is being said. First, pray. Pray for God to speak through the preacher; pray for God to speak directly to those in the congregation; pray that God will speak to you, and that He will grant you the understanding you need to receive it. Second, prepare. Saturday nights and Sunday mornings should not be wasted on worldly amusements and entertainments. They should be used to prepare for the preaching of God's word.

In Acts 17:11 the "noble" Bereans "received the word with all readiness of mind." They had prepared themselves to receive God's word. They were mentally ready. In Nehemiah 8, notice how God blesses this preparation in verse 2. They "could hear with understanding". They were able. In verse 8, the preacher then "caused them to understand". Since they were able, he was able.

Finally, verse 12 says, "They had understood the words that were declared unto them." In many congregations, the "problem" is not that the pastor doesn't put enough preparation into his message; the flock does not put enough preparation into receiving the message.

LISTEN ATTENTIVELY

"And the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law" (Neh. 8:3). When the Lord Jesus Christ preached, "the people were very attentive to hear him" (Luke 19:48).

When you are exposed to Bible preaching, are you attentive to it, or do you look at your watch, listen to the thunder, doodle on the bulletin, pare your nails, listen to the crying baby, watch other people, or study the architecture around you? "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt. 11:15)!

There are three things you can do if you want to listen more attentively: Be Thoughtful: Casting down imaginations ..., and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). Take Heed: as you would to any legitimate warning "Whom we preach, warning every man" (Col. 1:28). Don't sleep (Acts 20:9).

LISTEN WATCHFULLY

"And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people" (Neh. 8:5). Watch the preacher and watch the word. Following along in your Bible will not only bring you the double blessing of reading and hearing God's word (Rev. 1:3), but it will allow you to try the preacher as you "search the scriptures" to see if he is telling the truth (Acts 17:11). Watching the preacher and the word will also help you to pay better attention, because if you are watching them, you will not be daydreaming or watching other things.

LISTEN ACTIVELY

"And all the people answered, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads and worshipped the LORD" (Neh. 8:6). Participate as you listen. Say "Amen" or something else that is appropriate. Don't be part of the silent, couch potato generation that sits still and demands entertainment instead of involvement.

LISTEN HUMBLY

"... and the people stood in their place" (Neh. 8:7). One reason for the word is to put us in our proper place. What a privilege it is to hear the king's word! A humble attitude will cause you to listen with respect and awe and will stop you from trying to justify (and consequently destroying) yourself. Look at Luke 18:10-14 and notice the difference between these two men when they left the house of worship!

LISTEN RESPONSIVELY

"For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. ... And the people went their way ... to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them" (Neh. 8:9, 12). Too many people waste their emotions on television and worldly entertainment and have none left for responding to the preaching of God's word.

If you listen responsively, you will believe what you hear; "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10:14). You will weep and repent if convicted by what you hear: "the men of Nineveh ... repented at the preaching of Jonas" (Matt. 12:41); you will obey what you hear and have "great gladness" as a result of your obedience (Neh. 8:12, 16-17); and you will remember what you hear: "keep in memory what I preached unto you" (I Cor. 15:2).

LISTEN AGAIN

"And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people ... to understand the words of the law. ... Also day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the book of the law of God" (Neh. 8:13, 18).

Practice makes perfect! Never get to the point that you are "too big" or have heard too many sermons to listen to what God wants to say to you through "the foolishness of preaching."

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