One of the things a pastor and a congregation spend a lot of time on together is the sermon that is preached every Lord’s Day in the worship service. The minister spends time preparing and delivering the message, and the congregation spends time hearing it and living their lives based off of it. But have you ever thought about how to hear a sermon? How can we obey Jesus’ command to “be careful how you hear” (Luke 8:18)? Consider a few ideas with me:
- Believers should prepare themselves to hear. The Apostle Peter commands that we “desire the sincere milk of the Word like newborn babies,” and that one of the ways we prepare that spiritual “thirst” within us for God’s Word is by laying aside all sin (I Peter 2:1 – 2). Sin acts like wax in our ears, and keeps us from hearing the life-giving words we so desperately need. Do not allow Saturday night – or the week before Sunday – as an opportunity for sin, but instead lay aside sin by faith and focus on “thirsting” to hear from the Lord in the sermon.
- Believers should prepare through prayer. One of the best ways to create this spiritual thirst in preparing is through prayer. We say with the psalmist, “Lord, open my eyes, that I would behold wondrous things out of Your Law in the sermon this Sunday” (cf. Psalm 119:18). Ask God to reveal to you His will for your life in the sermon; do it every Sunday! The Apostle Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for him as he preached, and to do so constantly (Ephesians 6:18 – 19). We should pray this way for our Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and especially our ministers and elders.
- Believers should test the sermon against God’s Word. Paul praised the Bereans because they “searched the Scriptures daily” to see if Paul’s message lined up with Scripture (Acts 17:11). As Christians, we are to “test everything; hold fast what is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21). Ministers must not preach on their favorite topics, heart-warming stories, practical advice for better living, politics, or anything else – but only what the Lord says in Holy Scripture. A congregation can hold their minister accountable by carefully testing what he says.
- Believers should receive the sermon in a godly attitude. Even though we just said congregations should test the sermon, Scripture also says we must meekly receive the sermon in a humble and godly way. We must listen with faith in our hearts (Hebrews 4:2) or else the sermon will be of no profit to us. We must learn to “love the truth” (II Thessalonians 2:10), to receive the sermon with meekness to save our souls (James 1:21), and be eager to hear God’s Word (Acts 17:11). It is easy to grumble about the length of a sermon, or just sit through the service on autopilot. But God’s Word says that we should be active listeners, energetically exercising the fruit of the Spirit as we listen to the sermon.
- Believers should be convinced that they are hearing from God. The most amazing miracle happens every Sunday morning: an average Christian man steps up into the pulpit, he opens his mouth, and through his sometimes stumbling and less-than-perfect speech, the Almighty God of the Universe can speak through him. Paul rejoiced because the Thessalonians “did not receive [the preaching] as the words of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (I Thessalonians 2:13). Our Reformed theology reminds us that when the powerful Gospel of God saves us (Romans 1:16), we find the Gospel in “the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word.”* When God speaks through His appointed servants, He can accomplish His divine purposes (Isaiah 55:11). This means that Sunday morning doesn’t need to be a tedious or dry task, but an amazing opportunity to hear from the living God as He addresses us through His Spirit.
In our next issues, we’ll think of some ways that we can benefit from the Sunday sermon during Monday through Saturday, as well as how to hear bad sermons when the minister didn’t do so well.
Longing for God to speak in our lives,
*Westminster Larger Catechism Q #155. Many of the other suggestions given in this article derive from Q&A #160.