Every week, millions of people listen to men and women preach sermons – long, short, expositional, topical, content heavy, image rich. In order to experience spiritual transformation, I think we should ask a practical question: How should we listen to a sermon? Here are eight questions we should ask ourselves before or as we listen to a sermon.
Each week someone prepares and delivers a message to their congregation. The preacher prays that the people hear and apply the message to their lives. Just as the preacher prepares to deliver the sermon, the congregation should be ready to receive and apply the message.
The Foolishness of the Sermon
Pastors preach sermons each week. They prepare messages in hopes of their words about the Word will jump start spiritual transformation in people’s lives. Preachers pore over the text and deliver a message from the Bible so that Christ might be formed in people. By anybody’s standards, this is foolishness. It’s foolish because we are using words to convey and express things that are too deep for words. Because God chose the foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21), we should be ready to cooperate with the Spirit as we listen. So, here are eight questions we should ask before and as we listen to a sermon.
- Do I expect God to speak?
When we are preparing to listen to the sermon or message, we should expect God to say something that will intersect with our lives. One of the foundational truths of Christ-followers is that we believe God is a speaking God. He speaks through creation, through the Holy Spirit, in and through the community of faith, and through his word. He has spoken in the past, and he still speaks today. Therefore, do you approach the sermon expecting God to speak to you?
- Have I spent time confessing and repenting of known sin?
Listening to the sermon is ultimately a heart issue. The condition of our hearts determines the depth of our hearing. Listening to the sermon requires bringing a whole heart to the moment, not one that is divided. Someone has said the Word will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Word.
- Have I asked the Holy Spirit for effective listening?
Just because God speaks doesn’t mean we are ready to listen. We need the Holy Spirit to listen effectively to what God wants to say to us. Spend time praying, asking the Holy Spirit for effectively listening to the Word of God. As we pray for effectively listening, he will show us where we need to silence the distractions that keep us from listening.
- What is my plan to obey what I hear?
When we listen to a message, we should have some response plan. The plan can include some executable moves – focusing on one truth you heard for the next seven days, starting with practical and realistic steps of obedience, having someone hold you accountable for your response plan and journal your thoughts and successes and failures. Refuse to be a passive listener. Plan to hear AND obey.
- Have I prayed for the preacher?
Satan wants to distract you, but he intends to distract the preacher more. If he can distract and attack the preacher, he can cheat and defraud you from the truth that might set you free and give you breakthrough that day. Pray for the preacher’s study time, family time, personal prayer time, physical, emotional and spiritual health and transformation.
- Am I living the truth I already know?
God is willing to speak to us each time we open up the Scriptures. But, we must not become professional sermon listeners. Why would God keep revealing more truth when we are not willing to obey the truth he has already revealed?
- Am I willing to ask questions about what the preacher said?
The preacher’s job is to develop modern day Bereans. Luke, in the Book of Acts, tell us that the Bereans were students of the Word of God. When Paul came to Berea and preached, the Bereans checked to see if what Paul was saying was true. Now, they didn’t have a critical spirit, but a curious one. Therefore, when we listen to the sermon, we should ask a few questions: Is what the preacher is saying true? Is the preacher being faithful to the meaning of the text he or she is preaching? Does it mean what he says it means? Idolizing the preacher prevents Spirit-led objective listening. If the preacher can do no wrong, you will think he or she is always right. Thus, you can easily be led astray.
- With whom will I share what I have heard?
One of the ways the sermon will last in our hearts is if we share what we have learned with one or two other people once the sermon is over. Pray about with whom you will share the sermon. Pray that the Holy Spirit will make them receptive to the truth you share. Then, over coffee, lunch, dinner, in a text, or in a private message, share the truth with them humbly and personally (how this Biblical reality intersected with your life).
So, before you come to the next worship service, spend time engaging these questions. You will view the preaching moment through a new lens and hear with new ears. In the end, I believe you will experience deeper and greater spiritual transformation.
What other questions can we ask or practical things can we do to better prepare ourselves to listen to the sermon?
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