How many times have you left a Sunday gathering to realize that the sermon has evaporated in your mind and heart by the time lunch is over. We may be tempted to blame the preacher for not being able to communicate a memorable message. And lazy preparation and careless delivery can lead to that sad result. However, the listener needs to know that it takes more than ears to gain the most benefit from a sermon.
Speaking of lunch, those of us who preach week in and week out on Sundays see ourselves as chefs. In fact, the Bible uses food imagery all over the place to show how Scripture is to be tasted and digested, so that the nutrients can be absorbed in such a way as to promote spiritual health. In food prep terminology, we who prepare the meal in the context of a grace banquet celebration of Jesus as our Savior-King, use only the freshest ingredients, and take care to let the seasonings simmer in a slow cooked meal that is intended to be savored, not scarfed.
In other words, we are not short order cooks because Sunday teaching is not fast-food.
So, how should those who listen, listen? Here are some suggestions that may help:
- Prepare. This isn’t always possible if you don’t know what the next sermon’s text will be. However, when it is posted in advance (as we do quite regularly on our Facebook page), take advantage and read ahead. Consider preparation the sampler or appetizer that gets you ready for the main course. Prepare to listen.
- Expect. As the preacher begins, expect God to speak directly to you through his word and by his Spirit. What is he saying to you in this passage through this message? Don’t dismiss conviction. This is often where the greatest work of the sermon is done – not necessarily be confirming us, but by convicting us of where we are not believing the gospel, or living in light of God’s grace. God’s conviction is always intended to lead us freshly to the cross, whereby we have the confidence to repent, knowing that the Father has made atonement for the ugliest of our sin that we might return, be restored and enjoy knowing and walking with him. Listen with expectation.
- Take. What is God calling you to do with what you have heard? It may be the conviction we spoke about already. Or, it could be something specific, such as going to that neighbor, or a sibling, or a spouse to confess, encourage, support, etc. It may be something you need to believe about God’s sovereignty and how it applies to worry. It may be a call to greater generosity. Whatever it is, listen with the goal of taking something away that you can put into practice that afternoon.
- Pray. As you listen, pray. Pray for God to speak, to reveal, to guide and to show you what you need from this message. And when it is over, continue praying over the issues raised in your heart, for the grace to believe and the grace of God to act on his word to you that particular Sunday.
- Share. One way to really “own” the message is to share what affected you with someone else. It may be sharing with a friend who missed the service or someone with whom you work on Monday. Listen in order to share.
Over time, as we listen with purpose, we will find ourselves spiritually nourished as we taste, digest, and absorb the rich nutrients of God’s truth and grace.