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Seven Ingredients for Healthy Sermon Listening

Here are seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening:

1. Expect God to speak.

  • Look up next Sunday’s Bible passage and read it at home during the week.
  • Pray for next Sunday’s preacher in the middle of the week.
  • Pray often for yourself, that, by His Spirit, God will grow in you a heartfelt expectation that God Himself will speak to you as His word is preached.
  • If you can, try not to come to the sermon exhausted, but to come rested and ready to pay close attention.
  • Deliberately quieten your mind and heart before the sermon and say to yourself: ‘This is when God speaks to me.’ Pray again: ‘Lord, speak to me. I am listening’.

2. Admit God knows better than you.

  • Which parts of this week’s preached Bible passage challenge your beliefs or lifestyles?
  • Does the passage clearly teach these things?
  • Pray for the work of God’s Spirit to enable you to submit to what the Bible clearly says, and to help you to change.

3. Check the preacher says what the passage says.

  • Read the passage or listen carefully when it is read.
  • What do you think is the main point of the passage? This may be signaled by repetition of something important, or by being in the punchline (for example, of a parable), or by being the theme that runs through the passage: Is the main thrust of the sermon the same as the main point of the passage?
  • Are there any surprises in the passage, like things the Bible says that we wouldn’t expect it to say, or that it says in ways we wouldn’t expect it to say them?
  • Who was the passage originally written or spoken to? Are we in the same situation as them? In particular, if they were before Christ, we need to be careful what parallels we draw; we can’t simply apply it straight to ourselves. After all, it wasn’t written to us. It was written for us (for our benefit) but not directly to us.
  • Why do you think the Bible writer wrote this passage? What is the passage intended to achieve in its hearers?
  • Pray as Martin Luther used to pray: ‘Lord, teach me, teach me, teach me’.

4. Hear the sermon in church.

  • Be aware of the others in your local church as you listen to the sermon. Talk to them afterwards, not only about how we should respond as individuals, but about how the Bible passage should shape the church.
  • Pray often for the work of God’s Spirit to shape both you as an individual and your church as a body of Christians together.

5. Be there week by week.

  • Keep count for six months or a year of how many weeks you are in your own local church to hear the sermon. Make a note of the different reasons why you’re not there.
  • If you find you’re away more than you realized, and more than you ought to be, take some practical diary action to make sure you’re there more regularly. Come back from a holiday on a Saturday. Get back from a visit to friends in time for the Sunday evening meeting. And so on.

6. Do what the Bible says.

  • Write down as definitely and precisely as you can some action you need to take to obey this Bible passage. It may be a change of attitude, or an alteration in the way you speak, or some action you need to stop doing, or start doing. Whatever it is, write it down.
  • In a week’s time, and then a month’s time, look at what you’ve written and ask yourself whether that Bible passage made any difference to you.
  • Pray, pray and pray again for God to work obedience in you to His word.

7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

  • Ask yourself how the preached passage shows you an attitude, or words, or actions that need to change.
  • Then change, urgently, praying for grace to enable you to repent.
  • Ask yourself in what way the passage encouraged you to trust in God and in Christ afresh. Then resolve, urgently, to put that fresh trust into your life as God helps you.
  • Enjoy preaching, not as entertainment but as God’s regular gracious invitation to walk with Him, rejoicing in a clear conscience.