Followers of Jesus hear hundreds, if not thousands, of sermons in our lifetimes. We often think about what makes a “good” sermon. Is it biblical? Is it interesting? Did it proclaim the Gospel? Did the pastor apply it to real life?
However, we spend little time thinking about how to be good sermon listeners. We assume that we show up, sing, listen, and maybe take notes, but that is not all there is to it. Listening is a matter of heart, mind, and life, so we would do well to think about how we can listen more profitably to sermons.
Here are eight practices you can put in place to gain more benefit from the sermons you hear.
Pray for the Sermon
I am writing this post on a Monday. This morning I read the text I will be preaching ten times and made twenty-five observations about the text. I’m sure that your pastor has already started looking over what he will be preaching on Sunday. Pray for him today. Pray that God would give him insight into the passage, wisdom to know how to apply it, and grace to walk faithfully before him all week. Then, pray for your pastor and for yourself on Saturday night. Ask God to use the sermon to help you repent of sin, grow in virtue, and develop a closer walk with Jesus.
Curb Your Addiction to Digital Devices
If you struggle to pay attention in everyday life because you keep reaching for your phone, you will have this struggle during the sermon as well. Actively work to set limits on how much time you spend on your phone each day. Spend time each day in prayer and meditation without screens in the background so that you grow more accustomed to stillness. By doing this you will train your brain to stop relying on the temporary high you get from the novel stimuli on your phone.
Read the Text Before Sunday
If your church preaches through books of the Bible or shares information about upcoming services, take note of the passage of Scripture you will hear preached the following Sunday. On Friday or Saturday, set aside some time to read the passage several times. As you read, pray for illumination into the meaning and application of the passage. If one verse stands out to you, start working on memorizing it so that it will be fresh in your heart on Sunday morning.
Sleep Well on Saturday Night
Sunday morning starts Saturday night. You need to determine on Saturday that you will worship with your church family on Sunday. Also, your frame of mind on Sunday morning will largely depend on what time you go to bed on Saturday night. You know yourself and how much sleep you need. Plan to sleep enough that you can get up on Sunday morning and not be rushed to get to worship.
Bring a Physical Copy of the Bible
This is a personal preference, but hear me out. Bring a physical copy of the Bible with you on Sunday morning. After trying to read the Bible on Kindle or iPad for a year or so, I switched back to reading a physical Bible for my daily devotions as well. Physical Bibles don’t have a home button or Instagram. There is nothing there but you, God’s people, and God’s word.
There’s also something to be said for the memories we create with a Bible. You grow familiar with where your favorite verses are on the page. As you run across them, your mind may drift back to a sermon you previously heard or the day a verse powerfully spoke to your heart. It becomes your friend and a powerful reminder of God’s grace to you.
Look for the Structure of the Sermon
Practice active listening during the sermon. For some, this might mean taking notes, but you can practice this without taking notes. As you begin listening to the sermon, what is the main point? What is the major idea your pastor will be preaching? Look for how the main point unfolds from the biblical text and listen to see how your pastor connects his explanation of the passage to the application. Listening for these things does not make you a critic, but gives you hooks on which to hang what you are hearing in the sermon.
Listen for the Good News in the Sermon
Every Sunday, you will come to worship wrestling with some type of sin or discouragement in your life. You need to hear the good news of God’s grace so that you can be encouraged in your walk and refreshed in your resolve to make war against sin. You also need to be reminded of your identity as a child of God, so listen for the good news of the Gospel in the sermon. Don’t listen like a critic, but listen to be blessed. As I once read someone say, “A mature Christian is easily edified.”
Discuss the Sermon with Friends after the Service
The beauty of gathered worship is that you and your friends heard the same sermon. Go to lunch afterward and take some time to discuss the sermon. What convicted you? What encouraged you? What questions do you have? What did you learn you had never seen in God’s word before? As you discuss these things and learn from your friends as you hear how the sermon spoke to them.
God’s word never returns without effect and always accomplishes its purpose, but we have a responsibility to sharpen our ability to hear and respond to God’s word. By honing our ability to concentrate without distraction, spending time in prayer during the week, actively listening to God’s word, and taking time to reflect on it afterward, God’s word will make an even greater impact on our lives.
“What You Miss When You Don’t Gather with Your Church“
For Further Reading:
Spiritual Disciplines within the Church by Donald S. Whitney
The Compelling Community by Jamie Dunlop and Mark Dever