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Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
bruised and broken by the fall
If you tarry ’til you‘re better,
you will never come at all

Advice for the Sermonally Challenged

ListeningScripture is the Word of God, with the power to give life and to transform lives. Preaching that is true to Scripture, therefore, is able to convert, convict, and conform the spirits of men and women because it proclaims the very Word of God. This is the power of preaching. This is also the importance of learning to listen to the sermon.

But why teach how to listen to a sermon? Usually advice is restricted to those preaching the sermon. After all, if I’m in the service and the preacher is preaching, as long as I manage to stay awake, aren’t I listening to the sermon? It’s not as if I have a choice in the matter.

The reality is that we’re not very good listeners. Even though bodily present, we tune out and think of other things, like what I’m doing later, the work/homework I need to get done, the cute girl over there, the noisy child sitting behind me, or the string hanging out of the preacher’s pocket. We might listen for this week’s joke or story, or how the preacher is going to mess up this week. Simply put, we do not often approach the sermon as the focal point of the service, as the very Word of God proclaimed to us.

How then should we listen? Below are seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening. These come from Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons by Christopher Ash. Members can receive a copy by contacting the church office, or copies can be purchased online at

1. Expect God to speak

The old BBC comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo about the French Resistance during World War II captured how we should approach the sermon. Every time the local Resistance leader appeared and was about to reveal her plans, she would say, “Listen very carefully, I will say this only once.” It is with this same sense of urgency, expectation, and import that we should listen to the sermon, for as the preacher preaches Scripture, he proclaims the very Word of God with all its authority and power.

2. Admit God knows better than you

Often we listen to the sermon for knowledge, or to hear the story the preacher is going to tell. But Scripture calls us to come to the Word and find a way to live. If the preacher is faithful to Scripture, he will challenge and even offend us because he will point out how I should be living — and how the way I’m living is not it. The Word of God confronts us with God’s holiness and glory — and our lack. As we listen to the sermon, we must submit ourselves to his reign of grace.

3. Check the preacher says what the passage says

The only authority that a preacher has is the authority of Scripture. The only power he has is the power of the Word of God. And so we only ought to pay attention if his message matches Scripture. As we listen we must constantly ask ourselves, “where in the text did the preacher get that?”

4. Hear the sermon in church

For many years Francis Schaeffer, a minister, apologist, and philosopher, would not allow himself to be taped when speaking. His reason was that he was speaking to a specific audience, specific people, and anyone listening to a recording was not a part of that. This may be a bit extreme, but there is a reality to it.

The wonder of today is that you can find sermons from many preachers and churches online. This is a wonderful resource for our growth in Christ. Yet, there is a difference when gathering with others to listen to my pastor, the one who knows me, prays for me, is responsible for shepherding me. Those sermons are written with us in mind.

5. Be there week by week

The Bible is not a box of band aids to be pulled out and slapped on when we have taken a spiritual or emotional fall and need comfort. Yet, when we do not sit under the regular preaching of the Word, that is what we are doing. We are picking and choosing the times we are going to listen, and the passages we will hear. Only as we are present week after week as the pastor preaches his way through Scripture will we hear the whole counsel of God, and not just select parts.

6. Do what the Bible says

The sermon is a call to action. As James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22, NIV). We listen to sermons not to be entertained or instructed but so that we can be changed and made more and more into the image of Christ. This transformation is part of God’s grace as the Holy Spirit works in us. And yet it also requires our obedience. We have to be active participants and not passive recipients.

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

Every time we hear Scripture proclaimed, we must respond. No part of the Bible is there simply to inform us, or interest us. It always calls us to turn to God in Jesus Christ. There is no allowance for a weekly quota, or any other reason to think that we can not respond to the Word of God when we hear it proclaimed.

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