How to Listen to Sermons

As we approach the Lord’s Day on any given Sunday, let alone one on which many of us will lose an hour of restful preparation due to the resetting of our clocks, how shall we listen to the sermon? Added to the question’s difficulty is the author of this article. Some will say, “Wait, don’t you preach? How can you presume to tell us how to listen?”  Surely what you have in mind is a variation on an old dictum.   He who cannot listen speaks.  Yes, I know.  However, I listen to preaching even when I am the one doing the speaking. Now, granted I have to work at it because I am also trying to speak while listening. But that’s what it means to be under the Word of God.  So, let me try to help you in the way I try and help myself.

First, I pray.  Before calling the congregation to worship we have a moment of silent prayer.  Yes, we try to keep the auditorium quiet so that people can prepare before the service but before reading the call to worship we pause.  In those moments, I ask two things of the Lord.  First, I pray that I will recede and that Jesus will come and minister to his people through me.  Second, I ask Him to minister to me as one of his people under the Word.  I believe that the Lord has answered that earnest prayer to include me as a hearer of the Word. I believe with all that is in me that he will do the same for you.

Second, I listen.  I grew up with a father who always asked me one question when I would come to him with something needing assembly, “Did you read the directions?”  He would proceed to take me through the list of directions. His point was a simple one. If you follow the list, assembly will happen!  When you listen to a sermon you follow the logic of the text as the pastor makes it plain.  It’s like going through a list.    Now, I realize that is the most basic thing in the world.  If someone speaks you listen.  How simple is that?  Well, it may be simple but it doesn’t always happen.  Maybe it’s the case that the pastor needs to work on his list developing skills so that he is easier to follow but maybe you need to work on your listening. Work on it tomorrow. 

Third, I allow myself to be affected by what I hear.  When I’m preaching a truth may grip me and unlike those listening I may get a bit excited and expressive.  I may speak fast, become animated and increase my volume because my heart is aflame with the truth I’m expounding.  When I hear the truth that my Savior came to tabernacle among us that He might be my empathetic high priest and the perfect sacrifice my sin requires I hear like anyone else.  I hear joyfully.  Be affected by what you hear.

Fourth, I pray and endeavor to new obedience. It’s never enough to be a Talkative or to simply listen to the word.  We must be doers.  This is not so that we can earn anything before God. No, it’s because we have been affected by His word. We long to be conformed to what we have heard. So, when tomorrow does come go to the Lord’s house ready to listen and then some.  

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.