Much time and energy is invested in helping preachers preach better sermons. This is well-placed since the Bible exhorts pastors to make progress in their preaching (1 Tim. 4:15). However, while there is an emphasis on preaching sermons, less is said about listening to sermons.
We know how valuable physical hearing is, especially the older we get. Vital information can be missed, and we suffer accordingly when we don’t hear the things that we need to hear. The same is true spiritually. “According to our hearing, so shall the state of our souls be to eternity” (David Clarkson).
The Bible has much to say about our spiritual hearing. “…Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them” (Deut. 5:1). These words of Moses are representative of many other places in Scripture (Ps. 81:8,13; Matt. 17:5). Jesus stressed the importance of hearing when he taught “Take care then how you hear…” (Luke 8:18).
Given the importance placed on listening by God in His Word, here are some ways in which we can listen better to sermons:
Come with an attitude of expectancy. God speaks to us in sermons through Scripture, His living Word (1 Pet. 1:23-25). Look forward to hearing a biblical sermon delivered by your pastor. Expect that you will hear something that will be helpful in your walk with Christ. If you know in advance what passage will be covered, read it beforehand.
Listen to sermons in church on a regular basis. Sermons are primarily to be delivered and heard in the physical gathering of God’s people, in church. Before God spoke to the people, He told Moses to “…Gather the people to Me, that I might let them hear My words…” (Deut. 4:10). Listening only to sermons in isolation, either online or to an audio recording, misses a major component of the listening experience. There is no accountability to one another for how we accept it or reject it. When a friend asks us what we thought about the sermon, such a question might spiritually become a moment of truth for us.
As your maturity allows, listen with discernment. God speaks to His people through His Word in a sermon. The validity of the sermon is in direct proportion to its conformity to what the Bible says. There is nothing wrong with checking out how closely the words of the preacher conform to the truth (Acts 17:11). Just make sure this is done with a spirit of humility that also affirms what does correspond to Scripture.
Encourage sound preaching by not seeking to be entertained. Scripture warns us of an era in church life when listeners only want to hear what suits them (2 Tim. 4:3). The contemporary desire for entertainment in our culture is pervasive. Let’s be honest: there are some who choose a church based on how entertaining and pleasing the preacher happens to be. By rejecting this tendency, we encourage our pastors and preachers to preach the truth instead of concerning themselves with scratching our “itching ears”.
Ken Ramey, in his book “Expository Listening,” titled his final chapter, “Listening Like Your Life Depends on It.” Spiritually speaking, our life does depend on how well we hear what God is trying to say to us. So let’s be wise in the way that we listen to a sermon.