How To Listen To A Sermon

SermonHave you ever had this happen to you? It’s 11:20 A.M. on a Sunday morning, and you’re listening to a sermon in church. Suddenly, your pastor says, “You know what I mean?” and you realize that you have no idea what he’s talking about, and that you’ve been thinking about college basketball for the last fifteen minutes, and that drool is leaking from the corner of your mouth. In fact, you have absolutely no idea what the sermon is about. Your pastor could be talking about the political and theological ramifications of the television show “Lassie” for all you know. I confess, I’ve had this happen to me.

Scripture places a high emphasis on preaching. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul commanded Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Through the preaching of God’s word we hear God speak to us in a unique way that is different from when we read the Bible in private. Because of this it’s crucial that we hear the word of God preached and apply it to our lives. So how do we get the most out of a sermon? Here are four practical suggestions:

Remember Who Is Speaking

A pastor is someone who has been appointed by God to preach God’s word to God’s people. 1 Corinthians 12:28 says, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” When we hear our pastor preach God’s word, we’re not just listening to a nicely dressed man giving an Amway prep talk. We’re listening to one that has been appointed by God to proclaim the message of God. I don’t want to mess around with words from God. I want to pay close attention.

Listen Intently

Don’t let your pastor spoon feed you. Listen intently to what he is saying, and measure his words against the words of scripture. Be like the Bereans, who, along with having a sweet name, are described in Acts 17:11 as follows: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Notice the attitude of the Bereans. They were eager to receive the word of God. They desperately wanted to hear God’s word preached to them. But they also examined the scriptures daily to ensure that what they were hearing was really from the Bible. Let’s be like the Bereans.

Listen With Humility

It’s true, we must test the preached word. But it’s just as crucial that we listen to sermons with a spirit of humility. God himself has assigned my pastor (who also happens to be my dad) the job of instructing me in God’s word. It’s my job to listen to and learn from my pastor. This truth should instill a spirit of humility into me. I don’t want to approach listening to a sermon like a spiritual boxing match, ready for a theological fight. I want to listen with humility.

Apply The Word

Throughout the course of a sermon, we should be constantly asking the question, “How does this apply to me?” God intends us not just to hear sermons, but to be transformed by sermons. For this to happen, we must diligently seek to apply the truths we hear. During the sermon, ask yourself, How does this truth apply to:

  • My job
  • My marriage
  • My parenting
  • My Bible reading
  • My hobbies
  • My friendships, etc

A final word. Always pray before you listen to a sermon. Apart from the power of God, all our sermon-listening will be pointless. But the good news is, God is eager to meet us on Sunday mornings.

Now is when you, the alert and sagacious (a word meaning “full of life-changing wit, wisdom, and insight”) reader add your comments.? What helps you get the most out of sermons?? If you’ve never commented before, today is the day!

Originally published March, 2008

Comments

  1. says

    I find it important to take notes. Even if I never look at the notes again, I remember the sermon far better if I have made the effort to write down what was important. I also remember it longer, which helps in application.

  2. says

    I like to prepare to listen to sermons. I wake up early on Sunday and spend time in prayer and in the Word and ask God to prepare my family’s hearts for the time of corporate worship and preaching of the Word.

  3. Stephen Altrogge says

    Brando,

    Right on with the notes. I know some people find it hard to take notes, but if I don’t take notes I’ll be distracted in a matter of minutes.

    Jason,

    Excellent. I too find it helpful to wake up early and get my heart in a ready state to hear God’s word. Do you have anything specific that you do that helps you?

  4. Randy says

    I find that most of the time the lesson given that day usually applies to some recent event in my life. I than thank God (sometimes) for revealing the sin in my life and offering me forgivness. It seems to help me to not repeat bad behavior and helps me to grow towards the man God wants me to be.

  5. Stephen Altrogge says

    Randy,

    Excellent. It’s so good to be seeking to apply God’s word to the actual things that are going on in our lives. If we’re not doing that, why bother listening?

  6. FreedbyJC says

    I start by praying the God speak powerfully to every heart in attendance through the speaker and that His words disturb me in my complacency and the His heart be pressed against my heart to rekindle His fire in my Spirit.

    I not only take notes but spend most of the sermon looking at the cross and locking in to the FACT that these are His words, spoken by His servant, into my heart so that I may surrender my will to His in the week to come.

  7. says

    Note-taking definitely helps me focus and get more from the sermon or Sunday School lesson. Also, a few times I have tried to synthesize some of the points from a sermon or Sunday School lesson, adding my own thoughts and at least one time extra Scriptures, along with the ideas and exact or near-exact wording from my notes. I hope to do this more often. It takes time, but I feel it’s time meaningfully spent.

  8. Stephen Altrogge says

    FreedbyJC,

    I appreciate that you take time to pray that God would affect you AND others by the sermon. I often pray the same thing, and it often causes me to become more locked in to what is being said.

    Rachael,

    When you add your own thoughts, are you asking yourself questions from the message? Or are you adding on to what the pastor said? I think it’s a good idea to try and interact with the sermon, as you’re describing.

  9. says

    Again, I take notes. Not only do I do it to remember, but I also do it to pay attention. They say that if you write something down and listen to it you remember it better. Plus, if we are having a discussion at home about the sermon, and we forget something, you can always look back on your notes.

  10. says

    Nice post, Stephen. Here is an oldie to further stimulate thinking on this topic:

    “A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in Worship” by Richard Steele.

  11. says

    Stephen, I haven’t done this a ton (though I want to do it more), and I’m not good at it, but it’s my way of reflecting about the teaching and hoping someone might benefit from it. It’s kind-of a way to rewrite my notes, though I use a lot of the same words and ideas that went into my notes. When I take notes on the sermon or Sunday School message, I don’t have the time to think much for myself or write many or any of my own thoughts, so if I synthesize, I add in some of my thoughts and at least one time I added in other verses. But even without doing that, just taking the notes alone really helps me focus. Other things churches could do might be to have gatherings where people talk about the sermon (maybe during lunch, informally or formally) or during the week at small groups. I heard of a church where they study the same part of Scripture that is being discussed in the sermons. That would probably cement the concepts deeper into people’s hearts as well as allow for interaction and further learning. Sorry this became long. Thank you for the good question in this blogpost.

  12. Stephen Altrogge says

    Raye – Great point about having the notes to look back on. I take notes to pay attention but I rarely look back on them. Maybe that’s something I need to consider.

    Tim – Thanks for the encouragement. Was there supposed to be a link for me to follow?

    Rachael – Thanks for the follow up…

  13. says

    Stephen – Sorry, no link. My reference is to a book, one to stick on the back burner (not literally, of course).

    The Puritans, at least the ones that I’ve read, seemed to have a higher view of preaching than we do today. Seems like they probably preached much longer, too.

  14. Jonathan says

    I know it might sound like I am a little insane, but I sometimes like to argue with myself when I hear the sermons..

    By this I mean I like to be honest with myself and really take note to my attitude and thoughts when I first hear confrontational things being said when I hear a sermon..
    “Yea, right, your not that arrogant and prideful…”
    “Did you just hear what you said…’Your not that arrogant and prideful’-get real! , this sermon is for you BUDDY!”

    I find this just helps me search my deceitful heart

  15. says

    Hi Stephen, thank you for this. I thought that you might like to correct the Scripture reference for 2 Timothy – it’s chapter 4 I believe, and not 2:1-2.

    Thanks again!

  16. says

    Enjoyed the comments. I am a pastor & it is the deepest desire, enjoined with much labor in study and prayer, for the hearers to hear the truths that the Spirit of God is speaking. I am encouraged to read the committed hearts to hear and learn His Word.

    I would suggest: Let your pastor know that you are praying for his sermon, taking notes, and going over them later to put it into practice. This encourages him to study & prepare with more fervor & diligence. Knowing your attentiveness is fuel to his own calling and hearing from the Lord.

  17. says

    I have actually written a book on this subject called "Helping Johnny Listen."

    Since I'm not trying to promote myself but the subject, a friend of mine also wrote a book on this subject called "Expository Listening" (Ken Ramey). We actually only became friends after both our books dropped within a week of each other last year! Check them both out…

  18. Jim Dunn says

    I would add that preparation for Sunday begins on Saturday. I have learned to not stay our late on Saturday night. Get a good nights sleep!

  19. JackW says

    Prepare before the meeting is one thing that is so important and rarely done. I’m fortunate that I have a Pastor that uses sequential expository preaching so that I can actually do my own study of the passage that will be preached on before the sermon.

    Don’t try this at home, but I never take notes while listening. Note taking is a huge distraction for me and never helpful. I realize that I’m a minority in that, but there are a few who have a different learning style where note taking is not helpful and takes focus away from what is important, listening. Note taking while reading or studying is a different matter though.

  20. lisa says

    Stephen, good stuff. Thanks! Two things come to mind:

    1. As with songs, movies, or books, I get more out of a sermon if I can take it in more than once. Thanks to the blessing of technology, I can listen to Sunday's sermon again on Monday or Tuesday (streaming from the church website) while I'm doing some mindless task around the house. Oddly enough, I am better able to listen during that time (when my hands are occupied) than I am sitting in church on Sunday morning. (I do that too, of course, but if something isn't very clear, I am glad to know that I will be able to listen again and probably understand it better the second (or third) time.

  21. lisa says

    2. Another thing that helps the sermon stay in my memory is a kind of "layering." The more input I get of or about that particular passage, the more it stays with me. For example, you guys are currently teaching us from Hebrews. This may sound crazy, but for me, looking at my Bible and knowing where the words are on the page helps me remember more. I am right now picturing the page that has Heb.1 and the beginning of Heb. 2 on it. (It's the right hand page of my open bible.) I can remember the look of the words and even remember stuff you guys said about these verses as you were preaching. Also, so far there have been at least two passages that I already have memorized, thanks to your dad. (Here I go again with the HTW commercial…) That helps tremendously with the "layering." Lastly, later in the week at caregroup we will most likely be discussing the message, and that will also help me to retain and — Lord willing! — apply the message.

  22. Elaine says

    Great post, Stephen, thanks for the encouragement.
    Taking notes during the sermon helps me to focus so I keep my trusty Moleskin with my Bible so it's easy to grab on the way to church. We also talk about the sermon on the way home, asking one another what made an impression. My husband is great for asking, "What was the walk-away point?" We have great discussions on that drive home and often they continue throughout the week. Meeting with other Christian, like in caregroup, helps to add velcro to the sermon points.

  23. says

    I second a lot of these thoughts. For me, taking notes is crucial, revisiting the notes helps me to take it in, talking about the sermon with others in attendance (especially my wife), and re-listening to sermons online.

    It does help that the men God has appointed to teach in our church are extremely gifted in speaking and are very engaging to listen to. But on thing that is incredibly important (and depending on work/family situations is not always possible) but getting a good night's sleep on Saturday night cannot be over looked. If you walk in to church tired, you will have an extremely hard time focusing no matter who is talking or how many notes you are taking.

  24. says

    Beyond note-taking, another practical thing: I sit forward in my seat. If I lean comfortably back in the seat, I'll get lazy….

    Also, if you HAD to stay up late Saturday night (to help somebody, say), a little trick to fight sleep is to lift one foot an inch off the floor. It's impossible to fall asleep. Then you fight like crazy to stay in the pastor's train of thought.

    Then go home to take a nap ;-)

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