Jump Start # 2537
Matthew 13:9 “He who has ears, let him hear.”
Later this week I will be with a group of young preachers talking to them about preaching. I often feel like I still need someone to tell me what to do, but because of age, and years of doing this, I am the one sharing with the younger guys. One of the sessions we will have is devoted to writing sermons. How do you write a sermon? As I was thinking about that, it occurred to me that equally important is knowing how to listen to a sermon.
This is where our verse comes in today. At the end of the parable of the sower Jesus said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” That thought is repeated often in Revelation, especially to each of the seven churches. You got ears? Listen up!
How to listen to a sermon? You don’t hear much about that these days. We expect the preacher to keep my attention, move along quickly, make it relevant, practical, and good. Each sermon ought to be a home run. We don’t like it when the preacher strikes out in the pulpit. And, most preachers are aware of all of this. They stack tons of pressure upon themselves to do an outstanding job. The audience often shuffles in, nearly late, or always late, tired, stressed, preoccupied, worried, doubting, troubled, upset, and often wishing to be a million other places than sitting in a pew staring at Mr. Preacher. And, the pitiful preacher must begin with that and try to create a never to be forgotten lesson that will change hearts and lives forever. It’s no wonder that so many get discouraged and quit. We often blame the preacher, and sometimes it is his fault, but I wonder how much of this is our fault for not knowing how to listen to a sermon. The preacher is prepared, but are we as the audience prepared.
Where I worship, we now that two preachers. So I am sitting in the pew often. I’m experiencing what others have with me for years. I have had to learn how to listen to a sermon.
Here are a few things:
First, listen Biblically. Read the passages as the preacher reads them. See what God is saying. Open your eyes. Look. Learn. There are so many golden truths in every sermon. They will help you grow. Come to understand passages. It takes a ready mind to do that.
Second, listen personally. Think about how the lesson can help you. Don’t be thinking of others who need this. Think of yourself who needs this. Think about how you can use this in your life. What would this lesson look like in your home? At work? Before others in the congregation? Listen with the hope of changing. Enter every lesson with the hope of leaving better and stronger than what you were.
Third, listen to use. Think about how you can share what you have learned with others. Think about how you can put into action what you learned. Put some flesh on that lesson and now go and live it. Lessons about forgiveness, being a servant, being humble, evangelism, opens our eyes and our hearts to ways we can help others. If nothing becomes of the sermon other than we like it, what’s the point? Paul said, “We persuade men.” Sermons are not infomercials. They are not lectures. They are life changing. If sermons aren’t touching us and moving us, then maybe we are not listening as we ought to. A sermon on the good Samaritan is going to take our minds to all the people we know. We are going to think about how we can be that Samaritan. We are going to remember times we were like the priest and the Levite. A listening hear often will feel uncomfortable during a sermon because the shine has been knocked off this shoes and his soul has been blistered by the powerful word of God. Sermons ought to drive us to become better people. There will be moments when you feel guilty, ashamed and even wrong. That’s God’s word working on your heart. Right there and right then you can determine to do better. That neglectful father can hear a lesson about dads and realize that he’s not been doing what he should. Touched, pricked, and bothered, he can leave that church building with the determination to do better at home. His ears were listening.
In all of this there are a few ways not to listen well.
Don’t listen to catch mistakes. Have you ever tried public speaking? It looks a lot easier than what it is. Sure the preacher will stumble now and then, but be kind. No one picks up more of his mistakes than he does and his wife. He doesn’t need more critics. He needs listening ears. He’s not perfect. He may get his numbers mixed up when referring to a passage. He may use the wrong word or even mispronounce a word. Don’t we all. Stand in front of a church full of people with everyone staring at you. Encourage, don’t discourage.
Stop listening as a preacher. I had to do that. As a preacher, I’d listen to introduction, main points, sub points, transitions, and be outlining in my mind what I was listening to. And, in doing that, I failed to listen the proper ways. I failed to grow because I was being the speech critic and not a learner of God’s word. We preachers need to be preached to as much as anyone else.
Preaching is a funny thing. I have finished some sermons thinking that was one of the worst ever, only to have people leave saying it was one of the best sermons they ever heard. Funny how that works. Most times, those compliments come from folks who learned how to hear a sermon. They skipped right over the mistakes and focused upon the intent of the lesson. They gained even though I felt like I had failed.
It helps taking notes. It helps bringing your own Bible. It helps writing textual things in your Bible, so that you won’t forget them. It helps thinking and talking about the sermon with others. So often in our assemblies, we pray for the preacher to have ready recollection. That’s a good thing. As I get older, my recollector doesn’t seem to work some days. But, have we ever prayed for the audience? He who has ears, let him hear, is what Jesus said. Maybe that ought to be a regular part of our worship as well.
The audience and the preacher. The spoken word and the listening ear. It takes both to accomplish what God wants. If each did the best that they could, then great things will happen. Staying up too late on Saturday nights doesn’t help the listening ear. Being distracted, bothered and worried doesn’t help. Get yourself prepared just as we want the preacher to be prepared. We’d have a fit if the preacher stood in the pulpit and announced that he had a long week and just didn’t have time to put anything together. And rambling and rambling, we quickly see that is the case. However, the audience gets a pass. Tired. Bothered. Bored. Stressed. We come to worship God, not with our best, but with whatever is left over after a long week.
Sure makes one wonder, doesn’t it? How to listen to a sermon…