Listening to the Sermon

Here is an excerpt from a fantastic article from The Briefing on preaching sermons and listening to sermons entitled: “The dilemma of preaching and hearing God’s word” by Peter Greenwood.  The whole article can be read here.

“How do we ‘hear’ a sermon, as opposed to merely being entertained by one? Why do we prefer the ‘application’ of the text, to the ‘understanding’ of the text? And why do we yearn for the ‘take home’ message?

We live in a fast-paced world of instantaneous news, fast food, and information at our finger tips, in the shape of smart-phones, computers, or whatever the latest gadget might be. In this world, we are perpetually busy. Now we can obtain anything and everything 24/7 with a credit card and an internet connection.

The same is true when it comes to the Bible. We want a sermon that’s like a home-delivered pizza. We want the preacher to have done all the hard yards, so that we can walk away with our ‘take home’ application. And, consequently, we judge the preacher’s pizza on the basis of the presentation. Did they engage us? Was the sermon emotionally moving? Were there three directed ‘life-changing’ applications?

The remedy to this spiritual laziness is to remember that hearing a sermon is an active process, rather than a passive one. Hearing a sermon is like going on a hike, rather than downloading information on the internet. Going on a hike requires preparation, and it requires exertion, including engaging the mental faculties. Hearing a sermon requires the same. Preparing to hear a sermon means reading the passage before arriving at church. Being familiar with the passage, and even having questions worked out in your head, means that you will benefit exponentially from the sermon, because you’ll hit the ground running rather than trying to start cold. Hearing a sermon requires you to engage your mental faculties.

For example, just as the guide on a hike walks you along the path, so the preacher walks you through the passage. But you need to check that you’re on the track, that you’re engaged with what the guide is showing along the path, and even that the guide is sticking to the map—or that what the preacher says matches what the Bible says. Who knows, you might even be able to ask the guide some questions along the way (and avoid those deathly silences when the preacher calls for questions).

The heart of the matter for the hearer is the difference between God’s word-driven power and our profound selfishness. In our selfishness we would prefer the preacher to tell us what to do and what to think, even though we have the very words of God sitting in our lap. We would prefer to disengage our brains, and go along for the ride, rather than bringing all our mental faculties to bear on the most important message from the most important source in the universe. Our sinful hearts desire the path of least resistance, least change, least sacrifice, least effort of obedience required to submit to God’s word.

This dynamic of hearing the word of God is the difference between getting drive-thru McDonalds and going to the gym. Due to the passive nature of hearing a sermon, our producer-consumer mentality, and our sinful laziness, we too readily equate the sermon with the drive-thru: Drive in, get your spiritual junk food hit, and drive away. However, this kind of attitude to hearing a sermon is as spiritually deficient as a McDonald’s burger is nutritionally deficient.

Hearing a sermon is like going to the gym. It will require hard work. It will require pain and anguish, particularly due to the conviction of sin in our own lives. The preacher is like the instructor indicating the number of reps on each piece of equipment. They point you to the text, and you need to employ your mental and spiritual faculties to engage with it. However, the gym metaphor only takes us so far, because unlike the gym, where your own effort determines your performance, the hearer of God’s word has the added dimension of the sovereign God working out his own purposes for his own glory, and for the good of his people. We are caught up into a supernatural process when we hear the voice of God.”

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Picture credit: abrinsky, some rights reserved