How to get more from a sermon
Donald S. Euler
mother and her young son struggled into a pew in front of me. The boy was attentive through the song service, but immediately after the pastor started his message he began to invent reasons to leave his seat. Finally, his mother snapped, '.'You're going to stay here through the service. Now make up your mind to sit here and listen."
Slowly the boy raised his head and whined, "Why?"
In frustration she said, "You just sit here and listen—it's good for you!"
While I sympathized with her plight, I realized that all too many of us view preaching the same way. It's something to be endured because it's good for us. It's God's castor oil to make us better people. Obviously this isn't the attitude God wants for us. We must change the way we listen.
Listening has been called that pause when we are either too tired to talk or are trying to think of something to say. Listening is a two-way street. A young counselor was trying to obtain some advice from an older, more experienced doctor. The young man asked, "How can you do it? You have listened to the problems of others day in and day out for years." While the younger man
Mr. Euler is an instructor in homiletics at Tennessee Temple Schools, Chattanooga, TN.
| We really have not listened if something does not happen in our lives. |
eagerly waited for an answer, the older man suddenly looked up and asked, "I'm sorry. Did you say something?" Preaching demands an audience.
Many people attend church just because they know that is where the Lord wants them. Their motives are sincere, but for some unknown rea-
son they find themselves not giving the speaker their full attention. Most of us have learned both good and bad listening habits. What can we do to improve our listening skills? t
First, we must get to bed on Saturday night. That's not a deep spiritual truth, but we will never be alert on Sunday morning if we do not get the proper amount of sleep. Dr. Louis Sperry Chafer used to open his course on "Spiritual Life" at Dallas Theological Seminary by saying, 'The first prerequisite to a victorious Christian life is eight hours of sleep."
The time Satan felt he had his best chance to tempt our Lord was when Jesus was in the wilderness fasting forty days. Satan may try to distract and disturb a service; however, we can be our own worst enemy and hamper the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives by our physical condition. While not everyone requires eight hours of sleep, others demand more. Each must decide how much or how little sleep is necessary for his own mental alertness.
Before the service, ask God to use the pastor to speak to your own spir-
itual needs. How we listen usually depends upon our attitude. And attitudes are tricky. For the most part we infer a person's attitude by the way he acts. When you began dating that person who eventually became your mate, your interest went from casual conversation to undivided attention. Your actions spoke louder
than your words. We expect a person's life to be in harmony with his attitudes.
Now, if we attend a service and gaze around constantly or leaf through the hymn book, others will .undoubtedly wonder about our interest in the service. But how often do we go into a service and appear to be paying attention, while our minds are at home turning the roast, painting the house, or playing golf?
Concentration demands that I seek God's help in keeping my attitude right so that I will not short-circuit any opportunities the Lord has to use that message.
Then, as the pastor presents the message, get involved with the Bible passage. Take your Bible and underline key thoughts. Write brief notes in the margin or on a sheet so you will be able to recall them later. Researchers tell us that we can double what we retain by taking a few selected notes to jog our memory later.
Some years ago I talked with a man about a popular preacher he had heard on vacation. He raved about the message. Enthusiastically, I asked what the sermon was about.
He hemmed and hawed, and finally confessed that he had forgotten the details—but it was a good sermon! I was not surprised when he admitted that he had not taken notes. The tragedy was that this man would not dream of running his business by memory, but somehow listening to a sermon was different.
Another guide to effective listening is to ask "Where can I use these Bible principles in my daily life?" Applying the Word is the process of personalizing the Bible. At the heart of this experience, the Holy Spirit draws comparisons between the sermon and our life at home and at work.
I suppose every parent has had to ask his children to clean their rooms and inspect their work later. No matter how emphatically the child claims to have cleaned well there is always a corner, closet, or drawer that seems to have been neglected. The Holy Spirit can find our lives in much the same condition. We have a hazy idea of what God expects from us, but during a message God begins to show things that still need to be cleaned up. Applying the Word of God to our lives means allowing the Word to expose those shady corners.
This process need not end after the sermon. Use your message notes as starting points for personal Bible study and devotions.
My last suggestion is to share the message with someone else. This will force you to crystallize what you've heard, thus making you a better listener.
We don't automatically learn to listen. It takes time, patience and prayer. Yet, the rewards are great. We need to learn more of what the Lord meant when He said, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."