I had the opportunity to hear Rev. Adam Hamilton at our Annual Conference in Western Pennsylvania. He shared a story about listening for God. He was on a stay-cation (you know, he took vacation but stayed home). A neighbor invited him to their church for Sunday service. It was a small Pentecostal church near his home. He said there were maybe 16 people counting the pastor’s family. During the sermon he found it hard to follow the message. It seemed the pastor was all over the place, and there was little logical connections to the sermon. While he was listening, he felt God speak to him about his critical approach to sermon listening. At that moment the pastor concluded the sermon by saying, “in all of that, God must have spoken to you somewhere!” Hamilton said he went away feeling that he had been touched by God that day. He says, “We forget how to listen and to listen for God to speak to us.” This is a very important lesson for disciples.
This summer you might be traveling and worship in other churches. Visiting pastors will cover the pulpits for vacationing pastors. We will have the opportunity to hear different speakers. I found these points from an article entitled “How to Hear a Sermon” compiled by Bob Kaylor, senior writer of Homiletics Magazine. He worked with this teaching from George Whitfield, the great preacher of John Wesley’s day, and a member of the Methodist Society in England. For the full article see the blog post at BobKaylor.com.
- Come ready to hear.
Says Whitefield, “Come to hear [the sermon] not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty. To enter his house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.”
Preaching, at its best, is about call and response. We come not to evaluate the sermon or the preacher, or out of a sense of wanting to be religiously entertained for a while, but rather to hear the word of God and obey it. It doesn’t matter if the oration is exciting or flat; God’s word is in here somewhere, and you’ll hear it if you come prepared to receive it. Even the most poorly prepared and discombobulated sermon can be powerful if our hearts are opened by the Spirit to hear it.
- Listen for the word of God.
This leads to Whitefield’s second piece of advice: “Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the word of God.” If a king or president were to issue a life-or-death proclamation, and your survival depended on whether you listened to it and did what was necessary, you’d put aside everything else to listen to it. So, says Whitefield, “Shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to his ministers when they are declaring, in his name, how our pardon, peace and happiness may be secured?”
- Focus on the word more than the preacher.
“Do not entertain the least prejudice against the preacher,” says Whitefield, but also, “be careful not to depend too much on the preacher or think too highly of him [or her] than you ought to think.” Preachers do not speak on their own, but in Christ’s name, and a lot of people have been converted to Christ under bad preaching. And just because a preacher has a multi-million dollar building in which to preach and has better hair than you doesn’t mean that we should be envious. In the end, we’re all broken vessels containing the treasure of the gospel.
Every preacher is merely an ambassador, a messenger for Christ.
As Whitefield put it, “Other men may preach the gospel better than I, but no man can preach a better gospel.” If you listen for Christ in the sermon, it won’t matter who’s preaching. And if you don’t hear Christ, then it’s not preaching at all no matter how good it sounds.
- Apply what you are hearing to your life.
Good preaching is not just about Christ, however; it’s about what we will do with what Christ has told us. “Make particular application in your hearts of everything that is delivered,” says Whitefield. It’s so easy to think that the sermon we’re hearing is for someone else instead of for us. When the disciples were confronted with the reality that one of them was going to betray Jesus, their first response was, “Is it I?” That’s a great question to have in your mind as you hear a sermon. Good preaching will not just stir our hearts; it will also move us, under the Spirit’s direction, toward a new trajectory of life.
- Devote time to prayer before and after the sermon.
Last, and perhaps most important, Whitefield says that we should “Pray to the Lord, before, during and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put into practice what [the Lord] shall show from the Book of God to be your duty.” Prayer is the best preparation for worship and for hearing a sermon. Pray that God will reveal his word and will to you that day. Pray for the preacher who delivers the sermon. We all know that we need the help! And then after worship, pray that God would strengthen and encourage you toward transformation.
“How to Hear a Sermon,” Bob Kaylor, Homiletics Magazine
May you encounter God in a new way this summer. May your travels take you closer to God.
It is an Honor to be your Pastor, Tim