During the past thirty-five years I have heard more than three thousand sermons. Since I have worshiped in Bible-teaching churches all my life, most of those sermons did me some spiritual good. Yet I wonder how many of them helped me as much as they should have. Frankly, I fear that far too many sermons passed through my eardrums without registering in my brain or reaching my heart. –Derek Thomas1
I don’t know about you, but there have been several times where I can identity with Derek Thomas’s confession. After growing up in “church world” my whole life, sometimes I have sat through an entire worship gathering and left only to wonder afterward, “What did we just talk about?” Perhaps you come from a different background, but you still have the same struggle. How can we get the most of what is preached each Sunday? How do we apply a sermon to our lives? How are you supposed to listen to a sermon?
Preaching has been a vital element of worship and equipping for the Church throughout history. If you have struggled to understand, remember, and/or apply what you hear during a worship gathering in the past, consider disciplining yourself to walk through these principles each week so that you can get the most out of every sermon:
- Read Consistently: If we want to learn from the preaching of the Word, it helps to be familiar with it. Reading the Bible on a daily basis will equip you to process sermons in a more complete way.
- Pray Expectantly: Often the primary reason we struggle with applying sermons is more of a heart issue than a knowledge issue. Taking intentional time to pray that God would move in your life through the preaching of his Word before each Sunday will better prepare you to receive it.
- Repent Regularly: Hebrews 4:12 calls Scripture “sharper than any two-edged sword.” When we regularly acknowledge our brokenness and trust in the grace of Jesus in repentance throughout our week, we will be in a more humble posture to allow the truth of Scripture to “penetrate” our hearts when we hear it preached.
- Hear the Main Points in the Sermon: Every solid sermon has a main point. Finding this is key in being able to follow along and understand what is being taught. Whether by limiting distractions like using your cell phone or by intentionally focusing in through helpful tools such as taking notes, hearing the main points of a sermon will help bring more clarity to everything else.
- See the Main Points in the Passage: The more senses we engage during the sermon, the better we will be able to process and retain. Instead of only listening, try looking at the passage of Scripture and figuring out how the preacher arrived at his main points with each verse. Hearing a main point and then finding it for yourself will not only help you get more out of the sermon; it will improve your personal Bible reading as well.
- Connect the Main Points to the Gospel: When Jesus was walking on the road to Emmaus alongside two men after his resurrection, Scripture says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” The entirety of history, since the beginning of time, can be seen as one, grand story, and God stands in the middle as the star and main character. When you hear a sermon from any part of Scripture, take time to think through how it connects to Scripture’s climax: Jesus and the gospel. It is this kind of thinking that will enable the greatest heart transformation and the most holistic life motivation.
- Recognize Your Inability: As you listen to Scripture from a righteous and holy God preached in a sermon, it should make you deeply aware of your own inability and sin. How did the sermon reveal your unrighteousness before God? Hearing of God’s greatness should cause us to see our own brokenness, and, though difficult, this is a wonderful blessing.
- Trust in Your Identity: Realizing our inability is only a blessing, however, when we simultaneously remember Jesus’ perfect ability that has fundamentally changed our standing before God, granting us his righteousness in place of our own. Though we may struggle and fall as Paul confesses in Romans 7:15-20, we must always rejoice with his following declaration in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” For this reason, every sermon should ultimately result in worship for the Christian.
- Apply to Your Activity: Though every sermon should remind us of the gospel and result in praise, they should also compel us to respond with action. As you process after listening to the sermon in your local church each week, try asking yourself, “In light of what was preached today, what is at least one thing that God is calling me to do this week out of response?
1Derek Thomas. “How to Listen to a Sermon.” Reformation 21. June 1, 2006. Accessed September 14, 2014. http://www.reformation21.org/counterpoints/post-38.php.