Yesterday many attended worship services in their local church and heard the Word of God preached. But now what? Now that the Word has been preached is there more to consider? Let me suggest that there is….
Joel R. Beeke’s book The Family At Church: Listening to Sermons and Attending Prayer Meetings published by Reformation Heritage Books offers wisdom on listening to God’s Word, dividing the subject into three thoughts: How to prepare for the preached Word, how to receive the preached Word, and how to practice the preached Word. Today I would like to share Beeke’s thoughts on How to receive the preached Word and how to practice the preached Word.
Receiving The Preached Word
“…those that hear the word preached [should] examine what they hear by the Scriptures, [and] receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God” (Westminster Larger Catechism # 160).
Many people listen halfheartedly to sermons, as if they were not compelled to hear the Word of God; likewise, many preachers preach as if they were addressing empty pews instead of people with eternal souls. The Word of God must engage both the pastor and the listener. Here are some guidelines for listening rightly to God’s word.
- Listen with an understanding, tender conscience. Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matt 13:3-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4—15) presents us with four types of listeners, all of whom hear the same Word: 1) The stony-hearted, superficial listener. 2) The easily impressed but resistant Listener. 3) The half-hearted, distracted listener. 4) The understanding, fruitful listener.
- Listen attentively to the preached Word. Luke 19:48 describes people who were very attentive to Christ. Literally translated, the text says, “they hung upon him, hearing.” We must not listen to sermons as spectators but as participants. The pastor should not be the only one working. An attentive listener responds quickly—whether with repentance, resolution, determination, or praise. Too many people come to church expecting to be spoon-fed. As you listen to the Word of God, ask yourself, how does God want me to be different on account of this sermon? Ask what God wants you to know what you did not know before. Ask what truths you are learning that He wants you to believe. And ask how He wants you to put those truths into practice. In every sermon you hear—even those on the most basic gospel themes—God offers you truths to believe and put into practice. Pray for grace to work at listening.
- Listen with submissive faith. James 1:21 says, Receive with meekness the engrafted Word. Faith is the key to profitably receiving the Word. Seek grace to believe and apply the whole Word (Rom 13:14).
- Listen with humility and serious self-examination. Do I humbly examine myself under the preaching of God’s Word, trembling under its impact (Isa 66:2)? Do I cultivate a meek and submissive spirit, receiving God’s truth as a student while being intimately aware of my own depravity? Do I seriously examine myself under preaching, listening for my own instruction rather than for the instruction of others?
Practicing The Preached Word
- Strive to retain and pray over what you have heard. Hebrews 2:1 says, “We ought to give earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” Many people find note-taking helpful in retaining the teaching of a sermon others find that it gets in the way of active listening because it makes them lose their train of thought. Do whatever helps you remember and pray over the sermons you hear. One woman took notes during the sermon. Then on Sunday evening she got on her knees, put her notes in front of her, underlined those things that she should strive to put into practice and then prayed through them one at a time.
- Familiarize yourself with the truths you have heard. Speak with fellow believers about the Sunday sermon. After church do not simply engage in frivolous, worldly conversations after church. Talk about the Bible, about Christ, the soul, and the eternal world as it applies to the sermon.
The Westminster Directory for Public Worship advises parents to engage in “repetition of sermons, especially by calling their families to an account of what they have heard.” When you come home from church speak to your loved ones about the sermon. Encourage your children to take sermon notes. That way you can sit down as a family (during Sunday dinner or afterwards) and talk through the sermon.
Familiarize yourself with the sermon by meditating in private upon what you heard in public. One sermon properly meditated upon with the assistance of the Holy Spirit will do more good than weeks of unapplied sermons. Meditate on each sermon as if it is the last you will hear. Read commentaries on the text. Pray over the message and apply it to your life.
- Put the sermon into action. How you ask?
- Listen carefully to sermons that teach us how to live.
Like the Bereans, search the Scriptures to see whether what you hear is truth. Listen with discernment. When you are convinced that a message is scriptural, ask yourself: How can I put this sermon into practice? Perhaps you just heard a sermon on the need to flee from certain sins. Ask yourself: How can I shun the sins that have been pointed out? What steps must I take to do that?
- Ask older, more experienced Christians for advice.
Talk to people who are spiritually mature about how to live as a Christian.
- Thank God for all that you receive from sermons.
Give glory to God when you are able to put God’s instruction into practice. Often, I fear, we receive little because we are not grateful for what we receive. The Heidelberg Catechism states that “God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them” (Q. 116).
- Lean upon the Holy Spirit.
Beg God to accompany His Word with the effectual blessing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44). The preached Word will be a transforming power in our lives under the Spirit’s blessing. If these directions are ignored, the preached Word will lead to our condemnation. As Thomas Watson wrote: “The Word will be effectual one way or the other; if it does not make your heart better, it will make your chains heavier.”
Are you an active hearer of God’s Word? Are you a good listener of the proclaimed gospel, or are you only a critical or careless hearer? Are you teaching your children/grandchildren how to be good listeners? Do you realize, as Charles Simeon said, that every sermon “increases either our salvation or condemnation”?
‘Take heed, therefore, how ye hear”