All too often, we wander into church and expect the preacher to bless us without doing any of the necessary work to get the most out of the sermon. We often come to church expecting to be fed without any work on my part. I just sit there and feed off the preacher and if he doesn’t do his stuff well enough, well it’s his fault I don’t feel blessed.
But that simply isn’t the case. There are some basic things that we need to do as hearers if the Word is going to take effect. Here are five suggestions for how you can get more out of Sunday sermons.
Pray before you arrive
If you want to understand the passage, it is going to take a work of the Holy Spirit applying it to our hearts. The apostle James tells us, ‘you don’t have because you don’t ask.’ So it follows that if we are struggling to understand the passage, and we are struggling to get much from the preaching, it is entirely possible that is because we are not asking for the Spirit to apply it to us. It is not simply the case that the preacher has to do his thing and we do nothing more than grasp it, we need the Holy Spirit to do a work in us so that we are prepared to receive it.
Read before you arrive
It might seem obvious, but it pays to read the passage ahead of time. You are far more likely to understand and engage with what the preacher is saying if you have read the passage before you get to church. Just having a think through the main points that jump out at you before you get to church might just help you to engage with the preaching.
Read during the preaching
You may have prepared yourself by reading the passage ahead of time but it also pays to keep your Bible open and read as the preaching is taking place. You are in no position to judge whether you are being taught the scriptures if your Bible remains shut throughout proceedings. If the preaching is referring to the scriptures during the sermon (and I should hope he is), it is helpful when he points to scriptures if you have your Bible open to read them. You will be able to follow the preacher as you follow the directions to look at particular verses.
Get enough sleep
I think it was Don Carson who said something to effect: sometimes the most godly thing you can do is get a good night’s sleep. You can’t expect to get much out of the preaching if you haven’t had enough sleep the night before. If you struggle to keep your eyes open while somebody is expounding scripture, it is obvious enough that you aren’t going to get much out of it. You can’t really complain that you don’t get much out of the preaching if you didn’t get to bed until 2am on Saturday night.
Engage your critical faculty
Stuart Olyott has made the distinction between a critical spirit and a critical faculty. The former is the desire to criticise everyone and everything. It is a tendency to nitpick and fault find. The latter is simply asking critical questions of what you are hearing. It isn’t a desire to tear down so much as the desire to assess whether what you are hearing is credible or not.
You won’t get much out of the preaching if you just naively accept everything at face value. You similarly won’t get much out of it if you do nothing but look to criticise everything that is said. But if you look to assess what you are hearing by scripture, you can assess critically what you are hearing. To get the most out of preaching you must engage your mind and ask, ‘is this really what this passage is saying to me or not?’