How well do you usually follow a sermon? Does your mind wander? Do you have trouble “tracking” with a substantial body of orally communicated truth? Is the sermon merely something to be “endured” as part of your weekly routine of worship? Do you simply find it difficult to pay attention given all the other things on your mind and heart?
We want to acknowledge up front that being able to listen to a sermon and glean proper spiritual understanding does take discipline. Now if we are in Christ, the desire and need for the ministry of the Word is already present within us through the indwelling Spirit. The Spirit of Christ delights to bring us into conformity with the Person of Christ through the Word of Christ. Thus, as regenerate believers, God has already re-created us to be a people who love the Word. However, that does not mean that listening and learning requires no effort to discipline ourselves. We are responsible for fostering in ourselves a love for the Word through reading, study, meditation, and memorization.
We are also responsible for taking some practical steps to focus ourselves when the Word of God is about to be delivered. Here are some practical things you can do develop the discipline of listening to the Word.
1. Arrive at church well rested. Weekends provide almost all of us with time off of work. However, we all know how good things, like caring for a home and keeping up with special events (even church events), can take up that time. But we also tend to make decisions on weekends that will lead to anything but “rest.” Do your best on Saturday to get to bed at a reasonable hour and to insure that there is no physical hindrance to your participation in worship.
2. Pray for God to make you attentive to the preached Word. Pray that morning at home as you get ready for church and pray again at the beginning of the sermon. It is His Word and you are His child by grace through faith. He will strengthen you in the Spirit and guide your heart and mind as you seek to be attentive to His truth.
3. Bring your Bible to church! We are a church committed to biblical exposition in both Sunday School and in our Worship Services. Being a student of Scripture entails regular use of a personal copy of the Bible. Bring yours with you to worship. Follow along in the text every time the preacher refers you back to it. Turn and read the cross-referenced passages and supporting passages. Listening paired with reading helps keep your attention and it aids your retention of truth.
4. Keep eye contact with the preacher. Wandering eyes often reflect a wandering mind. When you are not looking at the Bible, looking at your notes, or giving a helpful directive to a child, then look the pastor in the eye. Direct eye contact is one of the most practical ways to help you stay focused on what the pastor is preaching.
5. Take notes. Looking and listening paired with writing helps to cement ideas and truths in your mind. We even require our children to takes notes. Our older ones take written notes, and our younger ones draw pictures that represent key ideas in the sermon. We then discuss our sermon notes over lunch after the morning service. Taking notes is one of the greatest disciplines in support of listening.
6. Be careful of being a distraction or of drawing further attention to other distractions. Avoid opening candy or mints with loud wrappers. Do not consume food or beverages in the sanctuary. Use the rest room beforehand, and make sure children have used the rest room beforehand as well. If there are distractions in your immediate vicinity, or if someone gets up to leave, resist the urge to turn and look at them or watch them. Your response to a distraction is an example that others around you will tend to follow– if you look or stare, they might as well; if you maintain focus on the pastor, they might as well. Even when children are struggling near you, model attentiveness for them rather than ridicule.
I hope you will employ these practical suggestions as you come to worship this coming Sunday.
I love you all dearly!