By Not Known

Preaching is an awesome responsibility. Most preachers do their best to exegete the preaching passage, carve out an outline, apply relevantly and find apt illustrations. They seek to be competent “wordsmiths” aiming to inspire God’s people to live godly lives in the coming week, and to nurture long-term spiritual maturity. All this requires hard study, thinking, crafting, sustained effort, prayer and discipline.  And that’s not all – when they stand in the pulpit they require another set of skills to communicate what has been prepared in a clear, winsome and memorable way. God’s grace is needed at every step.

What about the listeners? Do you see yourselves like baby birds who open their beaks wide so mummy bird can drop in worms? Even baby birds are not passive: they have to open their beaks, swallow and digest the food.

Jay Adams in “A Consumer’s Guide to Preaching” (sub-title “How to Get the Most out of a Sermon”) offers some guidance.  “When someone complains “I didn’t get much out of that sermon,” I often want to reply, “What did you bring to it?” or even more to the point “What did you bring to put it in?” When you go to the well it is wise to carry a clean, empty bucket. When you come to church with a mind prejudiced against the preacher, his views or his preaching, no matter what he says or how he says it, you will be sure to find fault. He won’t have a chance. What state of mind do you bring to a sermon?”

We can inadvertently focus on the preacher and his weak areas instead of God. Listening is not passive; it requires effort. Adams again: “Listeners must not assume the slovenly mental posture of a TV couch potato. They expect the preacher to do all the work for them.. to apply the passage specifically to their exact situations, answering all possible questions that pertain precisely to them.”  We forget that there are other worshippers whom God may want to speak to on a different set of issues. And yet somehow, God can and does minister to many people, on different levels in different ways through the one sermon. This is a mysterious work of the Spirit (Isaiah 55:10f).

After listening to a sermon we could put in some effort by doing our own research, or seeking out the preacher to ask questions. We can dig into our study Bibles, or ask our small group leader to recommend some good books, or go to a Christian bookstore or website to find good resources. We can pray for God’s wisdom. Acts 17:11 describes the Bereans who “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Listening, examining, thinking, applying, changing our behaviour –  all require work on our part which is not confined to the 40-minute Sunday sermon. Pray for all preachers to prepare and preach well, and pray also that you may diligently work to know the God who longs to reveal Himself to you.

Graham Ng