I’ve been preaching for 23 years now (not without ceasing, though I’m sure a few of my parishioners feel that way). I think I’m at best half way there: my preaching could improve in every way, from deeper preparation, to tighter presentation, to clearer illustration, to more practical application. It’s a task for a lifetime, and I intend to spend the rest of my days getting better at it.
For those who sit under my preaching currently, thanks for your patience.
I recently enjoyed a nearly 6 month sabbatical. That meant I spent half a year listening to sermons, with only a few times preaching any. And so I’ve become freshly aware of the other side of homiletics: hearing. Jesus, after all, was far more concerned about how and what we hear than about how and what we speak (though, of course, he was concerned about that as well). “Let him who has ears, hear,” was his refrain, not “Let him who has a mouth, speak.”
I have come to believe that the Spirit of God seeks to impart two anointings during any sermon: one for the speaker, the other for the listeners. He anoints both lips and ears, tongue and eardrum. He desires empowered words, both in the giving and in the receiving. Preaching is both oratory and auditory. In Acts 2, when the Spirit falls on the church in Jerusalem and they began to speak in various tongues, the miracle isn’t so much their speaking: it’s that each ethnic group present hears the wonders of God in their own language (See Acts 2:8, 11). The spirit’s anointing is on the hearing, not just the speaking.
In my 6 months of mostly hearing and seldom speaking sermons, I learned a few things about anointed listening. Here are four:
Come with expectancy that God will speak. God will reveal, convict, confirm, rebuke, and/or guide us, at least in part, in every sermon we hear, no matter how eloquently or clumsily executed.
Leave with a resolve to act today on what God says. I think the most damnable thing is good intentions. The paving stones of hell are laid with good intentions – with ought tos and should haves and one days. Break the habit of hearing a sermon about loving your spouse, or blessing your children, or giving generously, or granting forgiveness, or repenting wholeheartedly – or whatever – and agreeing with it but not acting on it.
Hear the sermon for yourself. It is sermon-listening malpractice to sit through a sermon and think, “I wish so-and-so were here,” or “I am so glad so-and-so is here, and hope they’re really getting this.” God didn’t appoint you as their proxy. This word is for you.
Hear the sermon for others. It is equally sermon-listening malpractice to keep a good word to yourself. It is like the lepers in 2 Kings 7 who find bread and start to hoard it. When God speaks to you, tell at least one other person what you heard, preferably that day. It seals it up in your own heart, helps keep you accountable to it, and God often uses it to speak a word in season to the person you tell.
There’s more, but that gets at a few core things.
I am preaching this coming Sunday. I am asking for the Spirit to anoint my words, both on my lips and in our ears, mine included.
What about you? What have you learned about the art of listening to sermons?