What kind of a sermon listener are you and am I? How seriously do we take our responsibility to listen well? We expect our pastors to be excellent preachers, but do we expect ourselves to be excellent listeners of those sermons?
At the beginning of this new year we continue to look at a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.
So we don’t lose the “big picture”, let’s keep in front of us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:
- Expect God to speak
- Admit God knows better than you
- Check the preacher says what the passage says
- Hear the sermon in church
- Be there week by week
- Do what the Bible says
- Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!
We have considered in past weeks #s 1-6; on this Saturday night we consider #7 – “Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!” The key word here is “today.” The author wants to stress in this last point that we are called not simply to believe and obey the Word that is brought us; we are called to believe it and obey it today.
Ash quotes Psalm 95:7b and 8a, as well as its repetition in Hebrews 3:7,8 – “To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart….” And on that basis he writes:
Every time the Bible is preached, we ought to repent again and trust in Christ again. The Bible doesn’t just call non-Christians to repent and believe. It calls Christians to repent and believe, and it does so today. As long as it is called ‘today’ (which, of course, it always is!), we need to be challenged not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3 v 13).
…Every time we hear the Word of God preached, we must respond today by a turning of the heart away from sin (repentance) and towards God and Jesus Christ (faith).
…This is true whatever part of the Bible is being preached. No part of the Bible is there simply to inform us, or for our interest only; always it calls us to turn to God, perhaps in a changed belief, or a refreshed delight, or a new behaviour, or an altered value-system. But the turning must be done today.
To which the author adds this warning in connection with the wiles of the devil:
Every time we listen to a sermon, the devil will whisper in our ear: ‘That was good stuff. Why not do something about it tomorrow?’ And we instinctively want to agree, because tomorrow never comes. As the Red Queen says to Alice in Through the Looking Glass: ‘Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today.’ The devil echoes this and says, ‘Respond to the preaching tomorrow, respond to the preaching yesterday, but never respond today.’ And if we listen to him, we will never respond. As Augustine prayed when his sexual sin was challenged, ‘Give me chastity, but not yet.’
But Ash also instructs us in what to say to this temptation:
So when the devil whispers: ‘Why not respond tomorrow?’, we must reply: ;’ No, today as I have heard His voice, I will not harden my heart.’ This daily urgency of response will gradually, over the years, shape our character (pp.20-22).
Important matters, don’t you think? How shall we listen to God’s Word tomorrow in our worship? With urgency from the Word as well as from the work of grace in our hearts, we will say, “Today I will hear, and today I will respond in repentance and faith.”