In the eighth chapter of Luke, Jesus tells and then explains the parable of the sower of seed. (See Luke 8:4-15) Of course we want to be the “good soil” — “those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
If that is our desire, then we would do well to take to heart Jesus’ advice in Luke 8:18:
So be careful how you listen; for whoever has a teachable heart, to him more understanding will be given; and whoever does not have a longing for truth, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him.” (AMP)
Good soil rarely just happens. Care must be taken before, during, and after planting so as to produce a bountiful harvest.
Intentionally Prepare Before the Sermon
Pray for God to prepare your pastor, the congregation, and yourself.
Ideally, pray throughout the week, but at the least, pray before your pastor starts preaching.
Prepare your heart, mind, and body to be ready to receive what God will reveal.
Get adequate rest the night before, eat breakfast before heading off to church, allow enough time so you’re not rushed, cranky, and distracted.
I don’t always do these things and I can see a direct correlation to my receptivity, or lack thereof, accordingly.
Be expectant and prepared.
Enter the worship service expecting to encounter and hear from God. And be prepared to capture the insights God has for you. This mindset and preparation allows you to reflect on those gifts of wisdom and insight God will give you and apply them in your life.
I’ve had my heart and mind moved by something God spoke through my pastor. And at the time, it is so vivid and clear I can’t imagine not being able to remember it later. Yet, if I haven’t written it down, I inevitably find myself groping helplessly to retrieve that golden nugget from my feeble mind a day or so later.
So prepared with an open heart and mind as well as some means of collecting what we expect to receive, we are ready to hear God’s Word proclaimed.
Actively Participate During the Sermon
Having arrived prepared and expectant, we still must actively receive and retain the seed that is sown. We can listen without truly hearing and heeding if we are not engaged with our body, mind, and soul.
Notice and note.
As you listen to the sermon, notice when God quickens your response to a particular Scripture, story, or concept.
Record those, as well as any questions or ideas you want to explore later, on whatever note-taking device works best for you.
Allow the message to critique you.
Instead of critiquing the message (or the messenger), allow the message to critique you and show you where you are doing well and where you need to grow or improve.
The purpose of a critique is to help improve the one evaluated. Come humbly before God and let him reveal what yet needs to be refined in you.
Keep your eyes on your own paper.
Focus on how the Word applies to you rather how it might apply to others.
We’ve all done it: elbowed our spouse or kid when the preacher said something. I know I’ve been guilty of that more than a time or two.
Funny thing is, God always seems to zing me back a few moments later. It’s like he is reminding me, “Keep your eyes on your own paper!”
Focusing on what we can learn and not allowing ourselves to be distracted by thinking, “Man, I wish So-and-so was here to listen to this!” insures we will reap far more from the sermon.
After the Sermon, Tend What You’ve Been Given
We can prepare the soil of our heart and receive the seed sown, and yet that still doesn’t insure we will produce a good crop. Just because the seed gets in the soil, doesn’t insure it will thrive once it meets resistance.
What we do after we leave church has a lot to do with whether those carefully recorded ideas, questions, and insights bear fruit.
In the parable, Jesus described three possible responses to the seed sown:
- Receive the word with joy but not allow it to take root. (Luke 8:13)
- Allow what is planted to be choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures. (Luke 8:14)
- Persevere in producing a crop. (Luke 8:15)
How do we tend our crop with perseverance?
Pray and reflect on what you have received.
Set aside some time that afternoon or evening to review your notes and pray for understanding and wisdom to apply the insights given.
Identify application opportunities.
Where in the coming days can you immediately apply what you have heard?
The more time passes between receiving and responding, the less likely we are to reap a harvest of good fruit. The more likely the tender shoot will be choked out by the daily routines and distractions.
Move from planning to doing.
Put the Word into practice. Write the card, take the meal, sign up for the study. Whatever prompting God gave you, act on it so it bears fruit.
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”—Matthew 7:24 NIV
Don’t wait until it seems easy.
Rarely does God call us to do things we think we are fully equipped to do. Usually, he asks us to take action in spite of not feeling ready or able.
Then we lean into his strength not our own and the fruit produced glorifies God not ourselves. He is the foundation. He is the one who will cause our obedience to produce something.
Just as the power is not in the preacher but in the Gospel that is preached, the result of our efforts is not from our ability but from God working through our willingness to let him use our weakness to show his strength.
I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
—1 Corinthians 2:3-5 NIV
Some of us are blessed to have pastors who are well-prepared, passionate, and gifted preachers. But remember, whether or not your pastor is eloquent, organized, and erudite, if you come willing to hear, God will sow his Word into your heart, mind and soul.
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” —1 Corinthians 3:5-7, NIV
23 Tips to Get the Most Out of the Sermons You Hear
I want you to produce much fruit that glorifies your heavenly Father (see John 15:1-9). So, in addition to the ideas I’ve shared in this post, I’ve created a Tip Sheet with twenty-three tips and ideas to do before, during, and after a sermon so that you can reap the biggest possible harvest of fruit from it!
Request your copy of this free Tip Sheet by clicking the button below and I’ll email it to you instantly!
How about you? What helps or hinders you when listening to a sermon? You can leave a comment by clicking here.