Being doers and not only hearers of sermons

Being doers and not only hearers of sermons

After hearing a sermon, a common response is to mark it in our heads. We might think that it was enjoyable, or interesting, or faithful to the passage (or not), or useful, or well presented. The temptation is to compare it to the one last week or others we have heard. In a sense, this is something that we cannot help doing. But if that is all we do with a sermon, we have turned it into a form of Christian entertainment. We need to do something with sermons we hear.

I have heard many thousands of sermons in my life, having grown up in church. I have preached many hundreds myself. And I confess that many times, whether having preached them or listened to them, I have not done anything practical in response.

The logic is simple enough. Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God (expressed in many places, perhaps most clearly in 2 Tim 3:15-16). This is how God has revealed himself to us. God himself is speaking to us through the Bible, so we should be listening. If the Almighty King has instruction for us, that cannot be entertainment, or information we store away, but something we need to reflect on and act on.

James puts it most clearly in his letter:

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (Jas. 1:22-25 ESV)

We need to be doers. Not only hearers, but doers. When it comes to listening to sermons, that means that as we hear God’s word explained, our response should not primarily be entertainment but asking “what can I do?”

There are ways the church helps with this. The preacher will usually work hard trying to apply a particular passage to his congregation, giving ways that this passage might be applied to our lives. These will not be the only way the passage might be applied but they will give a good starting point for reflection. The morning tea after the service also gives an opportunity to discuss what has been learnt with others who heard the same message. And at All Nations, our Bible study groups aim to help us apply the sermon practically by working through the same concepts. We also provided a weekly email with prompts and application tips to encourage such reflection. We need to make the most of these prompts and opportunities.

But in the end, it comes down to the one who listens to the sermon. It is more than possible to hear many sermons and be untouched by them. Maybe they are something to suffer through; maybe they are interesting to you. Whichever is the case, they are intended to prompt action and changes in attitudes, not only to entertain. Listening to a sermon is an active thing. Work needs to be done mentally by the listener as well as the preacher.

Here are a few suggestions on how to ensure you actually respond practically to sermons:

  1. Try taking notes. By that, I don’t mean notes that are so complete you could reconstruct the sermon afterwards. No, I mean jot down things you need to go away and think more deeply about. Application ideas, concepts you haven’t thought about or haven’t been doing. Make the most of the prompting of the Spirit and write things down so they don’t get missed and forgotten in the conversations after church.
  2. Take time to pray immediately after the sermon or service. Many have found this useful to cement ideas in their minds and to immediately confess or ask God for help with whatever has been raised.
  3. Set aside time later on Sunday to reflect and ask the question: “what should I do with what I heard today?” Ask the question specifically and see what real action can be taken. It might be something like to praise God for his faithfulness, or something practical you can try in the week to come.

When we hear God’s word read and explained, we should expect to be changed. To change attitudes, thoughts and behaviours. Just sitting through a lot of sermons doesn’t automatically make you more godly!