Listening is a skill that requires one to actively participate with the one who is doing the talking. The listener must pay attention. The listener must concentrate on what the other person is saying. Hearing is one thing. We can hear things without even paying attention. A loud noise can startle us. We weren’t expecting it. We weren’t listening for it. It just happened and we couldn’t help but hear it. Listening is different. To listen is to be deliberate and intentional. It involves inclining our ears and focusing our minds on what is being said. The goal of listening should be to hear every word a person is saying to you, to process those words, and respond to those words in a meaningful way. You will never develop a deep, intimate, and fulfilling relationship without the ability to listen.
Nowhere is listening more crucial than when it comes to God and His word. If God is speaking then our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our Bibles should be open. We should give our utmost undivided attention to what is being said. All too often we’re distracted. Sometimes the distraction is something we cannot help, like when we’re having to wrestle with our small children in the pew. Many times we are not tuned in because we’re too busy daydreaming, focusing on trivial things, or sleeping. Jesus often said, “He who has ears let him hear.” He also talked about hearing but not understanding (Mk. 4). In Mark 8:18 He spoke about those who have ears but do not hear. 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17 demonstrates for us that every word that God speaks has a purpose. Are we listening?
Virtually all of us could stand to be better listeners. In that vain I would like to offer a few helpful hints as you sit and listen to the word of God this Sunday.
Prepare to listen
Worship doesn’t just happen. It’s not an accident. Worship is a deliberate act. You must participate, and participation includes listening to His word. Nothing we do in worship is unimportant. Every act of worship is vital. To be listless and lifeless is the same thing as telling God, “I’m not interested in worshipping you.” Remember why you come to worship. It’s not just about being present. Come with a willingness to hear what God is saying because anything God says is worth listening to. Get out your notebook. Get out your Bible. Get plenty of rest the night before. Pray before you come. Enter into worship with an attitude and a spirit that says, “I’m giving God my best!” Because there’s no excuse not to.
Listen for a strategy
I’ve heard preachers who have mastered the art of open-ended preaching. They have made an art form out of crafting their words in a way that says a whole lot without really saying anything. I can give you some pious platitudes. Like the politicians, I can give you some great one-liners like, “If God had a refrigerator your picture would be on it.” Or, “Stop, drop, and roll won’t work in hell.” The preacher can sound all preachy, pour syrup in your ears, or deliver a cotton candy message—one that tastes sweet but has no substance—but the bottom line is that preaching should convey a plan. Preaching is not just about transmitting information. It’s about encouraging transformation.
As a listener, listen for a plan. Listen for the “So what?” Ask yourself, “What does this mean for me?” Listen with an expectation of what God is saying to you personally. Take the message in, process it, apply it, and live it.
Be ready to respond
Along these same lines I want to encourage you to be ready to act on what you hear. God has always spoken with purpose and He has always expected a response. Sometimes the response was not in accordance with His will—like when Jonah refused to go to Nineveh. Nevertheless when God speaks He expects His children to respond in kind.
When you were younger your mom may have told you to do something and you either forgot or just ignored her command. Perhaps she came back later and scolded you. Maybe you heard her say something like, “I’m not telling you this just to hear myself talk!” My friends, God’s not speaking just because He likes the sound of His own voice. He spoke to Noah, to Moses, to Abraham, to Gideon, to Ezekiel, to Elijah, to Elisha, to Isaiah, to Jeremiah, to the Minor Prophets, and he spoke to so many others for a specific purpose. He expected that purpose to be carried out. He expected the recipients of His message to listen and to respond. Why is it any different for us? He has left His word. When we hear His word proclaimed we should be ready to respond.
What’s being said? What’s the message? What must I do with it? How do I respond? These are the questions we should be asking as we listen. Please don’t just come to hear a sermon. Come with the intent of living a sermon after you’ve heard it!