“Pay attention to what you hear.”
Those were Jesus’ words to his followers shortly after sharing the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4, a parable that explains the different results of Word proclamation.
In that parable, some hear the Word, only to have it snatched away by the devil. Others do not receive the Word due to tribulation on account of the Word or are choked out by daily life and the cares of this world. The ones who hear the Word and accept it are the only ones to bear fruit. As believers, we are to pay attention to what we hear so we can bear fruit of “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20).
How we listen to and receive the preached Word will greatly impact our Christian maturity and fruitfulness.
Jesus wants us to be active listeners—men and women who work hard at understanding God’s Word with their minds and applying it to their hearts. This truth can be applied in many different settings but perhaps none more obvious than from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.
On any given Sunday, there are countless distractions that can hinder a hearing and receiving of the Word: crying babies, a bad night’s sleep, thoughts from earlier in the day, or a short attention span. This is not to mention the spiritual war taking place as the Word is preached. That is why gospel proclamation is part of the armor of God (see Ephesians 6:15, 19). It advances the cause of God against the enemy.
How can we best listen to a sermon so we will receive the Word of God?
15 Practical Tips for Receiving the Word
1. Prepare your heart in prayer. Pray to have listening ears and that the Spirit would sow the Word into your heart. Confess your sin and examine yourself to see if any cares of the world might be choking out your desire to receive the Word and obey it (Mark 4:18-19).
2. Pray for the proclamation of the Word. Pray for your pastor to faithfully proclaim the Word in the Spirit’s power. Pray that the congregation would be challenged, instructed, and built up from the preaching of the Word.
3. Read the passage to be preached before the service starts. This is done preferably at home to set your mind on the eternal truth you will receive during the message. Humbly pray over the passage for the Spirit’s illumination and help applying it.
4. Prepare your mind and body for receiving the Word. This means getting a good night’s rest the night before and avoiding activities that might make it hard to wake up and focus. This may also mean refraining from watching TV or checking email before the service to ensure a clear mind.
5. Arrive at church early. While this may seem impossible for some, it will reap rewards. Arriving early (or at least on time) will make it so you don’t miss anything in the service, will help avoid unnecessary anxiety from running late, and allow you to fellowship with the body of Christ with your extra time.
6. Listen to the sermon with an open Bible. Follow along in your Bible when Scripture is read and referenced. In a discerning Berean-like spirit check your pastor’s word with what God says and submit yourself to God’s truth.
7. Take notes during the sermon. Carrying a notebook and jotting down main points, Scripture references, and helpful illustrations can help you be an active listener who engages with the preached Word. Taking notes will help you learn better and you can also use your notes for future reference.
8. Listen prayerfully. The reason prayer is in this list so much is because it is so important! Listening to God’s Word and interacting with God with simple prayers like “Thank you Lord!” or “That’s convicting–I need your help to change my heart” are simple ways to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
9. Maintain a posture of humility and submission to the Word. We can easily get distracted or think, “I know this already!” when a common passage is preached. We are always under the authority of God’s Word and our focused listening and submission to His Word will serve as worship to our God.
10. Apply truths from the message to yourself—and write them down. We don’t want to be top-heavy Christians–that is, have disproportionately big heads from Bible knowledge but a small body from not walking it out. John 14:21 says that our obedience shows our love to God and will result in a greater experience of Him.
11. Fight against distractions for yourself and others. Little things can make a big difference in your experience receiving the Word. Wear clothing that is both appropriate and comfortable. Sit in a place where you can hear easily. Turn your phone off–or if you use a Bible app, put your phone in airplane mode to reduce distractions like texts and emails. If you are a parent, train your children to be good listeners who do not distract others.
12. Discuss the sermon afterwards. Discussing the sermon in community will help it stick. Good opportunities for discussion include your small group, a meal with your family, or conversations throughout the week. Interacting and applying Scripture with others will deepen the Word’s roots in your life and model for others the importance of receiving the Word.
13. Review the sermon. We learn by repetition. Receiving the Word repeatedly either by reviewing the passage and your notes or listening to the sermon again will concretize your understanding of the Word and tell God you want to learn His ways.
14. Give God the glory for a great sermon. While there is room for thinking highly of gifted servants of God who faithfully preach the Word, God should ultimately receive the glory and praise. At best, a preacher is a faithful and gifted communicator of a glorious message that belongs to God alone.
15. Live it out. James says hearing the Word but not putting it into practice is like looking into a mirror and immediately forgetting what you look like (James 1:23). Hearers and receivers of the Word become doers of the Word–and bear lasting fruit (Mark 4:20)
May God help you by His Spirit to be a careful listener and a man or woman who receives the Word with joy for the glory of His Name!