Not Benefitting From Sermons?
Hearing the Word of God rightly preached has many benefits. And I'm not talking about sermons you hear on the radio, podcasts you are subscribed to, or messages you listen to online. Those can all be helpful and stir your affections for Christ, but they are not the primary "spiritual meal" that God uses to feed your soul. The preaching that comes from the pulpit of your church each Sunday is designed to be the source of sustenance that your soul desperately needs each week.
For followers of Jesus, each Lord's Day is special. Sundays offer us an occasion where the grace, mercy, and truth of God can invade our often weary souls. One of the primary ways this happens is through hearing preaching. Preaching is a God-ordained means of grace in the life of the believer. It builds our faith, lovingly challenges and reproves us, and encourages us with the gospel. But what if that isn't happening? What if you are not benefitting from the sermons you are hearing each week?
The wrong goal. We may often miss the benefit from the preaching of God's Word because we have the wrong goal. It's easy to think the goal of hearing sermons is to learn. If you take your seat each Sunday, open your notebook, and get out your Bible simply to learn, please repent! That sounds like an overstatement, but it is not.
Although growing in our knowledge of God and the Christian life is necessary for our discipleship and growth, it is never the goal of hearing sermons. The gospel frees us up to worship God--not just learn about Him. Our goal in hearing sermons should be to listen, hear, and respond to them as an act of worship. The goal is transformation, not simply filling our heads with facts. Remember, sermons don't change people--the Spirit of God does.
When we make the goal of hearing sermons primarily about learning, we will be more likely to dismiss and disengage from sermons that address a topic we feel like we already know or don't need to learn about. In doing so, we miss a chance for transformation.
Not being "prayed up." Another reason someone may be noticing a lack of benefits from hearing each week's sermon is because they are not "prayed up." Spending little to no time preparing your heart in prayer before each week's worship service makes it more difficult to receive the benefit the Lord intends to impart to you. Focused prayer that prepares you to hear the Word of God will produce a more tender heart towards God's truth. Tender hearts are transformed when the Spirit of God moves.
You may noticing a lack of benefits because your "spiritual taste buds" are not ready for the spiritual meal that has been prepared and is offered to you through each week's preaching. Make it a habit to pray for yourself, for others, and your pastor prior to each week's service. Eventually you will notice each week's sermon increasing in benefit to your soul and leading to more and more transformation in your life.
Here are a few more things to consider that may prove to be helpful concerning how you hear and respond to the preaching of God's Word.
Taking notes. The practice of note-taking helps some people worship in spirit and truth each Sunday. For others, trying to take notes while listening to a sermon hinders them from hearing and receiving what is being taught. Some believers, who find themselves jotting down notes each week, find that what they write can aid the transformation the Spirit is seeking to make in them. And for others, it can serve as a distraction from what the Spirit of God is doing and may push them towards hearing sermons with the goal of learning only. Prayerfully consider which type of person you may be.
Follow along in your own Bible. Even if the texts are on screens, it is wise to follow along in your own Bible. It's often helpful to see with your own eyes, in your own Bible, where the truth you are hearing is coming from. It reminds us who the service and sermon is about--God. It's not about us, the preacher, or some vague spiritual idea. God is speaking and He is the source of the truth we are hearing and the One who does the transforming work in our hearts. Although we should love, respect, and honor pastors who labor in feeding our souls, seeing God's Word with our own eyes, from the Bible sitting on our laps, reminds us who gets the glory and credit for any benefit we receive from the sermon. It also reminds us that preaching is more than a lecture; it is not just a "talk" or some human's thoughts. Seeing the text and following along in your Bible helps remind you that preaching is much more than a man talking--God is speaking.
Limit distractions. This has nothing to do with babies crying or trying to keep yourself from sneezing. This is about being aware of your thoughts and thought processes during Sunday morning worship. We must intentionally decide to stay engaged and keep our minds from wandering from the truth we are hearing. Sometimes this is difficult to do, especially if we have a lot on our minds.
Additionally, in an age where many read the Bible right from an electronic device, our smartphones can serve as a distraction. Our devices almost always enter the sanctuary with us, and if we are not careful, they can distract us from the Word of God. And I don't mean by them accidentally ringing during service. We live in the 21st century, and if that hasn't happened to you yet, just wait--it will. No big deal. But they can distract us in a way that is.
If you use a Bible app, you should honestly ask yourself if you are able to use it without giving in to the temptation to open other apps and disengage from the sermon. If not, then maybe you should consider a good old-fashioned paper Bible (yes, they still make them) and switch your phone to "airplane" mode during the worship service. For many, this is not a problem. In that case, you should joyfully continue to use your phone to read and follow along in the Bible during worship services.
Develop a routine. Don't be legalistic about it, but put some thought into developing a Saturday night/Sunday morning routine that helps you be ready and attentive to hear God's Word. This may include a bed time (how much sleep do you need to be alert), breakfast plans, and eliminating anything that may make you feel rushed before church. Our physical bodies, and the physical world, can have a deep impact on what we receive spiritually. For example, if you're like me, I can't concentrate when my stomach is growling. I don't want church to be the place I can't concentrate. Easy solution--make sure I eat breakfast as part of my Sunday morning routine. What can you do to be ready to meet with, hear from, and worship Jesus?
Remind yourself of the gospel. Whether it's in the shower, the car ride, or walking in to your church, preach the gospel of Jesus to your own heart, soul, and mind. Remind yourself of the good news--that your righteousness comes from Jesus and not your performance. We need grace to be ready to receive, to worship, and to be thankful. Grace can only be found through Jesus and His unchanging gospel.
Don't come to church without it.