How To Get the Most Out of Sermons
Are you getting everything that you can out of the Sunday Sermon? I’m not talking about taking more notes, but are we being changed by the Word of God every time the pastor preaches it? If we are to be honest the answer is “probably not.” Whose fault is this? We know it’s not God’s fault as He says in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” And if it’s not God’s fault, then our next target of blame is the pastor. While the pastor needs to be about his sacred duty of preaching the Word, perhaps we need to look into the mirror and ask is it my fault? Maybe, the reason why we don’t see God changing our lives through the preaching of His Word is because of us.
A lot of us just show up on Sunday having given little thought if any to what we are going to be doing during the worship service. Most of us probably don’t even read our Bibles Sunday morning or talk to God other than just before we eat our cereal. How can we honestly expect to be ready spiritually to enjoy the meal of the exposition of God’s Word without first preparing ourselves for it? Here are 6 ways to get the most out of the sermon.
1. Pray for your preacher
If you have a wise pastor then he has been pouring over the text for days. Pray for him as he studies throughout the week. Pray that God will give him direction and guidance to properly understand the text and be able to communicate it to you with power from on high. Pray that your astor would be able to clearly and concisely declare the glory of Christ in the text. Pray that your pastor would get out of God’s way and not use the text as a springboard to speak on his own desires, but that God would speak through him.
2. Pray for yourself
After you’ve prayed for your pastor, pray for yourself. Pray that God would use this sermon in your life to combat the sin that you’ve been battling all week. Pray that God would provide answers to questions that you’ve been pondering during your quiet time with Him. Most importantly, pray in repentance of the sin that’s been in your mind and life all week so that you could be prepared to truly hear the Word. Do this before and on Sunday.
3. Trust that God meant for you to hear this sermon
Don’t fall into Satan’s trap of focusing on what others need to get out of the sermon. Don’t think “Get ‘em Pastor! Get ‘em!” about the visitors who just walked in. Trust that God has you under that preaching for a reason, not for someone else, but for you specifically. This is really the foundation of getting what you need out of the sermon.
4. Be Active during the sermon
It could be very easy to “zone out” during the sermon or become distracted by tasks that we need to get done, things happening around us, etc. Yet, if we are to get more out of the sermon we must pay attention, not because it would make the pastor feel better (which it would) but because we want to learn from the Word of God. We must actively and purposely think about what it says. We must ask questions in our minds and we must connect the dots between interpretation (I.e. what the Bible means) and application to our lives.
We cannot expect to be blessed by the Word of God by simply being spectators. We must be active in our mind during the sermon.
5. Take Brief Notes
One helpful practice to being active in the sermon is to write notes. I have gone back and forth on this subject of note-taking. I have gone from writing every word the pastor said down on several pages of notes to agreeing with Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones when he said, “I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. . . . The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. . . . While you are writing your notes, you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.” Yet, I think a good balance could be found. Stay in the moment of the sermon and rely on the Holy Spirit, but also take notes of statements or thoughts of yours that you would like to go deeper on and contemplate further. Don’t write a book in your notebook but a few sentences that would be helpful to you and that’s the key. No one else is looking at your notes, it’s about what’s helpful for you.
6. Take Time After to Consider
Once the pastor has stopped speaking that does not end the sermon’s effect on your life. Think about it after, dedicate special time aside to be alone and reread the text, look at your brief notes, and consider what God was telling you through the sermon. Ideally, the closing prayer or song should really just be the beginning of the sermon's effect on your life. Think through it and see if there’s something that you need to act on after considering the Word.
Take these practices into your life and see what God will do with your attentive listening and application of the Word of God. Remember His promise, "[My Word] shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose."
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), p. 360.