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How to Listen to a Sermon

Kameron DeVasher

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Kameron DeVasher

Director of Sabbath School & Personal Ministries, Michigan Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

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Recorded

  • July 12, 2014
    11:00 AM
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Today, I want to expand on that very elemental framework, just taking the most basic principles and applying them to our lives in a message entitled, “How to Listen to a Sermon,” “How to Listen to a Sermon.” But before beginning the study of God’s word, we begin with a word of prayer. So let’s bow our heads. Heavenly Father, I want to thank You today for today. I want to thank You for this time that we have to spend together. You, from the foundations of the world, set this time apart that we may commune with You, with each other, and to be growing in the graces that You want us to be. So, Lord, bless us now as we study Your Word, teach us today. We pray it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

John, chapter 6, I’m just going to give a couple of examples of a principle that I see in Scripture, and that is that sometimes what we now consider as the most peaceful, beautiful, placid, smooth statements were actually, in their original, uttered or expressed in frustration. How we may say it today may be actually quite different from how it was said originally. For instance, in John, chapter 6, and if we had the time we would study it out, but in John, chapter 6, you see several things. It begins with the feeding of the 5,000, and then the next day, all those same people come back saying, “Where’s our daily bread?” and Jesus, if you turn to John, chapter 6, go to verse 30, they say to Jesus, “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You?’” These are the same people He miraculously literally fed the day before, and then they come back with this, and they say, “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert as it is written.” By the way, notice what they’re trying to do. They are trying to take Scripture against Jesus to get something out of Jesus. He gave them bread from Heaven to eat. Basic premises, “Our fathers got bread every day, you gave us bread yesterday, where’s our bread today? Come, come!”

Jesus replies in verse 32, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’” And notice what Jesus says, “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.’” Now, was he saying that like with sheep around Him and children on His lap? “Behold I am…” No, He’s sitting there telling some people who are like “Give me bread, give me bread, give me bread.” He’s like “Stop it! No bread for you today, I’m the Bread.” By the way, what was their response? Look at verse 66. What was their response? It’s an easy text to remember, John 6:66,  “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” He said some hard things.

You see the same type of thing in John, chapter 11. If we had time, we’d go there, but Martha shows up to the tomb of Lazarus when Jesus shows up what she considers late and says, “Lord if You’d been here, he wouldn’t have died. But now that he’s dead…,” the implication is we really can’t do anything but wait until the resurrection at the last day, and it is in that context that Jesus in John, chapter 11, says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Sometimes I think what we now assume to be the most smooth, simple, beautiful, placid, calm statements were actually uttered from a perspective of frustration. Now, I bring that up to go to Hebrews, chapter 5.

In Hebrews, chapter 5, I believe we see another Bible character writing from a perspective of frustration. The book of Hebrews, of course, I believe was written by the Apostle Paul, and here he is explaining to the Hebrews about the priesthood of Jesus Christ and how He’s not just a priest from earth but he’s the heavenly High Priest, and he goes on to talk about of the order of Melchizedek, and he gives a pretty deep discussion about what it means for Christ to be our High Priest. But now, towards the end of this chapter, look what he says, just start with verse 9, “And having been perfected, He,” (that is, Jesus), “became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest ‘according to the order of Melchizedek.’”

So he’s in this deep conversation about the priesthood of Jesus and then he says this in verse 11, “of whom we have much to say and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” Now, that doesn’t sound very nice. What is he talking about? Well, he goes on in verse 12, “For though by this time you ought to be,” (what?), “teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” Friends, I believe that Paul here is writing from frustration. He’s trying to explain these deep things, but apparently he’s explaining to an audience that he says has become dull of hearing. The very people who should be feeding others spiritual food are themselves still not weaned off the most elementary elements of faith.

Apparently, some reasonable amount of time has elapsed. By the way, how can we tell this in the text? Because notice again in verse 12, “for though by this time you ought to be teachers…” This is not the first time he is introducing these ideas to them. Apparently, these are people who have been in the truth. They’ve been listening to sermons, they’ve been reading the books, they’ve been listening to the messages, and he says, “By this time you should be able to take what we’re teaching and go teach others. But we just have to keep coming back and back and teaching you!” And he’s writing from frustration. Apparently, some reasonable amount of time has elapsed since they became established in the truth, yet there they sit, needing ongoing nurture in even the most basic tenets of the faith. Paul seems almost flabbergasted that though they’ve heard the message repeated again and again, they still believe themselves or even worse yet, perhaps actually are, incapable of teaching others. Now, notice what he says here.

Go back to verse 11. It doesn’t say that, “You are dull of hearing,” even though apparently that is their current condition, look at the text again. What does it say about their hearing? “You have,” (what?), “become…” If you’ve become something, that means you used to be not that thing, right? Apparently, there was a time, and I don’t know exactly what the opposite of dull of hearing is, but sharp of hearing, quick to understand, easily taking it in, right? He could preach the hard things. There was a time when they first heard this message, apparently they were quick to understand. But now, apparently over time, as time has elapsed, they’ve become dull of hearing.

And now skip down again to verse 12, after we read verse 12 here, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” So, you get the picture. One time they were taking the message in, they were quick to understand, and it was food to them, but over time, it has dwindled down to just milk. They’re just coming back and suckling, that’s the imagery used, time after time, and he says, “You’ve become dull of hearing.” In fact, he goes on to say in verse 13, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is,” (now what does this mean?), “those who by reason of,” (what?), “use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” “By reason of,” (what?), “use have their senses exercised.” So apparently, what were these people not doing? Putting to use that which they were hearing and, in so doing, they had become dull and just kind of suckling off the message over and over and over. And Paul wants to go deeper, but he says, “We can’t go deeper because you’re just still recycling the same ole, same ole, same ole, over and over again.” I think he’s writing from frustration.

Now, friends, I would submit to you that, to a significant degree, the same condition exists among God’s people still today. I believe there are many of us who have heard the Word of God’s truth presented over and over and over and over, yet couldn’t or at least wouldn’t try to share that faith effectively with someone else if their life depended on it.

Let’s go see what the Apostle Peter says, so you can stop staring at me so angrily. Let’s turn our attention to something else. First Peter, chapter 3, what does Peter expect of the believers in Christ to whom he was addressing here? First Peter, chapter 3 and verse 15. I hear those leaves turning, and it’s a beautiful sound. First Peter, chapter 3 and verse 15, “But sanctify the Lord God,” (where?), “in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” Always be ready to defend what you believe to anyone who asks at any time. Apparently, it has to be in your heart in order for that to happen.

 

I’ll confess something to you today, often after I preach a sermon, I wonder if those who heard and accepted the message presented could in turn share that particular truth effectively with others? Have I presented something that someone else is going to take and present to someone else or have I just preached to people who are going to come back next week and preach to them again and preach to them again and keep giving out milk. Then I have to ask myself the most dreaded question, if that’s the case, am I to blame? Have I facilitated such a state of affairs? Is it possible that my preaching has inadvertently trained people to become mere consumers instead of producers themselves? If that be the case, things are going to change.

Let’s go to John, chapter 17, the prayer of Jesus just before He left with His mission completed, before He heads back into the ports of Heaven, He has a word of prayer. Recently I heard someone mention, this is the real Lord’s prayer. The other was a sample of how we should pray, but this is the prayer that Christ prays to His Father that we get to eavesdrop in on. And I want you to notice a couple of things here. When He speaks of His disciples, starting in verse 7, He explains what He has done for them and His expectation for them. John, chapter 17 and verse 7, “Now they,” (that is, His disciples), “have known that all things which You have given me are from You, for I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” So, notice the thing here. God the Father has a message for the world, and He sends it through His Son, okay? Now Jesus reports back to the Father, “Father I have relayed that message on to these disciples, and they have received it. So, I have transmitted, they have received.” But then, watch what He adds.

Go down now to verse 20. He adds, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” Notice, He says, “I received the word from You, I have passed it to them,” and now what does Christ expect them to do? To pass it to someone else. This is how the message is to be conveyed, like a holy righteous game of telephone. The original, God sends out a message through Son, Jesus Christ, He faithfully delivers the message, His disciples receive it, and then they are to give that message to the world. Thus, the Great Commission that He says, “Go, make disciples of all nations, teaching them everything I’ve commanded you.” Your job is not just to receive, but it is also to give. That was Christ’s expectation of His disciples. That was Paul’s expectations of his hearers, that by use you could explain. Peter says, “You should be able to explain.” We should be teachers and not just students all the time. Which brings us to the central idea of this sermon. Here’s the single key…I know it sounds like hyperbole, but I’m not kidding here, the single key that will unlock every sermon you ever hear from this day forward. I want to do something small today. I want to change forever how you listen to sermons.

Here’s the key: Listen like it is your God-ordained duty to share it with someone else. I’m going to say it again, in my notes it’s in bold, so I’m going to say it really clearly now: Listen like it is your God-ordained duty to share that truth with someone else. Listen like God Himself will hold you personally accountable for whether or not you effectively share the truth you’ve just received. Have you ever about that? That at the bar of judgment God could look up and say, “Now I heard, in fact, I saw you receive this message,” on whatever point of doctrine, whatever piece of faith, whatever encouraging word that you receive, He said, “Now what did you do with it?” And if our answer is simply, “Well, I received it, I enjoyed it, I appreciated it, I accepted it as truth,” I don’t believe God will be satisfied with that. Like, “Well, good, I’m glad you accepted it, now what did you do with it? Did you put it to use?”

Let’s put it another way, a very simple two-step process. Step one: Pretend it is your job to share the truths that you have received with others; and step two: Stop pretending. First of all, pretend that it’s your job and then stop pretending.

Let’s put it in a little context, let’s put a little skin and flesh on these bones. Imagine that you are invited by a friend of yours to present what your church believes about, let’s say, the topic of hell at their Sunday school class next weekend. Okay, you understand the scenario? You guys read some interesting things about hell, would you come to our Sunday school class and present to us what you believe, what your church teaches, what you understand the Bible to say about hell to our Sunday school class? Then, let’s say, with that in mind, that during the week you happen to run into the pastor, your pastor, at the local grocery store, and, after telling about this tremendous opportunity, he says, “Oh, this is divine providence. This coming Sabbath, just before the Sunday you’re going to teach, the message is going to be ‘The Good News About Hell.’” Let me ask you something, would you listen to that sermon differently? Absolutely! Absolutely! It would change how you listen, because you know you’ve got a divine appointment on the other side of that message to share it with someone else.

First of all, you would stay awake. And let me tell you something, even if the preacher was dull as old paint, right? Because you’re not there for the messenger, you’re there for the message. Amen? I don’t care how dull, you’re going to make that thing interesting, because you’ve got to have this stuff. He’s got something you need! And even saying, “Yes, I would stay awake and pay attention,” you would do more than pay attention, friends. You would do more than pay attention. Pay attention is the bare minimum, you know? Sometimes it’s like, “Hey, I didn’t sleep through your sermon.” What do you want, a cookie? That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? There’s something beyond that, right? You would take meticulous notes, I would imagine. I’m guessing you would come to church that day prepared to take notes. You’d probably bring some paper, couple pens, maybe get ready to mark your Bible.

 

And when I say take notes, most people don’t know how to take notes. Let’s just be honest. If I say something like this, “Take notes.” What does that mean? What would you actually write on that piece of paper? First of all, you’d probably write down the title, “Oh, ‘The Good News About Hell,’ that might be catchy; I’ll keep that,” okay? But more than that, you’d probably write down what’s the main point of the message, what is the good news about hell? Those who put down the title, actually didn’t know what they’re trying to say. So, in your own words, because it’s going to come out of your mouth, out of your face, they’re going to hear this message, so explain in your own words what is actually being said. What is the point?

Then you would note down, how did this guy start this message? If he’s presenting the truth about hell, does he start with a startling statistic or a lighthearted anecdote? Does he start with a pointed text from Scripture, a story, how does he start, how does the progress go? How is the thought introduced and then progress? Speaking of which, after he starts this thought, what’s the overall flow of thought from this idea, which leads to this idea, which takes us all the way down to here and therefore…whatever. Every sermon should have a point. Now, this is not for you to sit here and start critiquing, “Well, some of your sermons don’t have a point.” I understand, okay? Everybody who gets up to preach, by the grace of God, hopefully has put some thought and has some message to say. Now, they may not say it well, but your job is to take the message and put it into your language so that you do say it well.

What key passages are used to support those points? If he makes a statement that hell does not burn forever and ever, what did you say to that? You’ve got to have a little Bible set ready to go. So, it’s not just you giving opinion, but people can see the truth from the Word of God. I’m guessing that after the sermon was done you wouldn’t just close your notes and go, “Oh, good, now I’m ready to go.” You’d say, “Un uh, I’ve got to discuss this more. I’m going to go talk with some other people who heard it. What did you hear in the message? I want to make sure I heard it correctly. I’m going to go home and look up these passages. I’m going to go home and look up these statements. In fact, I might even talk to the pastor himself. Now clarify, did you actually mean to say this…help me boil this down because I’ve got to present this message.” You’d rehearse it a bit. You’d go back over it, review it. You’d go home and look up those texts. You’d familiarize yourself with them, so that you’d know, I’m going to go from this one, to this one, to this one, this one, this one, this one, and you would start hiding it in your heart. And as you look them up, what does this text actually say and why do we use this text before this text? How does this one lead to this one? How about this thought, “Let me go double check and make sure that that’s actually what the Bible says.”

Go to the book of Acts, chapter 17. Paul liked it when people took his message and went home and rehearsed it, reviewed it, studied it for themselves, and soaked it in. Notice what he says in Acts, chapter 17, verse 10, he says, “Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.” And then he talks about these Bereans, and there is no epistle to the Bereans. My guess is because they didn’t need one. You look at the church of Corinth, they needed some writing, you know? Oftentimes, if you received a letter, it was not like, “Good, I hope..” It’s correction and rebuke, but there’s nothing here for the Bereans, only praise.

Verse 11, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica,” (and what made them that way?), “in that they received the word with all readiness, and,” (did what?), “searched the Scriptures,” when? That’s right, just on Sabbath afternoon. Is that what it says? No, “daily.” It wasn’t just a Sabbath activity. They went home throughout the week and searched the Scriptures, reviewed the message point by point. Does it make sense? Is it even true? “More fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Paul says, “Now, those are good listeners of sermons.” They receive it with all readiness, then they go home and review it, go back over it. They search the Scriptures. They check the texts. They put it through the filter. Does it hold true?

Then you could even go back farther and say, “Okay, this message is true, and I see this line, but I believe that there is a better way to do it,” and you tweak it, and you put it into your own language. You put it into your own presentation. Apparently, we’re supposed to convey the message through the vehicle that is unique to you. You have a way of thinking. You have a vocabulary set. You have resources that I don’t have. It’s different. And those people might hear you better than they would hear me. Apparently, the truth isn’t supposed to go just to you, it’s supposed to go through you to someone else. And I’m guessing that when that message about the truth about hell, the good news about hell, whatever the title was, and after you’ve done all of that, I’m guessing you would fall to your knees and pray earnestly, “Lord, You use me. I’ve done all that I can. Now, Lord, take what I lack and make it powerful; make this effective.” You’d spend some time in earnest prayer in preparation. It dawns on me that there should be apparently just as much work listening to a sermon as there is giving a sermon. And on this point, let me add a few other things.

I have heard some very bad sermons in my life. Some of them have come out of my own mouth, but what has astounded me most about some of those, what are truly bad sermons, is the vast majority of people thought they were good sermons. What makes the difference? Some people have a gift for oratory and smooth talk and nice little gestures and facial expressions and tone of voice and are very much smooth and anesthetizing, and everybody feels that that was a good sermon. But if you actually take notes, what did they actually say? You realize there really wasn’t much there, and, in fact, it doesn’t particularly even square with Scripture half the time. “But I thought it was a good sermon because it felt good to hear.” Friends, I think many of us are listening to sermons the wrong way. I think many of us get caught up in the messenger, and we lose sight of the message. This apparently was a frustration for the Apostle Paul. He said, you should be teachers by this time, but you need to be hearing over and over and over, and your senses have become dull from lack of use. I would submit to you that sermons from now on can be far more exciting than they currently are, that we can wean off of personality and get onto principles, that we can wean off of messenger and get back onto message, realizing that the real messenger is supposed to be me. “I’ve heard it once, and maybe they didn’t even do a good job of it, but, Lord, help me be a vehicle to make this message clear.”

Just a few passages from the Spirit of Prophecy and then we’ll close. From The Upward Look, page 264, we read, “My brethren and sisters, there is something more for you to do than to sit in your churches Sabbath after Sabbath and to listen to the preaching of the Word. You have a work to do for [your] friends and neighbors. God requires,” (I’m sorry, what was that last word?), “requires that you visit these families and seek to create an interest in the truth for this time. You are not laboring together with God if you neglect the work of helping others to take hold upon eternal realities.”

Even more to the point, Manuscript Release, volume 3, page 285, “It is not enough for you to remain in the church because you enjoy the preaching. There are many who need the very truths that you have heard and which you should be imparting to others. May God put upon the members of His church a burden to labor for souls as they that must give an account.” It goes on, “In the third angel’s message, we have a truth that is to be worldwide. It must be carried from village to village and from city to city. Then, do not, because you have a comfortable home and good church privileges, keep your light under a bushel. Let it shine forth that it may give light to all. God bids you hunt up the people that know not the truth of the Word of God that you may acquaint them with it.”

And finally, from The Review and Herald, January 19, 1897, “There are many who desire to see souls coming to a knowledge of the truth...” Now get this in mind, watch what she is saying here. There are many people who would love to watch baptisms occur, who love to see people give their hearts to the Lord. They want to see those appeals. They want to see true repentance. They genuinely want to see souls saved. “There are many who desire to see souls coming to a knowledge of the truth; but who among us are engaged in real, earnest work for the Lord? Who, with earnest, humble faith, are bringing souls to him by visiting, conversing, and explaining the Scriptures.” This is powerful! “The sacrifice that we ourselves are willing to make for the good of others is what will convince them of our sincerity.”

The fact that I love you enough that I care enough to personally deliver the message will add weight and significance to the message. Do you hear what I’m saying? It’s not so much that, “Hey, it’d be nice if you come heard this guy preach, see ’ya.” No, no, no! “I want to come to your house. I want to share the message. It’s so important for me to see you have a walk with Christ that I’m willing to roll up my sleeves, and I want to be the one to lead you to Jesus.” That sincerity, that devotion, has a convincing, converting power inherently. Someone will see that the message has landed in the heart, and they will be more open to hear it from those lips and even mine.

John, chapter 4, as we close, John, chapter 4, Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. We’re going to go down to verse 14. Well, we’ll start with verse 13. Of course, they’re talking about physical water here, but Jesus uses the physical to transition to a spiritual point. He says in verse 13, “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst,” (but what will happen?), “‘But the water that I shall give him will become in him,’” (a what?), “‘a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’” Apparently the water of Christ that we receive should bubble up and flow out and be a fountain for others. By the way, how was this evidenced? What was the very first thing she did? Ran home and said, “You’ve got to come meet a man who told me everything I ever did!” She drank the water, and it became a fountain.

Friends, I believe this is the burden of every member of God’s remnant church, that we are not to be mere consumers, we are to be producers. We are not just to be receivers of the message, but we are to be messengers ourselves, and, yes, that will take some training. Yes, it will take some work. You’re going to have to show up whenever the message is presented. You have to take notes. You’re going to have to remember things. You’re going to have to rehearse. You’re going to have to practice. If we hold a training session for how to bring people to Christ, you might have to attend that, too. And I think there are many people, not just in this local church, but all throughout God’s people, who love to see people come to the Lord but don’t love it enough to get in the game.

I think it would be phenomenal to accomplish some major feat of athletic prowess. Did you ever have that daydream, you’re sitting as a kid, “Boy, I could really hit a grand slam,” “I could get a touchdown,” “I could run the race”? I have a lot of friends who run marathons; I’m not one of those, okay? Now, I don’t mind getting out and walking. I don’t mind running from time to time, but, you know, you get online, and if you’re going to take a marathon, it takes some work to get there, right? I found a 26-week, that’s a six-month course, in how to go from a 20-minute walk to a 26.2-mile grueling run and to train your body to get there. And, if you want to do this, you’ve got to devote every day for six months so at the end of it, you can stand at that finish line, “Ah-ha! I did it!” Now I like getting outside, and I like walking, even like running from time to time, but I have absolutely no intention of ever running a marathon. And that’s why I never download those little charts, and I never put it on my fridge, and I never take the time, and I never fit it into the schedule because at the end of the line, my head isn’t there. I have no intention of doing that, so I’m not going to do the preparation that goes into it. Now, I like watching them do it, but I don’t have the desire to do it myself.

But in the spiritual race, we have to change our thinking. We must go from mere watchers, to actual workers. We have to have the end goal that I’m not just here to receive a message, my job is to give the message. I don’t care how fancy or un-fancy the presenter is, I’m not worried about the messenger, I’m worried about the message itself, and I need to go into training to make myself the messenger.

Let me ask you a question: Has what I presented today actually made sense? Can you raise your hand and say yes? Alright, good. Now, I’m going to make an appeal. “Oh, that’s only for the new people.” Come on. Can we just talk like people for just a second? We’re in house here, right? Have you ever noticed that we expect so much more out of new people than we do out of people who are already in the faith? Every night we take attendance, “Are you here this night? “Are you here this night?” “Are you here this night?” “We’ll give you a free Bible if you come out.” But as soon as you join the church, don’t ever ask me how often I show up; it’s very offensive. I didn’t hear amen, so I’m assuming you’re agreeing silently. We expect new people to change their diet, to change their day of worship, to change this and change this, but once we get into the church, “I’m not changing a thing.”

Friends, the walk with Christ is not a transaction, it’s an ongoing transformation to make us more like Christ, and I feel a burden even for our members that we need to transition in thinking from receivers to producers. Again, has the message been clear? Now, my followup question: Please don’t do it if you don’t agree, but if you want to commit to saying, “Lord, help me to listen to sermons better. Help me to have that end goal change from merely receiving to actually getting in the race. Help that example to actually live out in me. Help me to have a divine appointment on the other side of Sabbath so that I need these skills, I need this training, I need to listen to sermons better. I want to commit to saying Lord, I’m willing to go and I’m willing to do the work into preparing.”

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