Learning how to listen to God's Word

Do you realise that you need to learn how to listen to God’s word. In Luke 8:18 Jesus says, “Consider carefully how you listen.” This phrase comes in the context of the parable of the sower which speaks of how people hear and respond to the word of God. Some get it wrong and others right. Think of how many sermons you have heard in your life. I have probably heard well over a few thousand, and it may be more for you. But what have you done with all those sermons. Have you listened in a right way and actually changed?

Countless sermons that I have heard have not pierced my heart as they should. Why? Because of my heart and my lack of preparations, not so much the preacher. As Spurgeon says “It seems to me that there are more preparations needed by the ground than by the sower, more by the hearer than by the preacher.” You shouldn’t just blame the preacher when you don’t get much from a sermon. Instead look at yourself and ask “what preparation have I done?” You really should never go away unchallenged if you have at least heard God’s word read out.

We can put all the emphasis on the preacher preparing, yet the Bible puts an emphasis on our hearing. In the Law the call “Hear, O Israel” (Duet 5:1, 6:3-4, 9:1, etc) and the command to listen to God’s commands often goes out. In Proverbs, the writer says “Listen my son” (Proverbs 1:8, 4:1, 4:10, 5:7, 8:6, etc). All throughout the prophets, there is a call to “hear the word of the Lord" (2 Kings 7:1, 20:16, Isaiah 28:14, 39:5, Jeremiah 29:10, 31:10, Ezekiel 16:35, Hosea 4:1, Amos 3:1, etc). And then in the gospels this theme continues where there is often a call to listen and the phrase “he who has ears, let him hear” (Matt 11:15, 13:9-18, 15:10).

Finally, throughout the rest of the New Testament, the importance of hearing the word of the Lord is displayed in many ways (Acts 13:44, 13:48, 19:10, Romans 10:14, Ephesians 1:13, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 3:7, 15, 4:7, Revelations 1:3, 2:7, 2:11, 13:9 etc). So much in the Bible has to do with listening to Gods word. Yet we put little thought into considering how we listen to God’s Word. This needs to change!

Why do I need to learn how to listen?

Well if you think this, here are a few reasons:

1. The Bible speaks much on the need to listen to Gods word as we have just seen.

2. Jesus tells us to consider carefully how we listen (Luke 8:18).

3. Many don’t listen in a right way. The parable of the sower shows 3 out of 4 who hear God’s word get it wrong. Now this parable isn’t to give us statistics but it does show that many hear in a wrong way. We must never assume we have properly listened to God’s word just because we have heard it.

The parable of the sower is possibly one of the richest parables, but the key point is about how we listen and respond to God’s word. Some hear the word, but Satan takes it from them. Others hear the word and seem to accept it with joy, but this acceptance soon withers away because of trials. Another hears God’s word and looks like a Christian, but pleasures, money and the gods of this world soon choke out the one true God. And a final group hears God’s word in a good and honest heart, holds fast to it and bears fruit.

Which soil are you? How have you responded to the gospel and how do you respond each time you hear God’s word? We need to get our listening right because so many people in churches who have heard God’s word will get it wrong. Also, the spread of God’s word is dependent on how we hear for this is the fruit Christians should bear and those who have a heart ready to hear will receive more (Luke 8:16-18 and see Matthew 5:14-16, 10:27 and 13:11-15).

4. The parable of the sower shows that whether we are saved depends on how we listen to God’s word (Luke 8:12). Also, John 8:47 shows how the ability to hear what God says shows whether we belong to him.

5. Jesus says listening to His words is the one thing that is necessary. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha is distracted with serving and preparations, while Mary is listening to Jesus as she sits at his feet. And Jesus says in verse 42, “only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

6. You will be held accountable for all that you have heard. Where much is given, much will be required. This is scary and should confirm why you need to learn how to listen. In Luke 12:47-48 we are given the picture of someone who knows what his master wants but doesn’t do it, and the outcome is that he will be beaten with many blows. In contrast the servant who doesn’t know what his master wants and doesn’t do it will be beaten with few blows. When I hear this, I plead that the Lord would help me listen properly to His word for I will be held so accountable as a pastor. But you will be too! If you are reading this article, you are probably someone who has heard the truth of God’s word again and again. If only you realised how much will be required of you by God for all that you have heard!

So, be careful how you listen! So much is at stake in how we listen! And let's now consider carefully how we listen! What should we do when we listen to sermons or any time we hear God’s word? There are three key things we must do, prepare, listen and respond. And I have 15 suggestions to help us do this, and take care with how we listen.

Prepare - How do we prepare the soil of our hearts to listen?

1. Prepare your attitude

Come eager and expectant for God to speak and it’s amazing how much you will grow. Be hungry for God to work and to hear His Word. Crave the pure spiritual milk of the word like a newborn baby (1 Peter 2:2). And the key to eagerness is prayer! Pray God would give you a right attitude to hear His word. Even for just a few minutes before you come on a Sunday or read the bible.

2. Prepare physically

Come well rested, and ready to listen. Get an early night on Saturday and realise that Sunday morning begins with how you plan to use Saturday. We need to come with as much energy a we can to hear God speak.

And don’t do stressful things or be busy just before you come to hear God’s word. Try organise everything the night before, like your clothes, the kid’s snacks or anything you have to do at church. That way you won’t be rushing, you can arrive early and you will be able to be in the right frame of mind to listen, rather than coming drained, distracted and stressed.

3. Prepare your mind:

How do you prepare your mind? Firstly, by protecting it. Be careful of distractions and sit where these will be avoided! Also purify your mind during the week, think on pure things and don’t fill it with filth (James 1:21, Philippians 4:8). How can you fill your mind with the filth that is on Netflix or the TV the night before or the radio on the way to church and then expect God’s word to have a lasting impact! It’s like expecting a dirty greasy sponge to soak up pure water and let out pure water when you squeeze it. It’s impossible! fInstead read the passage that will be preached on and study it. This will help you listen better and understand what is said. Also, regularly spend intimate times with God praying and reading His Word. The more you practice the better you get.

4. Prepare spiritually

Our spiritual walk through the week will affect our listening. James 1:21 shows we need to get rid of all moral filth to humbly accept the Word! Furthermore, the parable of the sower shows that the good soil are the ones with an honest and good heart that is able to retain the word.

Also, when we come to hear God’s word, we need to have confessed sin and made things right with others (Matthew 5:24). Avoid arguments and addressing things in people just before you are about to hear God’s word and instead deal with these things after hearing God’s word (Psalm 106:25).

5. Prepare for the sermon

What do I mean? Prepare by praying for the preacher and his preparation. Pray for a readiness and eagerness in the congregation to hear God speak. When Spurgeon was asked why his preaching was so influential, he said, “My people pray for me”. We as listeners actually have a key role in preparing the sermon and that is prayer. And by praying for a sermon, we will come eager to hear it.

Listen carefully - How should we listen carefully?

6. Listen with your bible open

Be looking at the passage and be ready for God to convict you. God’s Word is sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12-13), so give it ample opportunity to pierce you.

Also check that the main point and purpose of the passage is the main point and purpose of the sermon. Check that the things said in the sermon come from the passage. Don’t just trust the preacher, trust God’s word!

7. Listen with your thoughts

Think about all that is said, sung, read, prayed and taught in the church service. Dig into the text eagerly while the pastor does. Take a few notes if that helps you to reflect on things later, or if it helps you stay focused. But don’t try to record everything down because you can miss hearing the sermon. God’s Spirit works through His word being heard. As Romans 10:14 says, “faith comes by hearing”.

Also, don’t use the sermon as a time to do your own reading and research on the passage or something else. And don’t watch the clock! Let the Spirit work by focusing on hearing the Word of God, thinking about it and then you won’t really feel the time. You are the first soil, and Satan has already stolen the Word from you if you are watching the clocking. Obviously for you, church is just a duty to get through and you are more in love with something after the service than God and His word.

Finally, to be able to listen with your thoughts, you must get rid of any distractions, especially phones. If you are going to use it for notes, then put it on flight mode!

8. Listen prayerfully

Pray throughout the sermon. Pray that God by His Spirit would convict, challenge and bring about change. Be praying throughout when you struggle to understand things or when something is hard to accept. You need to keep praying that God would incline your heart to His Word.

9. Listen with your body

Yes, listen with your body! During a sermon, it’s important to listen with your eyes, posture, facial expressions and concentration. How you listen and your attentiveness will either hinder or encourage the preacher and others around you. We need more nods and ‘amens’ in churches, rather than nodding off, slouching or darting the eyes.

10. Listen with openness and humility

You are listening to God’s word, so sit humbly under it, be open to rebuke and let God convict. Don’t just pick certain preachers you love and think you won’t get something out of other preachers (there is danger with this mentality and following certain people [see 1 Corinthians 1:12]).

Also remove any preconceived ideas that you have about passages or topics and let God’s word dictate what you think. Be teachable and accept God's truth in the Bible. Be like the Thessalonians who received the word of God, which they heard from Paul and “accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Respond - How should we respond to God’s word?

11. Respond immediately

Don’t let Satan distract you or take the word from you. Instead respond today in the way God has called you to. Satan’s key tactic for stealing the word is to make you think you can respond tomorrow and he will use the constant notifications, beeps or whatever he can to grab your attention and chock the word in your life. Fight this by respond immediately to the convictions God’s word has given!

12. Respond with action

How? By believing, bearing fruit and being a light. We need to be not only hearers but doers of the word as James says. Even after our verse in Luke 8:18 and the parable of the sower, Jesus says in Luke 8:21, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” The purpose of the Bible isn’t just to give us knowledge, but to transform our lives. Spiritual maturity is not greater knowledge, but greater Christlikeness. So, apply what you have learnt to your life, plan how to do it and then do it!

13. Respond by talking about the sermon

When we meet as a church, we are to encourage each other (Hebrews 3:12-14, 10:24-25). How should we encourage each other? With the truth and promises of God’s word. Sharing what we have been convicted by in a sermon or God's Word is one way that we can do this. However, unfortunately we normally run to discussing trivial things. It’s sad when little discussion of God’s word happens after a sermon. What good was it going to church if it hasn’t challenged you and gripped your heart, and all you speak about after is sport or the latest movie you watched.

Also, when you talk about the sermon, talk to the pastor. Encourage the pastor in a helpful way by sharing how God has convicted you. And ask any questions you have, or things in the passage that you would like clarified.

14. Respond with a consistent joyful hunger for more of God’s word

Rejoice after you have heard God’s word (Nehemiah 8:12, Psalm 119:162) and desire it more than anything in life because it is sweeter than honey and more to be desired than gold (Ps 19:10). Hunger for more of God’s Word and let this hunger cause you to regularly sit under it in a local church. Also continue to hunger for God's Word so that you are healthy soil ready mature and endure when you hear God's Word.

15. Respond in prayerful reflection

Try to pause after every time you hear the word and counter Satan who is trying to steal the word. In 2 Timothy 2:7 Paul says concerning the truths he has just told Timothy, “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” Certainly this is also true for all of Gods’ word. Reflect on what you have heard and plan how it changes your life. Nothing in life with happen without planning, so plan how to obey and pray God would help you to be a doer of the word. Also, in your time of reflection be sure to look at yourself and not others. Give opportunity for God to convict you and challenge things in your life. Preach to yourself again and again the truths you need to hear!

Be careful how you listen!

Well, may we be people that have ears to hear. May the soil of our hearts be prepared every time we come to hear the seed of God’s word. May there be in us a hearing that doesn’t allow the devil to snatch the word. Where the rocks of doubt are removed and the weeds of this world, possessions and life’s anxieties are stripped away. May we hear Gods word with an honest and good heart that holds fast to it and perseveres to bear fruit!

So much is at stake when we hear God’s word, so be careful how you listen!

Article by Will AitkenMay 12, 2020