Do You Hear What I Hear?


I’ve been preaching for 23 years now (not without ceasing, though I’m sure a few of my parishioners feel that way). I think I’m at best half way there: my preaching could improve in every way, from deeper preparation, to tighter presentation, to clearer illustration, to more practical application. It’s a task for a lifetime, and I intend to spend the rest of my days getting better at it.

For those who sit under my preaching currently, thanks for your patience.

I recently enjoyed a nearly 6 month sabbatical. That meant I spent half a year listening to sermons, with only a few times preaching any. And so I’ve become freshly aware of the other side of homiletics: hearing. Jesus, after all, was far more concerned about how and what we hear than about how and what we speak (though, of course, he was concerned about that as well). “Let him who has ears, hear,” was his refrain, not “Let him who has a mouth, speak.”

I have come to believe that the Spirit of God seeks to impart two anointings during any sermon: one for the speaker, the other for the listeners. He anoints both lips and ears, tongue and eardrum. He desires empowered words, both in the giving and in the receiving. Preaching is both oratory and auditory. In Acts 2, when the Spirit falls on the church in Jerusalem and they began to speak in various tongues, the miracle isn’t so much their speaking: it’s that each ethnic group present hears the wonders of God in their own language (See Acts 2:8, 11). The spirit’s anointing is on the hearing, not just the speaking.

In my 6 months of mostly hearing and seldom speaking sermons, I learned a few things about anointed listening. Here are four:

  • Come with expectancy that God will speak. God will reveal, convict, confirm, rebuke, and/or guide us, at least in part, in every sermon we hear, no matter how eloquently or clumsily executed.
  • Leave with a resolve to act today on what God says. I think the most damnable thing is good intentions. The paving stones of hell are laid with good intentions – with ought tos and should haves and one days. Break the habit of hearing a sermon about loving your spouse, or blessing your children, or giving generously, or granting forgiveness, or repenting wholeheartedly – or whatever – and agreeing with it but not acting on it.
  • Hear the sermon for yourself. It is sermon-listening malpractice to sit through a sermon and think, “I wish so-and-so were here,” or “I am so glad so-and-so is here, and hope they’re really getting this.” God didn’t appoint you as their proxy. This word is for you.
  • Hear the sermon for others. It is equally sermon-listening malpractice to keep a good word to yourself. It is like the lepers in 2 Kings 7 who find bread and start to hoard it. When God speaks to you, tell at least one other person what you heard, preferably that day. It seals it up in your own heart, helps keep you accountable to it, and God often uses it to speak a word in season to the person you tell.

There’s more, but that gets at a few core things.

I am preaching this coming Sunday. I am asking for the Spirit to anoint my words, both on my lips and in our ears, mine included.

What about you? What have you learned about the art of listening to sermons?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Do You Hear What I Hear?

  1.  Mark, I get what you’re saying but I’m not sure I agree with this statement “my preaching could improve in every way, from deeper preparation, to tighter presentation, to clearer illustration, to more practical application”.
    I do agree preparation, prayer and quiet meditation are necessary in preparing to deliver a message. I also believe a message can be spontaneous without preparation and God can use it for His good. What I do think that is contrary to what you have said, is that the style, length, drama and system or any humanly instituted plan to make God’s word appealing can focus a person’s attention on the preacher and distract the hearer from hearing Jesus in it.  A message spoken in humility and under the influence of the Holy Spirit is far more recognizable as coming from God than is reliance on a developed technique or style.
    As I read through your blog, I thought of how the Lord gave messages to Jeremiah that he was to speak to Judah. In spite of Jeremiah’s insecurity of being a youth the Lord commanded him to “Go out, and tell them whatever I tell you to say.  Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them. For see, today I have made you immune to their attacks. You are strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall. None of the kings, officials, priests, or people of Judah will be able to stand against you. They will try, but they will fail for I am with you, and I will take care of you.  I, the Lord have spoken!” Jeremiah preached for 40 years with hardly a positive response. He was told to preach; the response, although upsetting, was not his business but God’s.
    Then I thought about how Ezra in the book of Nehemiah led the people to worship. He simply opened up the word of God and read from it. The people responded as though they had never heard the words before and worshipped for days and rejoiced in the Lord and proclaimed with gladness of heart, “the joy of the Lord is our strength”.
    There were different responses to God’s word and God was in clearly in both those situations.
    I do believe in coming more prepared to receive; I don’t see much of that happening today in this busy helter-skelter age in which we live.
    Off the topic – Hot doggie! Maybe God should have made our ears that big eh!