Sunday marked a new milestone in my preaching. I preached what was by far the most difficult (to hear) sermon of my short time as a pastor. Any time you quote “Asleep in the Light” by Keith Green in its entirety during your concluding remarks, you know there’s a good chance that people are going to leave a little heavier than they arrived.
This is not a bad thing.
In fact, hard sermons are helpful in combatting tickling the ears of your hearers, unless of course, your church is made up of 24 year old reformed man/boys who love to be punched in the face by the preacher every Sunday. (but that’s another story)
As I prepared for this message, which came out of Luke 22:39-46. and as I’ve reflected on it since, I felt like it would be a good idea to post some thoughts on how we can better hear and digest the hard sermons that we will inevitably hear as we gather each week around the Word of God.
When we find ourselves in the congregation during such a sermon we should hear…
With Humility… We should always come to a sermon with humility, for if our preacher is doing his job, he is bringing the very word of God to bear on our hearts. Sometimes that is a happy affair, and other times, it is hard to bear. In either case, our response should be to humbly submit ourselves to the word of God. This is especially important during sermons where we find ourselves being challenged to change or confronted with our own sinfulness. In those moments, our self-focused, self-defense systems arm and we are much less likely to respond appropriately. If our attitude at that moment is one of humility, we will be more likely to receive Biblical correction and conviction, and we will grow stronger because of it.
With Prayer… We will not be able to develop an attitude of humility before the Word preached unless we are coming humbly before the Lord in prayer. Prayer is the way in which we “dress ourselves for action” as God calls Job to do. Prayer ensures that the armor of God fits us properly (Ephesians 6:10-20). Prayer strengthens us that we may not fall into temptation (Luke 22:40). Prayer is a powerful weapon of change in our hearts, and an attitude of humility in prayer before the Lord will ensure that our hearts are primed for the Word preached.
With Hope… Hard sermons often bring tears and conviction and uncertainty of faith. But if they are presented properly, the listener should leave with the unshakeable hope of the Gospel made clear before their eyes. Hard words for their own sake do not build up the body, they discourage and tear down, but hard words said in love and with grace serve to prune our hearts and draw us nearer to the Lord as we remember that it was because of our great sinfulness that Jesus died for us, because God loved us even when we were His enemies. There is nothing harder to hear than the reality of what Jesus bore on our behalf, but, when we remember that it was indeed on our behalf, our hope and joy will only grow larger. How could the good news do anything else in the hearts of the redeemed?
Lastly, I want to commend Thabiti Anyabwile’s book, What Is A Healthy Church Member? to you. Chapter 1 explains the first mark of a healthy church member, being an Expository Listener, in other words, learning to listen to sermons well.