The Westminster divines said that “it is required of those that hear the word preached, that they … meditate, and confer of it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives” (Larger Catechism, Q. 160). Thus the Word attended must also be practiced. Here are some ways.
1. Strive to retain and pray over what you have heard. Hebrews 2:1 says, “We ought to give earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” Thomas Watson said we should not let sermons run through our minds like water through a sieve. “Our memories should be like the chest of the ark, where the law was put,” he wrote. Joseph Alleine said one way to remember the preached Word is to “come from your knees to the sermon, and come from the sermon to your knees.”
2. Familiarize yourself with the truths you have heard. The Westminster Directory for Public Worship advises parents to engage in “repetition of sermons, especially by calling their families to an account of what they have heard. When you come home from church, speak to your loved ones about the sermon you have heard in an edifying, practical manner.
In addition, speak with fellow believers about the sermons. God’s blessing rests upon such fellowship. Malachi 3:16 says, “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.”
Share some of the lessons you are learning from the Word. As you talk with others, these lessons will help others as well as become more embedded in your own mind. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”
Do not engage in frivolous, worldly conversation after a sermon. Shallow talk about politics, people, sports, or news events is Satan’s way of sending his vultures to pluck away the good seed of the Word.
Most important, familiarize yourself with the sermon by meditating in private upon what you have heard in public. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you” (1 Corinthians 15:1–2).
3. Put the sermon into action. James 1:22-25 tells us, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” Too many people listen to a sermon, see themselves in the mirror of the Word, and leave church convicted, but on Monday morning, they abandon all the truths they have heard. Of what value is a mind filled with knowledge when it is not matched with a fruitful life? True listening means applying the Word of God. Many people do not live out the truths they hear from the Word of God. Here are some reasons why that happens:
- They do not have saving faith
- They love sin too much.
- They suppress what they hear.
- They focus more on the minister than on applying the sermon.
- They do not obey the voice of God.
Here are some guidelines for practicing the Christian life.
1. Listen carefully to sermons that teach us how to live. Like the Bereans, search the Scriptures to see whether what you hear is truth. Listen with discernment. When you are convinced that a message is scriptural, ask yourself: How can I put this sermon into practice?
2. Ask older, more experienced Christians for advice. Talk to people who are spiritually mature about how to live as a Christian. For example, ask such a wise person: What does it mean to love your enemies? Let him explain what that means to him. If after searching God’s Word, consulting with mature believers, and examining your own conscience and motives, you still do not know where God is leading you, try stepping back.
3. Thank God for all that you receive from sermons. Give glory to God when you are able to put God’s instruction into practice. Often, I fear we receive little because we are not grateful for what we receive. The Heidelberg Catechism states that ”God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them” (Q. 116).
4. Lean upon the Holy Spirit. Beg God to accompany His Word with the effectual blessing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44). The preached Word will be a transforming power in our lives under the Spirit’s blessing. If these directions are ignored, the preached Word will lead to our condemnation. As Thomas Watson wrote: “The word will be effectual one way or the other; if it does not make your hearts better, it will make your chains heavier.”
Jesus warns us in Luke 8:18, “Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” All of the means of grace will be taken away from inattentive hearers on judgment Day. It will be too late for them to hear another sermon. The market of free grace will be closed forever, and the door of God’s ark will be eternally shut.