Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Listen to a Sermon: Advice from George Whitefield

Did you know that George Whitefield once preached a sermon on how to listen to a sermon?  I've done this once in my life as well (though at the I didn't know Whitefield had already done it).  Below is his advice, adapted, edited, and modernized for a contemporary audience. You may also wish to consult the original sermon.  By the way, I've been guilty of each of these in my adult life.

1. Come to every sermon with a genuine desire to learn.  If you don't have the attitude of a sincere and humble learner, then don't be surprised if you get nothing out of the sermon.

2. Come to every sermon with a yearning to obey Scripture. You might not like the message, but that isn't the point.  The key question is this: what does the Word of God say?

3. Do not hold a prejudice against the preacher.  Are you allowing your dislike for him to get in the way of listening to God's Word being preached? 

4. Do not be too dependent upon the preacher.  Do you believe it just because he said it?  Are you of McArthur? Piper? Sproul? Spurgeon?  The previous pastor? A childhood pastor?

5. Apply everything preached to your own life.  Are you asking God, "How should this truth change my life?" Or perhaps you are lazily waiting for the preacher to do the application for you. Even worse, are you thinking "I sure wish so-n-so is hearing this".  

6. Pray for the preacher before and during his sermon. Are you praying specifically that he preach with power and that God will grant you the ability to put into practice what is being said?

Listen to how Whitefield concludes this sermon.  Remember, he was not the pastor of a congregation, but rather a traveling preacher and evangelist.  Nor is he referring to 'ordained clergy' alone, but rather to that important though generalized group of men whom instruct the church.  He writes:

"Take heed, therefore, ye careless, curious professors; if any such be here present, how you hear. Remember, that whether we think of it or not, we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, where ministers must give a strict account of the doctrine they have delivered, and you as strict a one, how you have improved under it. And, good God! How will you be able to stand at the bar of an angry, sin-avenging judge, and see so many discourses you have despised, so many ministers, who once longed and labored for the salvation of your precious and immortal souls, brought out as so many swift witnesses against you? Will it be sufficient then, think you, to allege, that you went to hear them only out of curiosity, to pass away an idle hour, to admire the oratory, or ridicule the simplicity of the preacher? No, God will then let you know, that you ought to have come out of better principles; that every sermon has been put down to your account, and that you must then be justly punished for not improving by them."

This may sound harsh, but in reality Whitefield was known for his tenderness.  Look at the encouraging way he ends this sermon:
"But fear not, you little flock, who with meekness receive the ingrafted word, and bring forth the peacable fruits of righteousness, for it shall not be so with you. No, you will be your minister's joy, and their crown of rejoicing in the day of our Lord Jesus: And they will present you in holy triumph, faultless, and unblameable, to our common Redeemer, saying, 'Behold us, O Lord, and the children which thou hast given us."

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