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How To Listen to a Sermon
By Dan Vis
February 05, 2017
Comments: 34

Note: Through the month of February, we plan to call attention to the importance of the Bible, and give you a few practical suggestions for building it into our lives. This first article talks about the importance of how we listen to sermons. It comes from lesson #2 in our Mighty in the Word course available in our Study Guides area. Enjoy!

God has gifted men and women to preach and teach the Word of God effectively, and He warns believers to not neglect this gift. Speakers are encouraged to preach the word at every opportunity (II Timothy 4:2Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.). And believers are urged to not forsake assembling together—because we need that exhortation (Hebrews 10:24-2524 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.). It is important.

And we have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of Bible instruction. Sermons are preached in every church. Teachers discuss the lesson study each week. Midweek prayer meetings usually include another message. We attend seminars and workshops. You can get sermons on TV, the radio, over the internet, and on CD's, and other media. You can even read them in a magazine or book! Messages are everywhere. An active Christian can listen to scores of them over the course of a year.

How to Listen
Unfortunately, most of these sermons go in one ear and out the other. Ask a person what was preached just two or three weeks prior they will usually draw a blank. It may have strengthened them for a day or two—but there was little lasting benefit. As James put it, we are hearers of the word only, deceiving our own selves. (See James 1:22But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.). Below are three suggestions to help you become a better listener:

1. Pay Attention
Most people find taking notes to be a great way to stay focused on the message you are listening to. It helps keep our thoughts from wandering. You can follow the structure of the speaker's message more clearly. Or jot down references and quotes you want to refer to later. You can also record impressions from the Holy Spirit. Good students take notes in class, because what they are listening to is important. How much more God's Word?

2. Reflect After
Try to find a few minutes later that same day (if possible) to reflect on the sermon. Check the context of any interesting verses. Highlight key points or statements. Explore any questions that were raised during the message. Summarize the key principles in the passage. What was the speaker's call to action? Did you sense God speaking to you at any point? Even a brief second pass will help you fix the message in your memory, and glean gems in the message you might otherwise miss.

3. Take Action
A message won't do any good unless it leads to change in your life. As you look over your notes, ask God to show you one thing you personally can take from the message. Come up with a specific project or change you can make. Write out a concrete plan of action. Platitudes and good intentions are not enough. Refuse to let the message go until you have put something from it into your weekly planner.

How to Remember
Get a small file cabinet and start storing messages that were valuable to you. Create folders for different topics. Include handouts and worksheets. You do not have to save every message—but most have something worth hanging on to. You can also include magazine articles or study guides on various topics. Write up short summaries of books you read and add them. File away notes from Bible topics you have researched as well. You will soon have lots of great resources in your files.

Someone asks you a question? Go to your files and get the answer. Studying out some topic? See what you have in your files. Need to do a devotional? Or workshop? Pull out a folder and save yourself some preparation. Working on some project? Look through your files for ideas. Turn those scores of sermons you hear each year from one-time blessings into messages that benefit you time and time again. Your files will soon become invaluable, and only get better year after year.

Comments

What do you do to get the most out of the sermons you listen to? Do you spend the time in this it deserves? Do you take good notes? Review things later? Make personal applications? File resources for future study? What changes do you plan to make to begin listening better?

Posted by Dan Vis on 06/16/17
Wow, what a great experience Merilyn! Wish we had more people in more churches doing something like that for our kids. Awesome...
Posted by Merilyn Aveling-Rowe on 06/16/17
Jason Thanks for that idea. I'm exploring it. :)
Posted by Merilyn Aveling-Rowe on 06/16/17

Wish I'd had this training before ever having kids!
Now to figure out my method to achieve this...

I visited a church a couple of years ago where an ex teacher had given all the kids notebooks. She encouraged even the little ones to draw picture notes as they listened to the sermon. And of course the older ones to actively take notes. Each child would come to her at the end and she'd look over their notes and give them a mark! She had me, as a visitor write a comment on how well they'd listened - just some encouragement. Those kids LOVED it!      The fact that someone actually saw and heard them and responded to them was so exciting to them!
And imagine what went through their minds as they'd look back through the pages over the years and note their own development! And jog their memory's.

No use looking back in regret. Start taking action.. Thanks Dan

Posted by Liza W on 03/25/17
This memo was very helpful! thank you for all the comments too. I think the 3 step process and noting the key points for reference and later application will be the most helpful for me.
Posted by Dan Vis on 02/18/17

Yes John, excellent point. Memorizing a key verse or two can be a great anchor to a sermon, Bible study, experience or other kind of lesson from God. I like to think of them as pegs upon which we can attach all kinds of memories. Thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth, glad to hear it. Many blessings on your efforts!

Posted by John Gilmore on 02/18/17

Looking over this again, I have several verses memorized which I connect with an especially impressive sermon. One verse memorized has anchored a key point in my memory.

At one time, my wife, who is much more talented with writing, would take notes and from them, over the next day or two, write a poem which summarized and reflected the sermon. Those poems were a blessing to me, too.

Posted by Elizabeth on 02/09/17
Thank you Dan most definitely. I am excited about starting this Sabbath taking notes. I desire to start small and make changes that will last.
Posted by Dan Vis on 02/08/17
Elizabeth, sounds like a good plan to have a handful of key areas we are focused on. But I'd grab up anything valuable you stumble across and add it to your file system. No point limiting yourself. But yes, pick some small number and focus your research on those areas.
Posted by Elizabeth on 02/08/17
I am revisiting this suggestion and I would like to explore evernote. One author suggested prayerfully identifying 5 topics to grow in and use the filing system to file things that go along those topics as one is growing.
Posted by Dan Vis on 02/08/17

Appreciate everyone's comments. I think Jason suggestion about Evernote is a great one. I have been wanting to transition all my notes to there for a long time--just haven't had time. Having them searchable digitally is a huge plus. For the last 6+ years I've put all my sermons in digital format so I am starting to build a bit of a library there as well.

Glad many of you see the benefit of more active listening, but I cannot emphasize enough the value of being able to file or organize your resources in some way to be able to retrieve them again as needed (whether paper files or evernote, onenote, etc). Not every sermon or handout of course, but anything worth keeping. It is definitely worth the effort. It's far superior to just journaling, because you group your notes together by topic.

Practically every lesson we've put together at FAST can be traced back to some file in a single 4 door file cabinet I've built up over the years. It's my #1 go to source for information. Pull out my folder on prayer or time management or whatever, review all the information, and then pull out the very best stuff and reshape it into the best final form I can make it. I think I would probably trade all the books on my shelves for the notes in that one file cabinet.

Thanks Qing for making the point this is not just for pastors--and that we are all lay ministers. We may not preach but many of us are involved in various kinds of ministries and can start accumulating information related to what we do: health articles, tips on working with children, program ideas, teaching techniques, etc. And we all have a spiritual life we should be constantly striving to improve. Collect every tip and trick you can.

It may be difficult to appreciate the benefits of something like this if you have never done this, but after awhile it may well become one of your most treasured resources! Over the years it has saved me far more time than it has cost.

Posted by Lillian E. Cepeda on 02/07/17

I do like the suggestion of making a summary of a book you have read. For me this is very helpful. I love read a lot of books, and sometimes I cannot remember a statement/book.I will definetly will put it into practice.

I also need to work on doing the Word, not only listening to it.

Than you, Dan, for this memo. it has been very helpful !

Posted by Connie Sunderland on 02/07/17
Just another thought. I have a concordance in the back of my Bible. Whenever I come across a verse on a topic I am studying, I list it on one of my concordance pages. For instance Health is not dealt with in my concordance, but I write health on the page that has H's, and then list the text. I also have a wide margin Bible where I write notes and references and draw pictures that help me find what I am looking for. So my Bible is my number one tool for inspired thoughts.
Posted by Dan Pratt on 02/07/17

After taking the "Mighty in the Word" course last year from FAST Missions, I tried again taking notes, but again got swamped in trying to categorize and store them all. Then, I prayed about it and God has helped me with something that works for me. It is summarized above. 1. Pay Attention. 2. Reflect. 3. Act

I first pray before I listen, then again when I reflect--that God will inspire me with the (usually only one) thing I need. Then by reflection I find some way to act on it, often along with memorizing one verse that drives it home.

The result is, because I make the action a part of my life, along with the verse, I have little trouble remembering the lesson. I don't always remember the sermon, where I heard it, or who presented it, but I have the lesson as it becomes a part of my life. God help me do that every time, because it is simple enough for me to accomplish.

Posted by Pamela Kendall on 02/07/17
Thank you for this excellent advice. Sadly most of the time I have been a "hearer of the word only" in this area, however I would like to improve! I found myself recently wanting to take notes on a sermon and did come home and write things down later and think about it some. I think this desire to do this may have been at least partially a result of things I am learning at FAST/and the new devotional habits I am developing. Thank you so much for teaching me how to gain more benefit from Biblical resources! It really makes a difference!
Posted by Jacqueline on 02/07/17
Itake notes this is so wo derful taking it to another level. Prayb for internet connection not always avalible God willalways provide immediate access to fast. I need prayer. Niro virus going around at work. Please protect the aides and nursesand for every resident Father se d your angels to minister to those who are sick. In Jesus name.
Posted by Dawne Joseph on 02/07/17
Thanks so much Dan for this memo. I have read the comments and find them very informative. I will surely be following the tips in this memo. I feel so blessed to be part of this Journey.
Posted by David Armstrong on 02/07/17

Two thoughts: If we view truth as a chain with all the Bible verses, concepts and doctrines flowing together and having bearing on each other, we'll strive then to master the different Bible concepts and wrestle over Bible truths until we see their connections. And if we make this a strong desire in our lives, we'll treasure light when it is spoken in a sermon. When it is verified Bible knowledge and insight, we'll find a way to store it if we can't remember it. And the more we do this, Bible truth will continue to come together into one, cohesive comprehension--simple, yet complex. The sermons, Bible studies, and lessons we give will become simpler and easier to understand, yet much more profound, because we'll be able to give the people the forest view, and also be able to tell them something about each of the trees as well and how they relate to each other. It will awaken and inspire the listener/student to be able to do the same thing.

I use Onenote. It's free and incredibly easy to store pages under specific tabs, or to start a new notebook altogether. Tablets are nice, because you can turn them sideways and type notes directly onto the screen like a keyboard during the sermon. I have a list of sermons right now. As it grows, I can begin to link the common subjects together into their own files. Blessings

Posted by Lillian E. Cepeda on 02/06/17
I have the habit of taking sermon notes for many years. From time to time, I look at the journals and find notes that speaks to my heart when I need them the most. A friend of mine saw me taking notes at church one Sabbath, she wanted to do the same thing, so I bought a journal for her. She has been taking notes since then. By the way, she was a newly baptized lady.
Posted by Qing Ling on 02/06/17
Great suggestion with evernote, Jason. Like Connie, I find at first this filing thing sounds like a lot of work, and something suitable for someone in a pastor's job, but I have to remind myself that we are all lay ministers with Christ. I don't plan to start a filing cabinet straight away,because I am intentionally keeping a minimalist home, and I don't spend enough time on a computer to warrant a digital solution in that way. Perhaps evernote could work for me..something digital and accessible while on the move....but like many have shared, going back over old notes is like going through the stuff I'm our attics...when do we ever do it? This will be a matter of prayer for me in the area of keeping notes, to figure out the best/efficient way for my lifestyle. But absolutely the core activity of paying attention, self-reflection, then sharing with others, is something I love to do already and am encouraged by this article to keep doing. Thank you Lionel for explaining the triple blessing concept. Triple AMEN to that!!! :)
Posted by Aurora on 02/06/17
It was really my custom to jot down notes but I never filed it. Now, I think it was a good advice to do so. I have mine on little notebooks and sometimes I took much time looking for the exact notebook I needed at the time. Thanks.
Posted by Debbie King on 02/06/17
Lionel Thank you for your encouraging post, that listening to any sermon is never a waste of time. I believe that, too: that God's Word is so powerful and if the heart is soft then the seed will germinate.
Posted by Jessie Butterfield on 02/06/17
I can't take notes during a sermon, because that would require taking my laptop to church with me. I don't have the ability to write. I suspect some of the other people in the congregation would be distracted by the sound of my computer talking. Besides, it would be hard to listen to the sermon and my computer. However, I listen closely to the sermon every Sabbath and pray about it on the way home and pray again when I go to bed. I'm open to any suggestions others might have for me.
Posted by Lionel on 02/06/17

As a child preacher from aged 8 I listened intently to other peoples’ sermons selfishly to improve my own. I quickly learned that God could use me more mightily if I let Him teach me. (John 14:26But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. starts, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things”). So over the many decades since then I have listened, not for my preaching, but for my edification.

There was a time when I wondered why I listened so intently when I seemed to forget most of what I had heard. Words would go in one ear and out the other like a worm in a cornfield.
However …
1. John 14:26But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. continues, “[the Holy Spirit will] bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” In order for us to be reminded of something the Lord has said through His servants we must first hear or see it. And
2. By way of illustration: During our long and joyous marriage my wife Rosemary has prepared and served over 40,000 meals, and almost a third would have included a devotional reading and mealtime-worship. I must honestly confess that I can’t remember a fraction of what was in those meals or readings. However, I can honestly say that I have always been well fed.

Hearing a sermon is never a waste of time – listening to a sermon is never a waste of energy – jotting down what we hear is never a waste of ink (the act of writing in itself is a reinforcer for our memory) – and sharing what we have heard gives us a triple blessing (we are blessed when we hear, we are blessed again as we share and we are blessed when others respond to our sharing).

Posted by Shirley Phillips on 02/06/17
I am an avid note taker, things that touched my heart, can help me in my walk with Jesus and help others. I have some magazine articles that I just can't throw away. They touch my heart whenever I read them. Thank you, your filing system is just the thing for me.
Posted by Bonnie Ormond on 02/06/17
I usually take notes on sermons, but have not organized them very well --- looks like that is something I should work on this year!
Posted by Debbie Jones on 02/06/17
Thanks Pastor Dan for sharing this info on active listening and application of sermons.   Years ago, in college or thereabouts, I started taking notes on sermons as a way to stay awake during service. It worked like a charm for that. I would occasionally reference the notes later but never thought to organize them by topic in a file. I have since stopped taking notes consistently but love this idea you outlined.   Thanks again.
Posted by Marsha on 02/06/17
I like to jot down all the scriptures and go back later in the day to contemplate...
Posted by Elizabeth on 02/06/17
Thanks Dan I am certainly starting Sabbath to take the notes. I used to and I stooped. I think I will buy a note book and use highlighter pen for various topics. I like the reflection and taking one project from the notes I have made. Application.
Posted by Danetta on 02/06/17
Jason Thanks for that tip, that sounds like a really handy tool!
Posted by Juliette on 02/06/17
I do tend to take some notes on sermons, because I like to remember information and sometimes in the next week or so go back over them. I don't usually save them anymore, after that because I never go back to them later, but writing it while listening and reading the verses/slides helps me remember the information better.
Posted by Angie Leimena on 02/06/17
GOD help me to make routine reflections and take actions accordingly. Thank you for reshaping the mindset.
Posted by Connie Sunderland on 02/06/17
For me, this sounds too complicated. I have so many things I need to keep organized and some things I just need to get rid of, that adding another system and file cabinet to my life sounds like too much. If I were a pastor or didn't work full time, had a bigger house, I could see this. I did get a note pad last year and wrote notes on every sermon and had them all together. Right now I am deciding what I will do this year. I am not doing the note pad this month and am still deciding.
Posted by Jason Diehl on 02/06/17
I have an Evernote Subscription. It's kind of neat because you can take notes with pen and paper, then photograph your notes and categorize them into your Evernote account. Then the best thing of all is, if your handwriting is even just half way decent, it has ICR (Image Character Recognition) built into the service so you can do a search and it will search all your photographs for the words you are looking for. This becomes a digital repository of quickly searchable notes that is accessible on Desktop, Tablet, or phone. I think I pay like $40 or so a year for the account, but you can use the free account and still have all the same use with access on just any 2 devices you choose.
Posted by Diana Sexton on 02/06/17
Years ago I took notes and got out of the habit. Partly because I never went back to them. I like the categorize them tip and will start taking notes again starting Sabbath.

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