We have established the importance of listening to preaching and the effectiveness of jotting down notes while you are listening, and now we come to the important part of getting your ears ready to listen. You are probably familiar with the song “Open the Eyes of My Heart” which is more of a prayer that it is a song but it has a powerful lesson in it. We listen with our ears but we hear with our heart. For the right thing to be heard in the heart, the heart has to be prepared to hear what is being preached. If your heart is dead to spiritual things, more times than not you are going to come away from the preaching/teaching event with the idea that it was boring and had little to say to you. However, if your heart is set in a tone of spiritual responsiveness to God, you are going to glean a lot from the preaching.
But preparing our hearts to listen can be an overwhelming challenge for us on a weekly basis. We have developed what one writer (who slips my mind at this time) terms as infobesity. We are little fat with information. We have become road kill on the information superhighway. The information superhighway roars at you all day long with massive doses on media of various sorts, tack on the internet with e-mail, add to those cell phones which text, tweet, and talk, and your head and heart can be spinning round and round!
In Ken Ramey’s excellent little book on Expository Listening, he has a chapter entitled “Harrowing Your Heart to Hear.” The indication is that your heart is a field and it has to be plowed, cultivated, and watered just as a garden would have to be taken care of. I am going to summarize some the points that he lists that are helpful to help us to hear.
First, meditate on God’s Word every day. We are a Bible rich society. They are everywhere but I have come to discover that just because they are everywhere does not necessarily translate into us reading them. You really can’t expect to be hungry for the Word on Sunday if you have not been reading it during the week. Richard Baxter said, “Read and meditate on the Holy Scriptures much in private, and then you will be the better able to understand what is preached on it in public.” I long for every person that I know to keep working at the Word until they literally see how applicable it is to your daily life. There are all sorts of different things to help you gain a love for the Word. All you have to do is go to ITunes and search “You’ve Got The Time” or “Faith Comes by Hearing” in the podcast area and you can download the New Testament free in two formats, KJV or ESV.
Second, pray throughout the week. Prayer is very crucial to help us to hunger for the Word. If you will ask God to give you the ability to hear and pursue the Word, He will! Ask the Lord to turn the lights on in your mind and the Bible will explode in your life. Suddenly what your pastor is preaching will begin to fall into place and you will begin to see what real spiritual life is all about.
Third, confess your sin. For those who think they are not sinning, let me follow you around for about a week. If you are not praying, you are sinning. If you are not evangelizing, you are sinning. What about those websites, movies, books, or conversations that you are actively involved in that are not encouraging Godly and clean living? What about you’re comments on Facebook or the forums that you are a part of? Are all of those Facebook polling questions that provide a characterization of you something that God would be pleased with? When you plow through Romans 6, 7, and 8, you will immediately discover that the American culture is constantly pulling at us and it is deadly to our spiritual life. All of those things obstruct our vision of God and His Word. That is sin and it calls for repentance.
Fourth, reduce your media intake. I am constantly fighting over this very lonely battlefield. I often think I am a lone voice crying out against this. Ramey writes that the average American watches TV just over 4 hours a day. But we can’t stand sermons over 30 minutes! That speaks to our priorities! The latest rage among the young teenage girls is the attraction to the vampire books and movies. It is hard for a preacher to get past that. For the men who saturate their lives with sporting events, college and pro, watching ESPN until you waddling about from sportsbesity is killing your ability to listen to the Word. Then we have the gamers, hours wasted building the dynasties inside of a little electronic box. Can you imagine proudly standing in front of God one of these days and proudly telling Him that you were the champeen of all championships in the little e-world.
Ramey writes, “After TV watching and going to the movies and surfing the Internet all week long, you come to church and have to sit and listen to a lengthy sermon that requires a great deal of concentration and exertion you aren’t used to. You’re expected to go from being a passive viewer to an aggressive listener literally overnight.” When a preacher cries out against this he is looked at with suspicion, as a legalist, as a real fruit-loop who needs therapy. The reality is that he doesn’t need therapy, our world needs to clearly again understand the calling out of holiness that will separate us from all of this soul-deadening nonsense!
A final quote from Jay Adams: “Many today drift into church with their minds turned off, slouch in the pew, and expect the preacher to do the rest. Examine yourself, brother or sister: have you been guilty of becoming a Sunday morning version of the couch potato?” (From Be Careful How You Listen.)
More tomorrow. . .