Listening to Preaching

J. I. Packer has an extremely helpful chapter in his book Truth and Power, entitled, “Mouthpiece for God.” The chapter is about preaching, but it’s not written for preachers as much as it is for those who listen to preaching (although every preacher and would-be preacher ought to own this book and read this chapter in particular). Packer contends that the people of God don’t listen to sermons as well as they should be doing; he quotes Richard Baxter, who writes in his Christian Directory (1673), “Make it your work with diligence to apply the word as you are hearing it…You have work to do as well as the preacher, and should all the while be as busy as he: as helpless as the infant is, he must suck when the mother offereth him the breast; if you must be fed, yet you must open your mouths, and digest it, for another cannot digest it for you…Therefore be all the while at work, and abhor an idle heart in hearing, as well as an idle minister.”

Packer puts the art of listening well like this: “We should start taking seriously the sermons that we actually hear. We should pray beforehand for the preacher and for ourselves, that God will prepare us for each other in such a way that through the sermon he may draw near to meet us himself. We should labor to be alert, expectant, and attentive as the sermon is preached, making notes if need e to ensure that we remember what we are hearing, and asking ourselves all the time what the message is showing us of God’s glory, of our own needs and shortcomings, and of God’s help for us in and through Christ. We should discuss the sermon afterwards with other Christians to make sure we saw the full point of it. We should meditate on it, pray that God will bless to us the truth we found in it, and start acting on any words of correction or direction in it that we know apply to us.”

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