In the fourth century, Basil of Caesarea offered this advice to those who listen to sermons week in and week out. “The Scripture will reveal its depth to ‘industrious hearers,’ people prepared ‘to examine what they have just heard.’ Hearing is not enough. What is heard must be chewed and digested if it is to bring lasting benefit” (quoted from Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Intervarsity: 1998, 88).
I really like that term “industrious hearers,” and I’d like to offer a few thoughts to expand on what it means. And let me begin by saying that, even though I’m a preacher, these things apply to me because I too listen to sermons every week. So may the Lord give us all ears to hear and hearts to become “industrious hearers.”
First, come prepared. If you know the text in advance, read it. Meditate on it. Makes notes about it. Talk with others about it. Pray and ask the Lord to help you gain insight into his Word that you may bear fruit for his glory. If you don’t know the text in advance, do what you can to till the soil of your soul so that it’s ready to receive the seed of the Word.
Second, when the worship service begins, fix your eyes on the Lord. Do your best to take your mind off of other things and focus on him. Seek him. Sing to him. Speak to him. Receive from him. Love him. Ask him to help you care about his Word, listen well, and gain insight as you do.
Third, when the message begins, listen attentively and deliberately. For me, this requires that I take notes. I don’t know of another way to keep my mind fixed on what’s being said, and to remember what was said when the message is over. I know that there are different strokes for different folks and that not everyone likes taking notes, but I want to challenge you to try it for 4-6 weeks. If in the end this doesn’t work for you, then find some other way to fix your mind and heart on the Word of God and to pay close attention to what’s being said. Industrious hearers find a way to hear well.
Fourth, when the message is over, take time to process it. Talk with others about it. Think and pray about it. Look over your notes and determine what the main point of the message was. Ask the Lord to help you discern what the points of application ought to be for your life. This is very important because when the sermon is over, the work has just begun. Industrious hearers must chew and digest the message after the fact, so I encourage you to set some time aside every week to think about and apply what you’ve heard.
Fifth, as the Lord gives you insight, passion and power to apply his Word to your life, share what he’s teaching you with others. God has created us to be rivers rather than reservoirs, and the joy of the Lord increases when we freely give to others all that he’s given to us.
Finally, repeat. And repeat and repeat. Industrious hearing takes work and time, but over time, industrious hearers are fruitful children. The preacher does have his part and we should all pray that he would be able to play his part well. But we as hearers also have our part and we should concern ourselves with this more than anything else. We can’t control the worship, the text, the preacher, the preaching, and many other things. But we can greatly influence the state of our souls and our readiness to hear, receive, chew on, and digest the Word, and we should do so.
The heart of our Father is to feed us by his Word that we may be shaped into his image. This is such a gracious and glorious vision, and so I pray that the Lord will cause us all to become industrious hearers and grow in him for the glory of his name.