Zack is a typical guy at church. He finds Christianity interesting, he feels welcomed and even affirmed in the church. He enjoys preaching, even when it beats him up a bit. He joins in lamenting how bad the world is, how other people should take the Word of God seriously, even the people sitting right next to him. But it doesn’t occur to Zack that he should embrace what he wants others to embrace, that he should take the Word seriously too, and that he needs to change as much as he wants others to change.
Contrast Zack with Brian:
Brian is deeply aware that he needs to change. Each week he sits in church, hearing the preaching of the Word and is convicted in some way that he is not like Jesus. It may be the curse words he lets out now and then, maybe the jealousy he harbors over his co-workers performance that’s better than his own, or maybe the laziness he sees gaining ground in his life. Whatever it is, he comes into the sermon knowing he’ll be challenged to not remain the same, and afterwards will want to put what he heard into practice. So Brian prays in his car before coming into the church building that God would give him a heart to hear and respond with loving obedience.
These two men are very different. From the outside they may look identical at first and would be hard to tell them apart. But from the inside they look very different. Zack’s heart is insensitive to the activity of God during the preaching of the Word, while Brian seems to be honed in to what God is calling him to do each week after hearing the sermon. The difference between the two men can be seen in this: one knows the purpose of sermons, one doesn’t.
James 1:22, Luke 8:15, 2 Timothy 4:1-5 call us to be people who do and not merely hear, people who embrace the Word, retain it, and produce a crop, people who seek doctrine, teaching, rebuke, encouragement, and training in righteousness. You see, sermons aren’t meant to entertain, or to gain amusement from them, they’re meant to instruct. Sermons are meant to engage the whole person, with the whole counsel of God, for the whole of their life in Christ here on earth.
Sermons instruct us, and once instructed by God, God then calls for change to occur in our lives in line with the truth proclaimed to us. We must obey what we hear. This isn’t merely a good idea, it’s the only fitting response to hearing sermons.
Don’t hear me saying we can obey on our own, we cannot do that. We’re slaves to sin, unable to help ourselves. We cannot even repent without God enabling us to do so first (2 Timothy 2:25). It is God who opens our hearts to respond to His message, from the moment we begin the Christian life to the moment it ends. How then do we obey? We plead with God to implant His Word in us as we hear it, and cause it bear fruit in us. Do you ask this? You ought to.
Practical steps to take:
1) After this weeks sermon, write down all the ways you wish that other people would obey that teaching. Don’t hold back, write them all down, even the nitty-gritty. When you’ve written all that down look over it. You have before you exactly what you should be doing too.
2) Then examine your own life for specific ways you need to change: attitudes, language, actions, things you must stop doing, things you must start doing, etc. Whatever these are, write them down, and keep them somewhere you won’t forget.
3) In a few months time, look back to what you’ve written and ask yourself if God through that Scripture your pastor preached from has borne any fruit in your life. Has it? Praise God! Go to step 4. Has it not? Go to step 4.
4) Pray, pray, and pray again for God by the power of His Spirit to bring forth the fruit of His Word in you…more and more.
(Adapted from LISTEN UP, Christopher Ash, 2009)