A few practical tips to get the most out of a preached message

Has your mind ever gone blank after someone asked you about what you got out of Sunday’s sermon? I know mine has — and it was not the fault of the preacher.

In the following paragraphs, I will give you five tips that will help you get the most out of every message. As a former pastor, I have preached my share of them, and as a current church member, I have heard my share.

The initial advice I would give is first to prepare yourself and also help prepare your pastor. You may be thinking, “Isn’t that the job of the one preaching?”

I would say yes and no. Granted, the person doing the preaching needs to come prepared to deliver an effective sermon. However, to maximize the benefit of a teaching, the listener would also do well to go to the service prepared. This way, you can help your pastor preach a clear and convincing message.

You might be saying, “This advice sounds great, but how does that work?” There are a few ways to do that.

For example, pray for your pastor, beginning the first of the week, and pray for him or her every day. Suddenly, you are participating in their preparation to deliver an effective sermon.

You can also prepare yourself to study in advance the passage your pastor plans to preach on ahead of time, if you know that information. This way, you are already familiar with the text to be covered.

However, you will not receive the sermon’s benefit if your heart is not prepared to receive it. The Bible teaches that we all have hearts that are naturally obstinate to God’s commands. Hebrews 4:12 says that the “word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Therefore, preparation involves praying to have a right heart attitude that is willing to be challenged by asking God to give you a receptive heart.

Second, come well-rested. There is nothing more difficult than listening to a sermon when you want to fall asleep. It would help if you had a fully engaged, receptive mind to benefit from the sermon fully. A good night’s sleep on Saturday night usually will do the trick.

Third, engage in active listening. Active listening is when the listener engages with the speaker by paying particular attention to the sermon. One way to do this is to take notes. This action will force you to follow along with the sermon by understanding the preacher or speaker’s essential points are drawing from the text.

Another way to actively listen is to follow along with the passage as the preacher preaches. This way, the listener can discern the sermon’s actual value and understand and apply the truth for the rest of the week.

Fourth, be open to the work of the Holy Spirit. For instance, the Holy Spirit enables us to understand his word and apply it to our lives. The Spirit’s job is also to convict us of sin. Sometimes we can’t see sins like racism and envy looming in our hearts. God’s word, coupled with the Holy Spirit’s ministry, exposes us to the sins we hold on to and that we often are blinded by.

Another way the Holy Spirit works is that he will use the sermon to encourage us. Have you ever attended a service while discouraged? I know I have. The best way to remedy discouragement is to ask God to encourage you through the preached word.

For instance, life issues can overwhelm us sometimes, but a sermon can encourage us when we remember that God loves us and is sovereign and in control of our lives, even in our troubles and pain.

Last, be ready to apply what was preached. Taking notes not only helps you remember what we preached but can also be a way to remember what to apply. One way to do this is to think about applying each point the preacher made in your life personally. For instance, say the sermon you listened to was about chapter four of the Book of Jonah. In that chapter, God gives Jonah an object lesson to teach him a lesson on grace and God’s love for the Ninevites.

To apply this text, you might think of ways you can show God’s grace to those around you. When you write it down, you can go back sometime later and see if you applied what was preached before. This practice helps you know if you are getting the most out of the sermon.

Taylorsville resident Tim Orr is an author, adjunct professor at IUPUC, ordained minister, and family man. Previously he has served as a senior pastor for two churches, and his doctoral work focused on expository preaching.