In Acts 10:33 Cornelius was already committed to hearing everything that God might say through Peter. He said, “Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.” And having a listening ear is something we should teach our children very early.
Techniques for listening
Let me give you some techniques that I have used to keep from zoning out in a service. First, I ask the Spirit for His illumination before the sermon begins. If the pastor prays for that, I agree with him, and if he fails to do so, I ask God to open my mind and heart and keep me from daydreaming. I pray.
Second, I take notes of the sermon. And I do that because I’ve got a lazy mind that needs to be pushed. It is a technique that keeps my mind moving. And I prefer to take my own notes to filling in preset notes. But either way works. Taking notes helps to focus the mind, whether or not you later throw away the notes. It’s a technique for getting the most out of a sermon.
Third, I talk to God as God talks to me through the sermon. I respond with a “Thank you,” or an “I didn’t know that. I’ll write that down Lord,” or “Yes, Lord, I repent, and I thank you that your grace can change me.” Or, “Lord, you are awesome.” Now, don’t say it out loud or you will be a distraction to everyone around you. You can say the occasional “Amen,” or “yes,” or something like that. But I usually do a lot more interaction than that, so I tend to say it quietly inside my head. But if you are interacting with the Word, your mind and spirit will be engaged with God. You are being active rather than passive.
Fourth, I flip to references that the pastor is reading so that I can be a Berean. That way I get the Word through both the ear gate and the eye gate. It reinforces it. So I read.
Fifth, I write down action items of what I need to do differently after I leave the building. And I put the action items into a reminder list that I am working on.
Sixth, I pray for the preacher when he seems slow, or when he is preaching bad theology. I pray that God would bless him.
Seventh, I try to look the pastor in the eye when I am not writing. That too helps me to concentrate.
Eighth, I ignore the preacher’s bad habits, or anything else that might be a distraction. I don’t count the number of times he said “Um.” Nor do I count the ceiling tiles or the number of fruit flies hovering nearby. It’s an issue of focus. And Satan loves to bring distractions. Distractions can be anything from the hairdo of the person in front of you to a piece of fuzz on someone’s coat that is driving you crazy. Out in Ethiopia it was chickens walking through the congregation, the occasional dog yelp and other things. One time when my dad was preaching on how Satan uses distractions, everybody was looking above his head. The whole time he was preaching a large snake was hanging above his head from the rafters and moving back and forth. They probably didn’t hear a word he said. That was one distraction they probably should have paid attention to by whacking it.
And so those are eight tips that I use to try to develop hearing ears: 1) I pray, 2) I take notes, 3) I interact with what God is saying, 4) I read along in the Bible, 5) I write down action items, 6) I pray for the preacher during the sermon, 7) I look the pastor in the eye when I am not writing notes. 8) I ignore extraneous distractions. We must hear, and hear intelligently.
“All things” – not selective hearing
Well, verse 33 goes on to say, to hear all the things… We don’t want to have selective hearing that is listening for a phrase that can justify my sin or justify my theology. Nor do we want to ignore things that are unpleasant to hear. Sometimes people who are theologians will only be listening for new bits of information that they are interested in or have never heard before. But the whole sermon should be responded to by way of worship. We are to hear all things – yes, even the unpleasant things. We should respond to God with even the things that we know by heart. Sermons don’t have to be covering things that are new. Even with the old, we are to hear all the things.
“Commanded” – not optional
Verse 33 goes on, “to hear all the things commanded… This is obviously an exhortation to a pastor to preach what God commands, not simply what people want. But it is also an admonition to the congregation to be listening for God’s voice. Your goal is to be so focused on God that when His Word is preached, your heart is on fire because God Himself is talking to you.
“Commanded by God” – not consumer driven
And so the whole phrase says, to hear all the things commanded you by God. Sermons are not to be consumer driven engines. They are to be God-driven. And it’s not just pastors who are guilty of catering to the consumer-oriented church. It is the church that has made man-centered demands. They want entertainment, or comfort, or encouragement, or their favorite subject. But our goal when coming to worship is not to be happy because our favorite subject has been preached on. Nor should our goal be to hope that the preacher will fix your husband or your wife or your kids and hope they are listening. We can just trust God’s providence on that issue, and be ready to hear all the things commanded by God for you.