The past couple of weeks, we’ve been thinking a lot about how we all respond differently to God speaking to us. A lot of the time when preaching, it’s hard to tell what’s going on in the people who are listening.
There are quite a lot of reactions you get to observe when preaching: Someone is yawning because they stayed up late the night before. Someone is looking intently, hanging on every word. Someone is looking away, their body language saying that this is offensive and they disagree. Someone has a weak bladder, and rises to use the loo at the worst possible moment. Someone is crying as God convicts them or heals them. Someone rushes in late, flushed and embarrassed. Someone saunters in late, oblivious and unconcerned. Someone is on their phone (reading the Bible? taking notes? exchanging witty banter with a friend?) Someone is frustrated because their kid is getting wriggly. Someone blows their nose a little too loudly. Someone is looking anxious because they brought a friend. Someone is praying, confessing, thanking.
This is interesting from two perspectives:
(1) The preacher’s perspective. Obviously, a preacher has to press on regardless. If you get insecure for a moment, then every disengaged listener becomes a reason to wilt and diminish in confidence. But I’ve discovered over the years that I am not a good judge of whether a sermon is landing and whether God’s Spirit is at work; often those messages I perceive as weak are the ones that lead to the biggest impact on some. The great preacher, C. H. Spurgeon, reportedly used to climb the steps to his pulpit saying the words, ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit’, with every step. That is our only hope.
(2) The listener’s perspective. What makes a good listener? What makes our hearts more open to what God is saying through his word? There are too many answers to explore here, but the point is that we all must be reflective and think about (and pray about) the state of our own hearts. What makes us more receptive? What makes us more distracted? And not just on Sundays, but whenever we actively seek to listen to God! That is surely the main thing Jesus wants from us: He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Mark 4.9) On this depends so much.