by Richard Mansel
Men will rise and lead the congregation in prayer. As they do, they pray that the congregation will listen attentively to the sermon. In many places, though, they do not say attentively. Instead, they substitute “intentively,” which is an obsolete word no longer in use. /1 However, if we consider this word, it actually makes a lot of sense in this context.
When we listen to a sermon attentively, we listen very carefully and politely, which is commendable. However, in itself, this only goes so far. What will we do after we have listened attentively? Will we ponder the thoughts as they leak into the ether? Will we act upon them in any way? A sermon unheeded is a sad, lonely thing.
When we listen “intentively,” we do so with a purpose. We intend to act upon what we have heard. We are receiving a call to arms so we leap into action. If only we would listen to sermons with this in mind, the kingdom would move rapidly forward.
Each sermon must provide an action for listeners to engage in. Sermons that are simply academic exercises pose little threat to Satan. They massage our minds, but the message is quickly lost in the hubbub of life.
Scripture is the basis of all that we preach (Colossians 3:17; 2 Timothy 4:1), but we can’t just quote a string of passages without making application to the lives of the listeners. The Scriptures cannot speak to the mind that is not stimulated to act. This function of preaching is indispensable.
Entreating listeners to live more righteously is certainly biblical (1 John 2:29). However, listeners need an explanation and practical advice on how to accomplish this goal. What does it mean to live righteously? How will it change our lives? What will it mean on a daily basis?
When we preach or listen to sermons, we both bear a responsibility to bear fruit. Fired with the Word and with purpose, the preacher tries to implant God’s truths in the hearts and minds of his listeners. His subject matter pierces the listeners’ defenses when properly delivered by a man of God focused on the love of souls (Ephesians 4:15). Speaking the truth in love means that we care more about souls than scoring points. Lifting the name of Christ means it supersedes our own. The message is bigger than the man who delivers it. We stand aside and let it work (Ephesians 3:14-19).
As preachers and listeners, we are committed to the edification and the salvation of souls. We never simply mark time in worship. Our hobbies and agendas go in the wastebasket, while lifting souls to heaven takes precedence. Stale lessons and comedy routines languish in drawers. Instead, Jesus, discipleship, resurrection, faith and the meat of the gospel speak to listeners whom we have taught to listen “intentively.” This skill, like anything else, is taught. However, first the preacher must listen the same way to God’s will.
We prepare the sermon over time as we reach their sense of spiritual responsibility and help them attain goals in the faith. We help them place themselves in the text as active participants. They are empowered when they have the “working of His mighty power” in their veins (Ephesians 1:19). Their transfusion is enabled when those who proclaim the Word have also been fueled.
Will we learn and teach others to listen “intentively”? Will we grasp the real need to do so? Is heaven worth the effort?
by Richard Mansel