Ten Ways to Listen to Sermons Better (Part 1)

One crucial part of public worship—and often the longest part of each worship service—is the preaching of God’s Word. Without a doubt, this is the most important part of public worship since it is God’s primary means for saving sinners and sanctifying those who have already believed in Christ. Yet preaching is also the most difficult aspect of our worship service, not only for the pastor preaching behind the pulpit but also for the members listening in the pews.

During preaching, two things happen simultaneously. First, using the preacher as His instrument, God speaks to us; second, as God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed, we are expected to listen. But good listening does not happen automatically! In fact, listening to a sermon that lasts thirty minutes or more can be a struggle for even the most devoted Christian. There are so many potential distractions—from physical weariness and our own personal thoughts and opinions to the things happening around us at any given moment. We have to be intentional if we are going to listen to sermons well. Yet, if we are truly honest with ourselves, many of us are not good listeners—let alone good sermon listeners.

One of the greatest problems in our churches today is poor listening. Too often we put the blame on our pastors when we are not sufficiently fed by the preaching of God’s Word. We complain and tactlessly say, “Our pastor is not a good preacher.” However, it is wrong for us to think that the blame for our dissatisfaction with public preaching should always fall on the pastor. Perhaps at times it does, since pastors are not perfect themselves. But if your pastor is genuinely preaching the full counsel of Scripture (as God has divinely commanded him to do) and seeking to do so effectively, then perhaps you should consider whether you are truly honoring God with the way you listen to sermons. All of us have surely struggled in this area and could stand to become better listeners, especially with regard to sermons. So, in humility, let us together seek to become more pleasing to God in the way that we listen to the preaching of His Word. In the following pages, I share ten biblical and practical ways that I believe we can and should follow with God’s help. A Hearer of God’s Word

1. Pray as You Listen

In 1 Samuel 3:10, Samuel spoke to God, saying, “Speak, for your servant hears.” We can almost hear the eagerness in Samuel’s voice as he pleads, “Lord, please speak to me, because I am listening to You. I am ready to hear what You want to say to me!” Like Samuel, we should communicate with God about our desire to hear from Him. We as listeners should participate in sermons by listening prayerfully, and we can do this in at least three ways.

First, pray before the sermon. Do you pray before the start of each worship service, asking God to speak to your heart? Do you thank the Lord for sending a preacher to teach God’s Word to you, and do you ask the Lord to bless His servant? Are you intentional in asking God to make the sermon’s message clear to you and to help you hear and receive the truth? Preparing our hearts for worship in this way—and asking God to remove any distractions that might prevent us from hearing from Him—can help us listen better as God’s Word is proclaimed.

Second, we can also utter brief prayers during the sermon. Of course, it is important for us to be quiet and respectful during the message, listening to all that is preached from the pulpit and being careful not to distract others as God speaks to each of our hearts. But it is still appropriate to pray short, silent (or nearly silent) prayers to God as we hear Him clearly speaking to us through what is preached. This can be as simple as whispering a quick “Amen!” or “Thank you for this truth, God!” or as profound as asking God to forgive you for a sin of which you are convicted because of the sermon, or to help you live out a particular instruction being preached. By praying like this while we listen, we are in a sense seasoning the sermon with prayer, asking God to penetrate our hearts deeply with His powerful and life-changing Word. We must remember that the almighty God of heaven is actually speaking to us as His Word is preached, and we should be sure to receive His message in the appropriate way and in a spirit of genuine gratitude.

Third, we should also remember to pray after each sermon, asking the Lord to help us remember and apply the truths we have just heard, so that we might grow not only in our listening but in our daily obedience to Him as well. God’s Word exhorts us to become “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22), and we can’t possibly do this in our own abilities. We must remember to ask God to penetrate our hearts with His Word and to make us able to live what it teaches!

Note: This post is an excerpt from my new book A Hearer of God’s Word: Ten Ways to Listen to Sermons Better. A Hearer of God’s Word (back cover)

 

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A Mini-conference on Being a Family with Dr. Michael Haykin

You are cordially invited to attend a free mini-conference on May 31, 2019, from 7:00 PM to 9:30 PM at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary building (2965 Leonard St NE, Grand Rapids, 49525). The speaker will be Dr. Michael Haykin, a world-class church historian and co-author of Dr. Joel Beeke of Why Should I Be Interested in Church History. The conference theme is “Being a Family: Three Biblical Models from the 18th Century.” The three topics are: (1) Being Married, (2) Being a Father, and (3) Being a Mother. There will be a book table and special music also. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to Theonikko del Mundo at astral654321@gmail.com or (616) 265-2834 by Monday, May 27. The first 50 early birds will receive a free copy of Christ’s Portrait of the Christian: An Exposition of the Beatitudes and The Warrior’s Captain. Please share this invitation with your friends. Thank you.

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Christ’s Portrait of the Christian

My father-in-law, Rev. Bartel Elshout, has become widely known because of his translation of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service. He has translated numerous books from Dutch into English—including Theodore VanderGroe’s The Christian’s Only Comfort in Life and Death—and has written a book The Pastoral and Practical Theology of  Wilhelmus à Brakel (1997; his first book). I am thrilled to announce the launch of his second book Christ’s Portrait of the Christian: An Exposition of the Beatitudes (2019), which I had the privilege to edit. The book is now available through Reformation Heritage Books.

Here are some recommendations for his book: Book Cover

“If you want a basic, edifying book that provides a scriptural paradigm of genuine experiential Christianity flowing from the teachings of our Lord, I would recommend this little gem. Read it slowly, meditatively, and prayerfully.”

Dr. Joel R. Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation, Grand Rapids, Michigan

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“The insights of this work about the internal structure and interrelatedness of the Beatitudes will be a unique contribution to other commentaries on the Beatitudes. . . . I am thankful that by way of this book, these instructions will have wider publicity.”

Rev. Arnoud T. Vergunst, pastor of the Netherlands Reformed Congregation, Waupun, Wisconsin

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“Rev. Elshout has the gift to bring Christ’s message close to our hearts. As always, his exegesis is thorough, and it includes the necessary call to self-examination. . . . I wholeheartedly recommend this book.”

Rev. Cornelis Harinck, pastor of the Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands since 1962

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“I cannot think of a better remedy for the disorientation and disquiet I feel in my heart than to breathe in the orienting and quieting truths of the Beatitudes of the Lord Jesus. Here, experienced pastor and teacher Bartel Elshout provides faithful, discerning, and helpful guidance that brings me back to where I need to be every day.”

Dr. Gerald M. Bilkes, professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids

Note: To purchase the book, click here. Book cover

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A Colorful Past: A Coloring Book of Church History

Here’s my interview with William (Bill) Boekestein about his book A Colorful Past: A Coloring Book of Church History. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018, paperback.

1. William (or let me just call you Bill), I really like your idea to teach church history to children through a coloring book. How did you come up with this idea?

While raising four children—the youngest is presently four—a lot of coloring books have come into our home. And it has been hard to miss how engaging coloring books can be for little children (and older people too!). Children don’t skim coloring books. They invest themselves in them. They roll up their sleeves, wrinkle their faces, and get to work! And as they work, they practice endangered contemporary disciplines like sustained noticing and plodding concentration. To get a child focused on a single idea for ten minutes is nearly a miracle today. So, it made sense to me to offer a book that introduces children to some of the great heroes of the faith, that great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12), while they participate in an activity that they love. A Colorful Past

2. There are many Christian coloring books out there. What do you think is unique about your work? And what is the main thing you want your readers to take away from your book?

This coloring book is unique in that it is patterned after a mosaic. Each page is a unique snapshot in time; a figure of church history skillfully frozen into an image by the illustrator. That image is important. It helps understand the struggle and success of a special child of God. And that snapshot represents only a brief phrase in the life of that figure. But that figure’s entire life represents only a single tile in the vast mosaic of God’s amazing church.

So, I hope what makes this book special is how children and their parents can use it to soar like an eagle over the theological landscape of the past twenty centuries, seeing how God has built up Jerusalem (Ps. 147:2) with the living stones (1 Pet. 2:5) of highly flawed people. They can get the big picture of God’s work in history. But they can also swoop closer to the ground to ponder what made these forty-two historical figures unique, in the same way that they—the readers—are unique. To say it differently, I hope readers gain an appreciation of both the forest and the trees of church history by coloring this story.

3. Your book contains forty-two historical figures and only two of them are female (Monica and Lady Jane Grey). In light of this your readers might think that in the study of church history women are not as important as men. How would you respond to this?

There would be no important men in the history of the church if not for the love, nurture, and support of countless important women! We could have featured more women who made invaluable contributions to church history (a great idea for a future project!). But your question could similarly be asked of God’s list of saints in Hebrews 11 where named men outnumber women almost ten to one. Each of the named men was shaped by vitally important named and unnamed women. Jesus himself was helped in his ministry by women, many of whom are not named (Luke 8:1–4). So, in using this book, readers might reflect on how God mightily used also the mothers, sisters, and daughters of those who are featured, just as he is served by the amazing women in today’s church.

4. Judging from the contents of the book, it looks like you have a special interest in the sixteenth century period. Am I right? Please elaborate your answer.

There is no unimportant century in the history of God’s church. But something special happened in the sixteenth century. A reform movement, gathering force for centuries, shook the Roman Catholic Church and reintroduced a radical submission to Scripture and the life-saving doctrines of grace. The sixteenth century should be viewed, however, as the “golden-age” of the church. By God’s grace it is possible for Christians today to see even further than Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin (and others) because we stand on their shoulders.

5. What started you on the path to writing for children? And what has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a writer?

My first books were full-color introductions to the Reformed Confessions written for children (Faithfulness under Fire: The Story of Guido de Bres, The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism, and The Glory of Grace: The Story of the Belgic Confession). I wrote these stories to help my own children and the children of my congregation better understand the story behind the theology they were learning in the preaching.

Most of my books have grown out of, or were written in connection with, local church ministry. Not everyone will write books. But most people would experience such rewards as increased clarity and memory retention by committing their thoughts to writing. This has been my experience. I have also been gratified to receive notes from folks I’ve never met saying things like, “We are using your Bible Studies on Mark and have gained refreshing insights. Thank you!” Writing should serve a definite and defensible goal and be deemed worthy of the enormous commitment and sacrifices need to bring a book to print.

6. What were some of the challenges you encountered on the road to the publication of this book?

One of the challenges was rightly handling the realities of persecution. It is awkward to see Ignatius about to be mauled by lions, Polycarp bound to a pile of wood that would consume him, and Justin Martyr kneeling before the executioner’s chopping block. We hope we’ve handled these troubling realities with appropriate restraint. But we also hope that children will see in the sacrifices of these saints that Jesus is worthy of our calling to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).

Another challenge was knowing how transparent to be about the faults of our “heroes.” We made the decision to alert readers of Charlemagne’s regrettable habits of forced conversions and womanizing. We could have talked about Luther’s anger or Zwingli’s sexual immorality early in his ministry. This is uncomfortable for us. We want our heroes to be pristine. But that isn’t reality. And sanitizing the lives of our forefathers (and mothers) isn’t good news for us. We need heroes who knew their sins and found salvation not through personally eliminating their faults but through faith in Jesus and his shed blood.

7. What book projects are you working on now?

I hope my introduction to the end times, The Future of Everything: Essential Truths on the End Times (RHB; 2019) will help readers better understand the importance of eschatology for Christian comfort and practical living. My friend Steve Swets and I are also editing a collection of essays for elders and deacons called Faithful and Fruitful (Reformed Fellowship; 2019) which should be a great encouragement to church officers as they carry out their important calling.

Note: Rev. Boekestein’s book is now available through Amazon. You may also want to purchase Amazing Grace, which is the first part of the series called “Stories behind Favorite Hymns for Ages 3 to 6,” available in the US through Reformation Heritage Books and in Canada through Reformed Book Services. Commenting on Amazing Grace, Rev. Boekestein says, “Why hasn’t this book been written before? If you want your children to grow in God’s grace, you will want them to hear this simple story of how grace saved a sinner just like them. I highly recommend this great book.”

Amazing Grace (front cover)

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The Gospel-Driven Tongue

The Gospel-Driven Tongue for promotion

This book has its origin in the pulpit of our congregation, Dutton United Reformed Church. From May 2012 to November 2014 I delivered a series of fifty-five expository sermons on the book of James, and five of these sermons were all about the tongue. With the encouragement of Dan Van Dyke, general manager of The Outlook (the journal of Reformed Fellowship, Inc.), I decided to submit the edited version of these five sermons to be published in installments in The Outlook. Having received good feedback from the readers, I was inspired to put these articles together as a book. I therefore want to thank all the board members of Reformed Fellowship, Inc., for granting me permission to publish these articles in book format and for agreeing to publish the book itself.

I also wish to express my special thanks to Josh Dear for editing my sermon notes to transform them from sermonic form into book form. I am also indebted to Linda Triemstra for polishing my manuscript and to Jeff Steenholdt for designing and typesetting this book.

A big thanks also goes to my dear wife Sarah for helping me improve the manuscript and for her being understanding as I used part of our family time to work on this project.  Finally, I am deeply grateful to God for giving me strength to complete this study.

Here are the endorsements for this book: Gospel-Driven Tongue Cover

“Finally—a simple, direct, practical book on the sins of the tongue… This little book is a must read for all Christians, so that we would do a far better job at bridling our tongues and being more consistently God-glorifying in our daily conversation….I pray that God will use Pastor Najapfour’s book to open our eyes, confess our sins, and change our conversation to that which pleases God, loves our neighbor, and serves to mutual edification.”

Dr. Joel R. Beeke, President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

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“I recommend this fine booklet on the need to discipline the tongue. It will be of real help to all who have a serious desire to make progress in sanctification.”

Rev. Maurice Roberts, Emeritus Minister in Inverness, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) and former editor of The Banner of Truth magazine

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“Scriptural, straightforward, simple, and soul-searching, this small book is a must read for all God’s people as they seek to glorify God in their lives, especially through their lips. The study questions at the end of each chapter are also ideal for a group Bible study.”

Mrs. Nenita del Mundo, National Director, Student Missionary Outreach and president of Student Missionary Outreach Bible Training Institute, Philippines 

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Click here, if you are interested in purchasing a copy of this book.

 

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Child Dedication: Considered Historically, Theologically, And Pastorally

Here’s my new book scheduled to be released on May 22.

 

“I certainly recommend Najapfour’s booklet to those who may be wrestling with the issue. It is a fair, concise, and biblical treatment.” Child Dedication (book cover)

Dr. Michael Barrett, Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

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“I commend this book to you.”

Dr. Robert L. Plummer, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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“Dedicating our children to the Lord is a good thing, but care must be taken lest too much emphasis is placed on the action of parents rather than on God’s action towards our children. It is our gracious God who takes believing parents and their children into His covenant and church. This booklet serves as a much needed reminder of this glorious fact.”

Rev. Cornelis (Niel) Pronk, Emeritus Pastor of Free Reformed Church, Brantford, Ontario

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“If you are wrestling with whether to dedicate or baptize your child, I commend Brian Najapfour’s little book to you. It will lead you in what Scripture teaches and lead you in raising your children in the fear and instruction of the Lord.”

Rev. Daniel R. Hyde, Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church, Oceanside, California

 

 You can buy the book here.

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FORTHCOMING BOOK: Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective

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My friend Rob Ventura has a forthcoming book, Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective, which he co-wrote with Brian Borgman. This volume is scheduled to be released in January 2014. Click here to read Nathan Pitchford’s review of the book.

Here’s Joel R. Beeke’s endorsement:

“William Gurnall once said that the battle between Satan and the saints makes the most brutal war on earth look like child’s play. Yet so many Christians act like civilians on vacation instead of soldiers on the front lines. Borgman and Ventura, like experienced master sergeants, give us the Bible’s basic training on spiritual warfare. Drawing from the classic text in Ephesians 6, their teaching will both clear away false ideas about the spiritual battle, and equip Christians to stand firm to the end.”

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