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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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


“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


“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


“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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Her Last Words: “Lord Jesus…..please come quickly!”

Note: This post is by my father-in-law, Rev. Bartel Elshout, translator of  Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service.


May 7, 2013,

Dear Family and Friends,

Let me begin by expressing my deep gratitude to you for the many wonderful and touching e-mails I have received from you in response to the announcement that it pleased the Lord to translate my beloved Joan into His blessed presence. As has been the case earlier, I would love to respond individually to every one of these messages. You will understand, however, that I presently do not have the time to do so.

Before I share with you some of the remarkable details of Joan’s final days, let me first give you the details regarding the arrangements that have been made for Joan’s funeral—all the Lord willing:

Family visitation:

  • Date: Saturday, May 11
  • Time: 2:00 – 4:00 pm, and 7:00 – 9:00 pm.
  • Location: VanderPlaat/Vermeulen Funeral Home, 530 High Mountain Road, Franklin Lakes, NJ.

Funeral service:

  • Date: Monday, May 13
  • Time: 10:00 am
  • Location: Free Reformed Church of Pompton Plains, 160 West Parkway, Pompton Plains, NJ.
  • Officiating minister: Dr. Joel R. Beeke

This information and other details can also be accessed via the website of the VanderPlaat/Vermeulen Funeral Home. The link to Joan’s special page is as follows: http://www.vpmemorial.com/book-of-memories/1580627/Elshout-Joan/service-details.php

Those who will not be able to attend the funeral service, will have the opportunity to listen to the service via a live internet connection. The link for this connection is as follows: http://www.sermonaudio.com/source_detail.asp?sourceid=frcpomptonplains. (Clicking on the “Live Webcast”  button will establish that connection.)

These details remind us of the stark reality that our beloved Joan has departed from us—a fact that fills our hearts with sorrow. And yet we may and must say that by the grace of God she has departed to be with Christ, which is far better than anything she possessed and enjoyed during her short stay in this sin-stained world. For me to say anything less than that would be dishonoring to the God who dealt so remarkably with my dear Joan, especially during the final weeks, days, and hours of her life. It is my desire to honor the God who also confirmed for Joan that He is a God who, for Christ’s sake, will never forsake the work of His hands.

When I reflect on how remarkably Joan’s journey ended yesterday, two things stand out for me: 1) the Lord confirmed the words whereby He so frequently strengthened the fragile faith of Joan, namely, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee” (Isa. 41:10); and 2) He confirmed the promise whereby He so greatly encouraged us that He would save her soul when death would draw nigh (in Dutch: Hij kan, en wil, en zal in nood, zelfs bij het nad’ren van de dood, volkomen uitkomst geven.)

When I consider how often Joan’s soul was assaulted by the prince of darkness, especially during the dark hours of the night, how she is one of those persons of whom the apostle writes that “through fear of death [they] were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:15), and how fearful she was of deceiving herself, I am simply overwhelmed by how the Lord delivered her from all this during the final weeks of her life. Though there were moments of strife, it was with remarkable calmness that she was able to face the reality of her impending death—a calmness that amazed and humbled her. Especially during the past two weeks of her life, the prince of darkness was simply not permitted to touch her—not even during the final hours of her life.

The God who promised her that He would be with her, kept His Word until Joan’s very last breath. This was also evident in that the final death struggle that she so feared never occurred. As you know, it had been her fervent prayer that the Lord would carry her gently across the Jordan of death, and the Lord answered that prayer. He confirmed for her that He truly hears the needy when they cry. Though Joan had been declining rapidly during the last week of her life, that decline was dramatic during the last hour of her life. For a brief moment she struggled with breathing, and then her breathing became stable but shallow. Gradually her breathing decreased until very quietly and peacefully she breathed her last breath. The Lord kept His Word! As He promised, He was with her, and He was with her until her very last breath, carrying His fearful Joan gently across the Jordan of death.

And yet there was another way in which the Lord confirmed His own work and His promise that He would give her full deliverance when death would draw nigh. Shortly before this final stage, when her body and organs were breaking down rapidly, she moaned several times, “Lord, help me.” And then she suddenly lifted both of her arms heavenward—arms that had become so very weak—and she cried out, “Lord Jesus…..please come quickly!” Only my sister-in-law Beth and her friend of more than 40 years, Jackie Mol, were present, and both of them were deeply touched and impressed by what they witnessed. (I had briefly stepped out to get her final medications.) I was overjoyed when I heard this, for it confirmed for me that the Lord has set her free at last. Finally she could believe that this God was also her God, and she had the liberty to ask the Savior to take her to Himself.

And so the Lord Jesus Christ confirmed for Joan the precious truth of the words of Luke 15:2, “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” It was by means of these words that it pleased the Lord to open up the gospel for my dear wife, and these words continued to encourage her during the final days and hours of her life. To this precious Christ be therefore all the glory who confirmed also for Joan that “him [or her] that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37b), and that “a bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench” (Mat. 12:20).

May this account of God’s gracious dealings with my doubtful, fearful, and struggling Joan be to His glory and to the encouragement of all who cry out with the Psalmist, “Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation” (Psalm 35:3). For Christ’s sake, God will continue to answer that petition—as He did for my dear Joan! Soli Deo Gloria!

With deep gratitude for all the love you have expressed to us, and on behalf of my children,


Pastor Bartel Elshout


Please come and join us!

Dear Friends,

With gratitude to God, we rejoice to share with you that on the evening of October 9, 2012, our pastor elect, Rev. Brian G. Najapfour, successfully sustained his Colloquium Doctum.

The Lord willing, Rev. Najapfour will be installed as the pastor of Dutton United Reformed Church on Friday evening, October 19, 2012. The service will take place at Dutton URC, and will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Please join us for this special service as we offer our praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for bringing Pastor Najapfour and the Dutton congregation together.

Please continue to pray for the Dutton congregation and for Rev. Najapfour as he takes up his duties and responsibilities as our pastor.

May the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church, receive all honor and glory as together we seek to serve Him.

In Christ’s service,
Mike Vos, Clerk
Dutton United Reformed Church

6950 Hanna Lake Ave. SE
Caledonia, Michigan 49316

(616) 698-6850