Hi everyone, my name is Marina and I am a sermon addict.
I can listen to sermons all day, every day – when travelling to work, on a run, doing the housework – just give me an internet connection and a phone and I will find a way to squeeze a sermon out of any activity. Sermons can be a fantastic source of teaching, guidance and comfort; and, by nature of their delivery to a congregation, just listening to a sermon can give us a sense of koinonia with our fellow believers.
But as one sermon rolled into another and my spiritual life plateaued, I had to ask myself, ‘am I really listening?’
Let us consider some ways we may be able to better benefit from sermons.
Pick your sermons strategically
With apps like Upper Room Media and Anaphora, we are blessed to have a plethora of Coptic sermons available at our very fingertips. Such a great selection comes with the temptation to jump from topic to topic. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if the topics are not relevant to where we are in our spiritual journey, how can we benefit from them? Similarly to how the Corinthians were yet babes in their spiritual lives and therefore required milk and not solid food (1 Corinthians 3:2), we must nourish our souls with sermons which are suited to our spiritual maturity.
Therefore to benefit from sermons, we must be deliberate about which ones we choose to listen to. Seek talks which align with your current spiritual needs, including any points of development suggested by your father of confession. If that feels a bit too daunting or you’re unsure of what you should focus on, perhaps pick sermons which reflect the current church season.
Pray before the sermon
Every sermon is an opportunity to hear about God and to hear from God. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves to receive His word with an open heart and an open mind. This could be by singing hymns, reading the Bible or through offering a prayer. The prayer doesn’t have to be lengthy – it could be as short as Samuel’s prayer when he heard the Lord calling him, ‘speak for Your servant hears’ (1 Samuel 3:10).
Taking notes focuses the mind and boosts recall . It can also provide a great resource for us to return to when we need to review the main points of the sermons for a spiritual boost. Just as we wouldn’t dream of turning up to class without a pen and paper to take notes, likewise we shouldn’t listen to sermons without jotting down what we have learnt. We should approach our education of our faith with the some studious rigour as we do our schooling or work.
To benefit from sermons, let us to avoid being casual listeners but rather listen with purpose and take notes.
For a sermon to really impact us, we have to listen sincerely with the intention to learn and to understand. We can do this by applying our critical thinking skills and being inquisitive to know more.
Start by simply asking yourself why – why is this important? why do I feel a certain way about this? why has God permitted this to be so? Engaging with the sermon by being curious and asking questions is a great way to benefit from the knowledge of the speaker and from the sermon as a whole.
Have one practical take away which you could implement in your own life
The ultimate purpose of a sermon is to help us run our race and obtain salvation. In the Orthodox concept, works is one of the necessary criterioa for salvation. Therefore, we cannot benefit from a sermon if we listen to gain knowledge only – we must put this knowledge into action.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25)
Considering the message of the sermon, reflect on your own life and how you might feasibly implement it into your own life. Now, we’ve all come away from an inspiring sermon and with a mighty zeal, vow never to sin ever again… only to fall a short while later and become despondent. In order for a sermon to truly benefit our spiritual lives, we need to apply its teachings practically and consistently. Instead of making broad and lofty resolutions, let us plan specific , measurable and attainable goals – such as reading a psalm before bed instead of aiming to simply pray more.
Pray using what you’ve learnt in the sermon
After listening to the sermon, take a few minutes to speak and connect with God. This could be to give thanks for His word, to praise Him for His goodness, or to ask for the strength to put the message of the sermon into practice.
Summarise the sermon to a friend
The difference between truly knowing something and merely thinking we know it is our ability to explain to others. Summarising the sermon to a friend is a fantastic way to ensure we fully understand the topic of the sermon with the added bonus of sharing the Good News.
Do some further reading
The richness of our faith means that no single sermon is sufficient to wholly cover any given topic. To build upon our learning, let us cast our nets into the deep and explore the topic further by reading the writings of the Church Fathers and Bible commentaries.
 Einstein, G., Morris, J. and Smith, S., 1985. Note-taking, individual differences, and memory for lecture information. Journal of Educational Psychology, 77(5), pp.522-532.