The Practise of Listening to Preaching
Listening to preaching does not come naturally for at least three reasons:
First, we live in an age of infinite distractions. I am thinking here the Internet. The bored human mind can flit anywhere it chooses, and quickly moves to a more engaging site. This lazy habit of mind applied to the things of God is counterproductive, because listening to God's word needs both concentration and mental effort: it's called loving God with all our minds (Luke 10:27).
Secondly, Satan hates God's Word. He must know that the Word is the "sword of the Spirit", so he will do anything he possibly can to keep us from it. And boy has he had a field day in the modern church. Sermons are kept as short as possible and passages not politically correct (kind of like most of the Bible these days?) are avoided like the plague. Satan will keep us from hearing God's Word.
Thirdly, our old rebel natures hate the Word. Although we have been renewed in our inner man, we carry around with us our old fallen husk until the day we die. And this part of us does not want to submit to God's Holy Law.
For these reasons - and no doubt more - listening to preaching does not come naturally.
How then should I prepare?
First and foremost, pray. "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." (Psalm 119:18). Before we listen to preaching, we ought to pray for God to do what we can never do, to open our eyes to the glories of his Word, by the power of his Holy Spirit.
Second, humble ourselves before God. It is impossible to eat without opening our mouths, without being receptive, and it is impossible to hear God's Word without humbling ourselves before God's mighty Word, "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it." (Psalm 81:10). Many people do not hear because they are too proud to hear: they know better than God.
Love the preacher. The pharisees learnt absolutely nothing at all from Jesus Christ, the Son of God, because they hated him. No-one will hear a word from God if they hate the man God has appointed. Pastors are to be loved and honoured as servants of Christ, "Hold them in the highest regard because of their work." (1 Thess 5:13). Love your pastor, and part of loving your pastor is to pray for him in his great task of feeding the sheep - and then you will profit from God's Word through him.
Fourthly, concentrate - take notes if possible. No preacher should be boring; a boring preacher may simply be one who does not have the gift of preaching. But when we hear God's Word, it is not novelty we seek, but truth. So we need to concentrate. Some people find it easier to concentrate by taking notes.
Finally, obey the Word. This is the ultimate way of hearing the Word aright. "Blessed are those who keep his statutes" (Ps. 119:2). If we go every week listening but not obeying the Word, soon we will no longer hear the voice of God and our hearts will grow hard and cold.
What an awesome privilege we have listening to God's Word. Still, in the West, our sermons are not monitored by the state. We can listen in freedom and respond in joyful obedience. May we not take such an awesome privilege for granted: it is likely one day to be gone.