How can two individuals sit in the same church service and hear the same sermon, but share two different responses to the message? One hears it as a positive homily while the other sees it as condemnatory. I believe the problem is not with the presentation, but with the reception, not with the verbal, but with the hearing, not in the giving but in the receiving. The key to understanding this dilemma is found in John 6. Jesus had been talking about drinking His blood and eating His flesh. To many these were difficult words and, as a result, they walked with Him no more (John 6:66). What Jesus was saying was meant to be heard with the spirit, not the mind (John 6:63). The problem with hearing today involves the same issue. We listen to a sermon with our minds instead of with our spirit. We attempt to grasp the Word with our intellect and then sort it out, accepting what we are comfortable with and rejecting the rest; by doing this we will not endure sound doctrine. Tragically, many pulpits are reflecting people’s mind sets by preaching people pleasing messages instead of the Truth of God’s Word (II Tim. 4:3,4). The writer of Hebrews stated that he had many things to say to them but it was “…hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11). Many church goers today are just punching in their “time cards”, fulfilling their Sunday obligation, and then leaving the church basically the same way they were when they came in.
It is interesting to note that when Jesus told His disciples about His upcoming crucifixion, He always included His resurrection. Yet His followers only heard the first part. That was one of the reasons no one was at the garden tomb to welcome Him on the third day. One day Jesus shared with Peter about this same issue and Peter, hearing only what he wanted to hear, took Jesus aside and rebuked Him, saying “…this shall not be unto thee” (Mt. 16:22). Peter did not hear Him say He would rise again on the third day. How much of a sermon today is heard? Do we listen only until our comfort zone is penetrated? Do we engage our “defense reactive mechanism” so that we are ready to reject anything that exposes our short comings? Are we armed and ready to attack the presenter of the Gospel, if we feel exposed and vulnerable?
Some time ago I was talking to a pastor of a large evangelical church and asked him what was he disliked the most about pastoring. Without hesitating, he said his greatest weakness was preaching! I had a young lady tell me how the Holy Spirit had moved in their Sunday service and they “didn’t even have time for the preaching”. I believe the preaching of the Word is the supreme purpose of ministerial leadership. I believe in the moving of the Holy Spirit, but there must always be time for God’s Word, even though the service goes beyond the magical hour or hour and a half.
My prayer is that “dull hearers” will let the Word bypass their minds and let their spirit drink of the living water, which, in turn, will flow out of their spirit and wash their minds of their self centeredness. I pray also that the pastors will spend time with God and hear what He wants them to say to His people.