“Watch your step when you enter God’s house. Enter to learn. That’s far better than mindlessly offering a sacrifice, Doing more harm than good.” – Ecclesiastes 5:1.

How to listen to a sermon? Interesting question, but the answer is obvious. Listening to a sermon is a passive activity because you only have to listen as someone preaches to you. Watching TV is much more complicated than listening to a sermon because you have to deal with the multitude of different channels and that overly complicated remote control. It is active, while listening to a sermon is passive.

Yes, it is easy to drift through corporate worship week by week, distracted and drowsy, listening but not really hearing; the Bible has a lot to say on the subject: “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.”

So, what is the right way to listen to a sermon?  Most churchgoers assume that the sermon starts when the pastor walks out on stage on Sunday.  It starts during the week when we pray for the person who will speak to us.  We should pray for opportunities to share the gospel message, and the wisdom and grace to share it in the right manner. Listen to the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.” Twelve verses later, this same author states the most simple and profound way to do this: “Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us.” Churches generally get what they pray for.

We need to have our minds right to hear God’s word. Good preaching appeals first to the mind.  After all, it is by the renewing of our minds that God does His transforming work in our lives.  So when we listen to a sermon, our minds need to be fully engaged. Listening to sermons is part of the worship that we offer to God.  It is also a prime opportunity for us to hear His voice.  God is speaking, and we should listen.

Listening to a sermon can never be merely an intellectual exercise. It also requires hearts that are receptive to the influence of God’s Spirit.  Something important happens when we hear a good sermon: God speaks to us.  Through the Holy Spirit, He uses His Word to calm our fears, find joy in our circumstances, uncover truths, heighten our faith, and reassure us of our salvation. We need to receive biblical truth in our hearts and minds.

The last byproduct of sermon listening is applying what we learned to our daily lives.  How we live is the best way to tell if we are listening.  Our lives should repeat the sermons that we have heard. There is always something God wants us to do in response to the preaching of his Word.   As the apostle Paul wrote to some people who listened to his sermons, “The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Consider asking yourself the following questions after hearing a sermon on Sunday: What is God seeking to communicate to me? Through this sermon, did God encourage me in some way?  What is God seeking to do in my life through this sermon? Does this sermon make me uncomfortable? If so, why?


“When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.” – Job 1:5.

If you were asked to summarize your average morning, it would probably go something like this: You hit the snooze button two times before you roll out of bed. After a quick shower, you throw on your clothes, run a brush through your hair and teeth and walk out the door. Most people have some variation of that rushed routine. The problem with that routine is not what is included but what is missing. What is missing is starting your day with God.   

When we converse with acquaintances or family members, we generally follow a basic format. After greeting them, we inquire about their health or other subjects to indicate our genuine interest in their well-being. There’s give-and-take as the conversation proceeds. And that’s basically what God wants us to do; develop the habit of starting our day with God.  If you only have a short amount of time throughout your day, you’ll have to use your time wisely to get the most out of it. You probably don’t have an hour in the morning to spend with God. But starting with a few minutes would not be that difficult. Use that time to say a quick prayer, read a short passage in your Bible, meditate, or listen to a worship song. Use a few minutes each morning to actively pursue the Lord instead of focusing on the daily routine.   

Then look for opportunities to spend time with God throughout the day. God may be calling your attention to Him as you’re walking back to work after a lunch break or in between classes at school. You may not always have huge, glaring opportunities to spend with God but there are many “small” ones you can take advantage of if you are open to them.

The key is to be intentional. Intentionality is the key to everything. Don’t do it to check a task off your to-do list, don’t do it for a picture-perfect Instagram post, and don’t do it to impress your friends and family. Spend time with God because you love Him and want to know Him more.

There are so many benefits/perks of spending quiet time with God. Spend quiet time with God on a regular basis, if not daily, and your life will change. First, God takes pleasure when we spend time in the Word and fellowship with Him in prayer. Psalm 147:11 says, “No, the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Secondly, your trust in God grows. You can’t trust God unless you know Him. The only way to truly know Him is by spending time in the Word and really basking in who God is. The more time you spend with someone, the more like them you will become. The same is true of God. As you saturate yourself with scripture, you will become more Christ-like.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you start your day with God? Why or why not?
  2. What different ways have you tried to intentionally connect with God? Were some more meaningful or impactful than others? Why do you think that might be?
  3. What would it take for you to make this a priority in your life?

Encounters With God

“As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” – Acts 9:3-6. 

Have you ever had a personal encounter with God? Saul (Paul) certainly did. Paul experienced an encounter with God on the road to Damascus. As a zealous Jew and Pharisee, Paul had thought that God wanted him to persecute every follower of Jesus Christ, and to stop the Gospel of Christ from spreading. He was sincerely convinced that Jesus was not the true Messiah of the Jews and that Christ’s followers were all God’s enemies. It must have been a rude awakening for him to discover the truth: he discovered the truth via a personal encounter with God.   

Encountering God is not something to be feared or shied away from. It is not spooky, super spiritual, or made up by fanatics. Encounters are not for people like Paul, they are for all of us.   

God is always with us, so how do we encounter God in our day-to-day lives? There is no clear-cut answer to this question, and people have encountered God in many ways throughout the centuries. Abraham heard the voice of the Lord instructing him to leave his land and travel to a land where the Lord would lead him. Moses had a one-time, powerful encounter with the Lord on Mount Sinai.  The disciples encountered God during three years of teaching, preaching, traveling, and communing with Jesus.

Fast forward to today. God wants to reveal Himself to you so that you may encounter His love, grace, truth, and presence.  Some people encounter God in times of corporate worship, and others tune their hearts to the Lord in private times of prayer. Others encounter God in the classroom, at the supermarket, or in conferences. Or they encounter God sitting in their easy chair before a fire reading their Bible.

We cannot see the Lord with our eyes, but we can see Him with our hearts. To encounter the Lord often begins with a desire, a gift of the Holy Spirit to open our hearts. Ask God to reveal Himself to you. “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” (Psalm 119:18).

Encountering God doesn’t have to happen on a mountaintop, in a lightning bolt, or in miraculous events. God is faithful. Open the Bible and read with expectation. Worship, pray, serve. All of these are opportunities to encounter the Lord. Every moment of every day is an opportunity to encounter the Lord as we abide with Christ. “or God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Discussion Questions:

  1. What constitutes an encounter with God to you?  
  2. What can we do in the short term to foster a more intimate relationship with God? 

When God Is Speaking To Me

“When God speaks, he does not give new revelation about himself that contradicts what he has already revealed in Scripture. Rather, God speaks to give application of his Word to the specific circumstances in your life. When God speaks to you, he is not writing a new book of Scripture; rather, he is applying to your life what he has already said in his Word.” ―  Henry T. Blackaby, Hearing God’s Voice. 

As Christians, we talk a lot about having a personal relationship with God, But a genuine relationship is impossible without a two-way conversation. In order to know God for yourself, you need to hear God’s voice.  When we choose to follow Him, God gives us the Holy Spirit who speaks to us wherever we are. The challenge is learning to discern God’s voice above the others we hear. 

We spend a lot of time wondering if God is speaking to us.  But think about that for a minute. It seems unlikely that we would pray and speak to God without expecting God to speak back. The fact of the matter is that God doesn’t try to speak to us. God does. God does speak to us, but various aspects of our lives get in the way. We are distracted, or too busy, or we are having trouble with our earthly relationships so He’s not able to get through. In other words, we are blocking His attempt to speak to us. 

If God has something to say, He has no trouble getting His message across. Can you name a single place in Scripture where God tried to communicate something but didn’t get through? Look at Saul of Tarsus. He was a passionate insurrectionary who was persecuting the church and putting to death men and women who trusted in Jesus as the Messiah. Acts 9:4 says, “…“Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” Paul didn’t say when he picked himself up off the ground blind, “Gee, I wonder if God was trying to tell me something there on the road to Damascus.” 

Although God may seem silent regarding a specific request or petition, remember that He is in a constant state of communication with us. In fact, it is possible that you already have an answer from God. The Bible is full of specific answers about what is right and wrong, as well as information about God’s character and His intention for us as His followers.

“Is God speaking to me?” God didn’t have any problem speaking to any one of us. The point is this: if God is not speaking to me then what is in the way that keeps me from hearing Him?  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, 12.  How does God speak to us today?  Why is this important? What can happen when we try to “hear” God apart from the Spirit?
  2. Why is the primacy and authority of scripture so important when we are listening to God?  Discuss how we hear God’s voice through scripture.  
  3. What is the most important role of prayer in how we listening for God’s voice? 

Got It All Figured Out…Think Again

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over. But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction. It’s the child he loves that God corrects; a father’s delight is behind all this.” – Proverbs 3:5-12 (MSG). 

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track. Though that will not be easy, especially the “do not depend on your own understanding.” (NIV) 

The Bible is pervaded by teachings that God’s sovereign control is complete, not partial. It governs every aspect of nature, every aspect of history, national life, personal life — nothing, absolutely nothing, is outside God’s sovereign governance. Nothing in the universe is random or without divine design and purpose. We would not be human if we did not believe that we are right more often than we are wrong. So, once we have weighed the pros and cons of a decision, it is probably the right one. But so often we find out that we are not right and find ourselves in places we do not want to be in. Fortunately, we don’t have to figure things out on our own.

Moses had a heart of gold. He was a true servant of God who selflessly cared for the well-being of those he served. He was about to pay dearly for his personal sin. He would not see the land for which he had labored for forty years. But Moses did not bemoan his situation. He was more concerned about the future of God’s children. He wanted to ensure that they had a genuine person to succeed him as their shepherd. Numbers 27:15-17 tells us “O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” That request was no surprise to God. God already had a solution in place in the person of Joshua.  “The Lord replied, “Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him.” (Numbers 27:18)

Every day of your life has been written in God’s book before it unfolds in the annals of history and time. God has your situation already figured out. Don’t live in anxiety. Don’t sweat the details of life.

Why? Because God has it already figured out!

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you decide which things you should control and which you should let go? Is this worth your time, attention, and energy to try to control the trivial and the unimportant?
  2. The more confident you are in God, the more comfortable you are with His control. Agree or disagree and why?

Refocus On God When You Are Drifting

“The Christian life is first and foremost a life of contemplation – listening to Jesus, considering Jesus, fixing the eyes of the heart on Jesus. Everything else in the Christian life grows out of this. Without this, the Christian life is simply unlivable.” ― John Piper.

Every day you can read articles on the problem of people drifting away from their life’s purpose or dreams. Those articles remind us that not only can we drift away from our life plans–work, family, creative endeavors, for example, we can also drift greatly from God. What does it look like when we drift from God and how do we stop the drift? One way to prevent drifting is to refocus on God.

The issue of focus is central to our walk with Christ. The Book of Hebrews emphasizes the importance of fixing and focusing our eyes on Jesus. “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) Hebrews 3:1 says, “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.”  

The concept of drifting is certainly not unfamiliar to us. How many times have you reached the bottom of a page only to realize that you weren’t paying close enough attention to recall what you just read? And how many times have you driven for miles without realizing that you missed your turn-off? Life’s purpose and dreams require focus and refocus: especially for spiritual priorities. 

I know it sounds simple enough, but is it?  If you or I am going to stay focused on God, we have got to include the things of God in our daily lives. God will restore you: Deuteronomy 30:1-5, 8-9, (MSG) explains this point very well: “Here’s what will happen. While you’re out among the nations where God has dispersed you and the blessings and curses come in just the way I have set them before you, and you and your children take them seriously and come back to God, your God, and obey him with your whole heart and soul according to everything that I command you today, God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life and make you more numerous than your ancestors… And you will make a new start, listening obediently to God, keeping all his commandments that I’m commanding you today. God, your God, will outdo himself in making things go well for you: you’ll have babies, get calves, grow crops, and enjoy an all-around good life. Yes, God will start enjoying you again, making things go well for you just as he enjoyed doing it for your ancestors”

Read that passage when circumstances bring you down when you are drifting or have the inclination to not stay the course.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Is focusing or refocusing harder in your mind? Why? 
  2. What can we do this week to refocus the areas we may be drifting?  

I Stand Corrected

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11. 

In April of this year our teaching series was entitled “Home Run Life: Living Life By God’s Game Plan.” This series made the connection between the Christian life and the game of baseball. Baseball employs all kinds of coaches who earn their money by coaching the players. Coaching is basically fixing any flaws so they can perform to their maximum. If a baseball player is to be successful, they have to be open to corrections.   

Are you open to correction when life throws you a curve and you suddenly find yourself off track?  Are you open to somebody telling you something you may not want to hear? More often than not we prefer excuses by blaming someone or something else. But if we want to better follow Jesus we have to come to grips with the fact that life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it.

The fact is we all have obstacles in our life. They can be stepping stones to bigger and better things or they can defeat you depending how you respond. It is important that we have someone who can speak the unvarnished truth to us. Someone who loves us enough to tell us something we don’t want to hear. But again, it is not so much a question of the subject talked about as how we respond. Or in other words what are we going to do about what we are told.

I fully understand that it is awkward even difficult to be corrected. Correction to me is like bad tasting medicine; it puts a grimace on your face when it goes down and the after taste lasts for several seconds, but it will make you feel better in the days to come. Solomon put it like this, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:5). The song of fools is being flattered. Compliments are often fleeing, but the impact of correction can last a lifetime. 

Here’s the thing. We all know people who made a mistake, own up to it. If you are anything like me, that person immediately earned more of my respect than he did before. There are few things more refreshing than transparency. If we refuse  to be corrected, we have lost  an opportunity to grow. Correction can help us grow in a area where we may be weak. People who accept correction will make fewer mistakes in the future because they will be more diligent in carefully examining how their action or attitude impacts their walk with God.

If someone you trust offers some insights into your life, take the time to listen. Resist the urge to immediately tell the person they are wrong or to defend yourself. Just listen and hear them out. Look at each occurrence as something that could be good. Recognize that God may be using this to refine you in some way. And if you think the person is off base, be open to the fact that you may be wrong. Tell them you honestly don’t see this in your life, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Tell them that you are going to take what they said to you seriously and keep an open mind to what they said. That is the way to respond and to grow.

Proverbs 27:5 tells us, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.”

Discussion Question:

  1. Read 2 Timothy 4:2: What does this verse mean to you?
  2. Should we confront the person or wait until we are asked for our thoughts?
  3. Is there a difference between immediate and deliberate correction?
  4. If you take the “one another” commands of Scripture seriously, loving correction will be part of your small group. Agree or disagree?
  5. Pray and ask God to put someone in your life that will speak the truth into your life.