It is summer and that means camp for us at Crossings! It is unbelievable to think about, but God is saving hundreds of students this week at camp. My own testimony is that God chose to save me at a camp when I was in high school. As a young Christian, I was blessed to have some great resources around me that God used to help me grow spiritually. I want to share some resources over the next month to help you grow spiritually. There are tons of directions I could go, but I want to focus on four specific things that the Lord used in my life as a young believer to grow in my knowledge of Him and joy in His work in my life.
When I got saved I had a hunger that I had never had before. I remember wanting to read books that I had owned or had access to that I had never looked at before. I had a hunger to hear worship songs that I had been around for years but had not paid attention to. Maybe most importantly I had a hunger for sermons.
Regular, Rhythmic, and Repetitive
I grew up with a father who was a pastor, so I heard a few sermons every week. I remember sitting in church services at our home church, at churches my father was asked to preach at, at conventions, even on vacations that were often planned around places where he was asked to preach. I heard a lot of sermons growing up. What happens when you are inundated with something is that you tend to learn to endure it. I sat through a lot of sermons that I know the Lord in His grace used and will use but it was such a normal part of my life that I never really tuned in. Sermons are such an important part of our spiritual growth. It’s the regular, rhythmic, and repetitive way that we are to hear from God and His Word. Sermons are often used by God to move the Word from our ears to our hearts in a convicting way that our personal devotional time may not. Sermons, if used correctly, can be unbelievably gracious and helpful to our spiritual growth. Let me break that down.
How to Listen to a Sermon
Sermons can be unbelievably gracious tools for spiritual growth if we use them correctly. How do you use a sermon though? I think most of us go to church and never think about how we are to engage with and use a sermon. I can tell you as one who writes and preaches often that my most common prayer before I preach is, “God speak through me in such a way that those listening hear you and follow you.” I don’t preach to share what I know or honestly to force people in a specific direction (other than towards Jesus). I preach so that the Word will do what only it can do, transform lives. How you position yourself for that determines an awful lot. Are you actually listening? We can all make it through a sermon, a lecture, even a TV show without actually catching anything. The view from the pulpit can often be a sad one of people asleep, on their phone, or obviously mentally disconnected. Listening is an art form. I’m sure you’ve heard all the ways that we reinforce what we learn to be sure that we retain it. The point is to engage with what you are listening to and not just hear it. The best way to listen to a sermon is to actively engage with the content. Take notes. Talk about it. Teach what you learn to someone else. Review your notes later. Sermons are not meant to be consumed and forgotten but to be processed and applied. The next time you listen to a sermon (at church or via some type of recording), take notes on the sermon. Write down the thesis, the main idea, and the supporting points from the text the pastor uses. A good sermon should be a bit of a map telling you where you are going and then taking you there. After the sermon take a few minutes to pray for God to give you wisdom on how to use the sermon. Sermons should build towards application, ways the text impacts and changes us today. You should be able to do something or do something differently because of the sermon. What is that? Then, think of one or two people that you can talk to about what you’ve just heard and ask them questions about the topic of the sermon. Maybe one of those is someone you can share the idea of the sermon with to just encourage them. Ask yourself, what does that message need to do in your own life and how can you be obedient to God from what He shared/showed you. This type of engagement, on any level beyond just sitting and listening, is how you actively use a sermon. The use of sermons is vital to your spiritual growth.
Get Sermons from Your Local Church
So where do these sermons come from? The obvious place is your local church. Your local pastor knows you, your community, and other particular information about your world that make him uniquely gifted to speak into your heart and life. I love Matt Chandler. He is one of the voices that God has used most in my life and heart to grow me spiritually outside of my family, but Matt lives north of Dallas, TX in a very specific context with very specific people that he is preaching to. While I can grow from his preaching/teaching, I have a more significant voice in my own pastor, CJ Mahaney. CJ lives near me, knows Louisville the city we live in, and sees me every week. His voice has been designed by God to speak into the situations I live in every day. So, start and primarily feed where you live and are placed by God’s grace, your local church.
Get Sermons from Your Friends
Other great places to find content to grow through would be from your friends. I had two friends that each gave me a sermon early on in my walk with God and both sermons powerfully shaped me. My friend Chad gave me a sermon from a young Matt Chandler called “Biblical Christianity versus Modern American Evangelicalism.” I have probably listened to that sermon 300 times and I’ve given it to several friends as well. God used it to confront me specifically for living in a Christianized culture but not loving God. I had another friend, Natalie, who gave me a sermon from Graham Cooke called “The Nature of God” that was really a message on the goodness of God. I still cry when I listen to that message today. It taught me so much about who God is and how I should look to and approach Him. I doubt either friend really thought much when they shared these sermons with me but I can trace back my spiritual growth and even my life and what I do today from those two sermons. I listened to them, I prayed through them, I shared them, I even reached out to both pastors early on to thank them for those messages. You have friends that have sermons that have impacted them in powerful ways, ask them to share those sermons with you!
Get Sermons from the Internet
Lastly, we live in the digital revolution so enjoy the numerous resources that provide you great sermon content regularly. iTunes has more sermon content on it than you could ever imagine. Youtube is a great place to find some good sermon content. Most church or ministry websites have a place that you can access digital content. I buy several sermons every year from Tim Keller’s church in NY and Tommy Nelson’s church in Denton, TX. You don’t lack options, but don’t let that keep you unfocused. Pick a book or topic to study. Pick a speaker to listen to regularly. I try and pick one pastor to listen to for a year, and this year it is Jeremy Treat from Reality LA. That way I am not picking what I want to hear but I am submitting myself to regular teaching of the Word. This should never replace your local church as your primary place of sermon listening, but when you are hungry or looking to grow it’s a great resource for more sermons.
Make God’s Word Prominent
Spiritual growth is not a mystery. It’s a mixture of the Word, your submission, and His grace. You can grow if you will get God’s Word in front of you and you will listen and obey. Sermons provide a perfect context for this if we will use them. So, pick a sermon, engage, and grow!