In Which I Stopped Listening to Sermons
This year is nearing its close. Sure, sure roll your eyes. It's only September but let's get real, Halloween candy is already in stores which means Thanksgiving is next Thursday and Christmas is the Friday after. So in my heightened drama inducing state, I am taking a look back at one of the more life altering habits I tried to form this year: I stopped listening to Christian lectures and sermons during my work commute.
Like Protestant Christians throughout the world I have been a big fan of listening to sermons and lectures during my drive to work. During the summer my round trip is about 50 mins. When school is full-swing that jumps past an hour. This might not seem like a long commute (it probably isn't) but it is a sufficient amount of time to listen to a sermon/lecture a day plus a little extra. Doing this math this can turn into a lot of Christian education throughout the course of a year. It is good for the soul and it has been my practice since my car permitted me to play my iPhone. Early in January when a free download of the ESV Bible was available I decided to forego listening to lectures/sermons and only listen to the Bible. The results have been amazing. Since starting I have listened through the ESV and the NASB. Since finishing the NASB, I started the dramatic rendering of the NIV (not my favorite).
Now I am no slouch about my study of the Scriptures but nothing I've ever done was this intense. In contrast, two years ago I read through the Bible in 90 days twice. I was cramming "reading time" wherever I could. I was reading in the restroom, shower (it felt like), and while asleep (again it felt like). Both times through felt like an exhausting marathon. They were excellent opportunities to dive head first into a deeper acquaintance with the Scriptures. I don't regret the exhaustion experienced in the slightest. Listening the Bible has been completely different. First, it has continued to instruct me in patience and self-control. Throughout history God's people became acquainted with His word through listening. We've been born in the privileged world of physical books and we should take advantage of that. Still, many struggle with focusing when listening. Without a doubt it is my worst method of learning. Thus, this experience has knocked me down a couple pegs and instructed me in faithful focus and patience in listening to God's word.
Second, it has had a profound impact on my listening at church. Now the Epistle reading, Gospel reading and Old Testament reading are organic and ingrained in my spiritual life. Just setting aside my Bible and listening has been a tremendous blessing. I've begun to even close my Bible and listen to a sermon. God has used this opportunity to teach me the value of staying silent both in mouth and mind. I recognized the individualism of keeping my Bible open in front of me and being quick to judge the sermon. Listening to God's word has taught me to be slow to judgment.
With both the ESV and NASB I finished within 90 days (that's counting weekends even though I "took them off"). Stop and let that sink in. For a long part of my Christian life I had never read through the Bible in a year. I was able to do it twice in about half a year. Whole books are becoming familiar and even structured in my head. Context to catchy (and popular) memory verses are being filled in. Slowly, I've been struck by how blessed Christians in the modern age really are. Yes, we can get sermons from across the world. Yes, we can listen to entire seminary courses. Yes, we can listen to debates and conference lectures to our heart's content. Most important, we are capable of having the Word read to us constantly. But (I hate starting sentences with "but") here is where I get practical. I had to ask myself the following questions. What percentage of my time is spent listening to someone tell me about the Scriptures? What percentage of my time is spent listening to the Scriptures?
Both are valuable but are they proportionate? I'm reminded of Fiddler on the Roof. Reb Tevye is pronouncing the blessing the rich may afford and he speaks directly to our time, "And I'd discuss the Holy Books with the learned men seven hours every day and that would be the sweetest thing of all."
If you don't listen to lectures and sermons explaining the Scriptures to you, I'd recommend you start. Redeem the time for the days are evil (Eph 5:16). If you do listen to lectures and sermons consider your propensity to hear about God's word instead of God's word directly. Prayerfully consider fasting from teaching and instead listen to God's word directly for a lengthy bit of time. You may be shocked at how much more of the Bible makes sense naturally to you as you immerse yourself in it and let it wash over you.
"If any of you have ever seen an asp or some other venomous creature under the spell of the charmer, I would have you take that as an illustration of the Scripture. If it be read and not understood, the hearer sometimes grows listless and weary; yet let him believe that the asps and vipers within him are weakened through the charms of the charmers, that is to say, by wise Moses, wise Joshua, the wise and holy Prophets. Let us not then weary when we hear Scriptures which we do not understand; but let it be unto us according to our faith, by which we believe that all Scripture being inspired by God is profitable...Well, then, have the like faith with regard to Divine Scripture; believe that thy soul is profited by the mere reading, even though thy understanding does not receive the fruit of profiting by these passages. Our inner nature is charmed; its better elements are nourished, the worse weakened and brought to nought." - Origen, Philocalia 12.2