This past Sunday I preached the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus from Luke 19 to our elementary ministry. It was wild. As in, the kids be actin’ cray. But it was also interesting to be in a new environment preaching to a different group. It’s not that I haven’t preached to our elementary kids before. I actually have a decent amount of experience preaching to children. But when you preach to a group that isn’t your congregation, it makes you more sensitive to the environment. It’s not the usual routine, the usual room, the usual people.
And it made me notice something about the kids.
They want to be captivated.
As I got going with my sermon, I noticed that the kids would stop misbehaving the second they were captivated. When they were engrossed in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, they didn’t mess around with their friends, they didn’t blurt out smart-aleck comments, they didn’t squirm around or slouch or look away. They were captivated. Momentarily anyways. They were silent, watching, listening, hanging on my every word, wanting to hear what would happen next.
It made me realize something about our people.
You want to be captivated.
As someone who has been preaching weekly for the most part for the past 10 years, you see a lot of different types of “listeners”. People have a sort of routine when it comes to how they listen to sermons. Here are some stand-outs.
THE HEAD-BOBBER — we’ve all seen this guy before. For some reason, he always wants to sit where everyone can see him. And for some reason, he has yet to master the art of keeping his chin tucked in while he snoozes away. So rather than look like THE MEDITATIVE PRAYER WARRIOR [won’t mention any names, but a lot of spiritual giants have mastered the art of non-listening listening], he looks like he’s getting a flurry of open palmed slaps from the Holy Ghost every 3 seconds. Someone please just lay that guy down vertical, for goodness sakes!
THE VIGOROUS AGREE-ER — this person might not be the loudest agree-er [although that can be the case as well, AMEN!] but one way or another, they are going to let you know that they agree with what the preacher is preaching. They seem to nod at everything from the first word to the last. I could be talking about justification or Justin Bieber, it makes no difference. They will be nodding so vigorously to the point where I almost want say something blasphemous just to see if they’re listening! [jk, but jk]
THE EYE-CROSSER — this person is a kissing cousin to THE HEAD-BOBBER. They try hard. But trying doesn’t seem to help their optical coordination. Rather than focus their gaze forward, they can only helplessly battle the magnetic pull of their pupils towards each other. Like star-crossed lovers, their eyeballs continue to meet at the center of their face, saying “Eye can’t get my eye off you.”
THE BROW-RAISER — this person is actually listening, but can’t seem to process information unless it passes through their right eye-brow. It’s as if they are perpetually smelling what the Rock is cooking. As if they are holding their ear open by flexing their forehead. You can see that they’re dialed in, but it’s honestly hard not to mistake their intense gaze for the stank-eye. They just seem to be judging you even though that’s just the way God made their face.
THE GLAZED DONUT — personally I think this is one of the most common. It’s that person who is slightly hunched in their seat. Their head slightly tilted over to the side. Their face as flat as a pancake. Their eyes completely glazed over like a fresh-out-the-fryer Krispy-Kreme donut. I’m never quite sure what to make of this. Are they listening? Maybe. Or, are they thinking about donuts? Probably.
THE CAPTIVATED —this person comes ready to hear God speak. Every part of their body language, posture, eye-contact, page-turning, response…it all demonstrates being held captive by the preaching of God’s word. They aren’t just agreeing with everything, or judging everything, or missing everything! They are listening. Soaking it all in. Processing some and saving others for later. They are allowing the word of God to penetrate their souls. They are allowing the preaching of God’s word to expose them. They are dialed in because they are captivated by the Gospel, captivated by God, captivated by Ghrist [so close!]. They can’t NOT listen.
How does this happen? One might just chalk it up to different personalities, or strengths, or intelligence. Maybe it’s just the personal schedule or busyness that person experiences weekly. Or maybe it’s just the phase of life that person is in. I disagree.
To be captivated requires one of two things, or both.
There is a way to ready yourself to be captivated. When you watch a movie or show, you set yourself up to be captivated by turning off your phone, dimming the lights, making sure you use the restroom first…you get yourself ready to give yourself to the show. Even if the movie is horrible, at least you know what it was about. And you can walk away saying, “Man, that movie sucked!” and have good reasons why.
For THE CAPTIVATED listener, they set themselves up to be captivated. They do this by coming ready to hear the word of God. They bring their Bible. Some will bring along their notebook and pen. They sit where they know they can listen by avoiding a seat that is too comfortable, or too distracting. They avoid areas of the room that will be visually distracting because of what is between them and the preacher, or even who is between them and the preacher [i.e. the pretty girl or the friend that always seems to get the giggles]. They get their breakfast, coffee, water, and bathroom in before the worship. They sleep enough the night before to not need an impromptu nap during the worship. They pray.
Which leads us to the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, the word of God will never truly captivate you. You might be entertained by some aspect of the sermon, a funny or touching story, but you will not be changed. You will not be engaging the word of God, but simply the word of a man. The Holy Spirit is the one who takes the word preached and convicts the heart. Convicts of sin, of judgement, and of righteousness. The Holy Spirit is the one who uses the word to reveal the state of the heart to the listener as a mirror. Without the Holy Spirit, you might be mentally stimulated, but never convicted. Many people can listen to the Word of God preached and walk away as if they heard nothing. There is nothing wrong with that person in terms of mental capacity or intelligence. They simply did not have the conviction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. To be A CAPTIVATED listener, you must have the help of the Holy Spirit.
There is one possible way for you to be captivated without being ready. That happens from time to time because of the giftedness of a preacher and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But that will never happen on a weekly basis. You cannot be a captivated listener on a weekly basis without being ready and the help of the Holy Spirit.
WHAT ABOUT THE ACTUAL PREACHING?
I haven’t talked much about the preacher and his preaching. That’s because being a captivated listener has little to do with the quality of the preacher, as much as the quality of the listener. As I said, you can prepare yourself to watch a movie and walk out knowing all the reasons why it was bad. And if a preacher preaches a bad sermon, you better know it! That is what a captivated listener does. They don’t just take everything in…they take it in and process it. Like the Bereans, they fact check and make sure what is being said is truly the word of God. And they allow the truth of God’s word to penetrate their heart and lives. Even if the delivery is bad, the truth can convict a ready listener who is convicted by the Holy Spirit.
WHAT KIND OF LISTENER ARE YOU?
Maybe you find yourself in the list above. Maybe you are a few of those things combined! But whatever is the case, my hope is that you would grow as a listener of God’s word. That come Sunday, you are ready, having prepared yourself and prayed for the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit to convict you. That you would be captivated by the the truth and power of God’s holy word.
2 Corinthians 10:3–5 “3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ”