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How to Stay Awake During Sermons

I used to take it personally when people fell asleep during my sermons. Like many preachers, I spend a large portion of my week preparing, and it's demoralizing to see nodding heads and heavy eyelids. At times, I'm tempted to thump people on the head, or to set up the "cot of shame" at the front of the auditorium. Anybody who drifts off would publicly walk to the cot of shame and sleep in full view of those present. (I would never do this, but the thought has crossed my mind more than once.)

Although the problem might be on my side of the pulpit -- and I certainly strive each week to improve my content and delivery -- my perspective changed a few years ago when I noticed people sleeping while trying to listen to one of the most gifted and exciting preachers I know. The sight was both comforting and horrifying. If people could not stay awake during his message, the problem isn't simply poor preaching.

Most of us struggle at times to listen to sermons, even when they are compelling and well-prepared. Yet few disciplines are more important than hearing and responding to God's Word. The blessing of God begins when we "look intently" into the perfect Law and apply it to our lives (James 1:22-25). We can't do that if we're asleep.

So how can we listen to God's Word more effectively and stay awake on Sunday morning? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Become a reader. Those who regularly read books are in the habit of concentrating on sustained intellectual arguments. When you read, you learn to think in a linear fashion, so a 45-minute exposition of Romans 3 is no longer such a mental strain. If the longest content you read is 140 characters, you will have a hard time paying attention to a sermon, because you are not accustomed to critical thinking.

2. Prepare ahead of time. Ask your pastor to tell you what he will be speaking about for the next four or five weeks. (If he doesn't know, then part of the reason you can't pay attention is because his messages are poorly prepared). Look up the relevant passages on Saturday night. Pray that God will help you understand them. Read them and make observations. Show up prepared with questions, and listen to discern whether your pastor answers them. If he doesn't, talk to him after the message is over. This exercise will help you to truly engage with the sermon.

3. Get some sleep! Particularly for college students, the habit of staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning on Saturday night fatally damages your ability to listen well on Sunday. If you have not slept on Saturday night, you will certainly sleep on Sunday morning. If you find that you cannot go to bed early on Saturday, consider attending an evening service on Sunday. That will allow you to sleep in on Sunday morning and be alert when you arrive at church.

4. Take notes. Bring a pen and some paper. Jot down the pastor's key points. Can you identify the main point of his sermon? How does he develop his argument? What are the stories and illustrations he uses to convey his ideas? Actively writing will often help you to listen.

5. Pray that God will help you understand His Word. I am listing this last, but it should probably be the first item on your list. Understanding the Scripture is a supernatural activity, guided by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). When you wake up on Sunday morning, ask God to speak to you that day through your pastor as He explains God's Word.

I'm curious to hear from you. Do you find it difficult to listen while your pastor preaches? Why or why not? What do you think we pastors can do to help the situation? (Be nice to your pastor in the comments -- please don't throw anybody under the bus). Join the discussion here.

Tags: church, sermons

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