Have you ever listened to a speaker and not gotten anything out of what they had to say? Surly it was their fault for not speaking well enough. Or maybe the topic didn’t connect with you. Or maybe something is defective in the listener. Tozer reflects on the listener’s responsibility to be worthy hearers.
If we would be truly instructed we must be worthy to hear; or more accurately, we must hear in a worthy manner. In listening to a sermon, reading a good book or even reading the Bible itself, much may be lost to us because we are not worthy to hear the truth. That is, we have not met the moral terms required to hear the truth rightly. “We Must Hear Worthily”, The Root of Righteousness
It is not always the messenger’s fault that we do not understand; sometimes it is our own. How often do we go to church and pick apart what the pastor says: what theology do I agree with, what’s their biblical theology, why did they use that bad illustration? Jonathan Edwards, one of the greatest theologians of North America, struggled with his congregation not listening to his words. As good of a preacher as he was, his people did not listen worthily. As a Bible major, it’s easy for me to slip into this trap. As opinionated, independent, biblically illiterate Americans, it’s easy for us to fall into this trap. We should be careful that our pastors are being theologically sound, but we also need to remember that we are to take part in the nourishment given to us. We are not a food critic dissecting the food, but the patron who enjoys the meal prepared by the master chef.
However, that is not to say all preachers are excellent orators. Tozer recognized this as well.
When a man or woman becomes worthy to hear, God sometimes talks to them through very unworthy media. Peter, as an example, was brought to repentance by the crowing of a rooster. Of course the rooster was innocent of the part he was playing, but Peter’s Lord had set thing up for him so that the rooster’s crow could break the heart of this backslidden apostle and send him out in a blood of penitential tears.
The speaker may be totally unworthy and untrained. He may not even be charismatic in his preaching! However, that does not mean that there isn’t anything to gain from him. A while ago I heard one of the driest speakers at a church with a very animated head pastor. I could feel the crowd’s disappointment as the preacher’s jokes fell flat. However, that urged me even more to get something out of his sermon, which I did. And, remarkably, I remember more of his sermon than I do the regular ones! I made myself a worthy listener. So, when you pick up a book or listen to a preacher, begin by reflecting on these words by Tozer.
When considering a pastor, the average church asks, in effect, “Is this man worthy to speak to us?” I suppose such a question is valid, but there is another one more in keeping with the circumstances; it is, “Are we worthy to hear from this man?” An attitude of humility on the part of the hearers would secure for them a greater deal more light from whatever sized candle the Lord might be pleased to send them.