I am guilty of this. I know that at times I have listened to a sermon and thought to myself, “My friend Hucklebuck needs to hear this. This sermon was for them.” And sometimes I think this is a good thing. I think God can give you a word for someone else. A missionary from Hungary once told me a mountain climbing idea he felt that he was supposed to pass on to me and it was pretty cool.
But sometimes I think I just use the whole “this sermon is for my friend” as a way to dodge applying anything from it to my life. If I am listening for you, than I don’t have to worry as much about listening for me. And on top of ignoring the sermon, I also get to feel extra good because I am helping God fix you. Aren’t I nice?
Again, this isn’t what always happens. Often giving someone a sermon CD they need to hear or emailing them a link to a podcast comes from love and true friendship. I’d like to think that people send their friends links to this site or the daily devotional I write because they genuinely think they would dig it. When sharing a sermon or an idea is an act of love that’s such a great example of loving others, which a minor character in the Bible, named Jesus, told us to do. But sometimes, that is not how it happens. Sometimes when somebody gives you a sermon, they do it out of condescension because they’ve already mastered what the sermon is teaching, or because they’re trying to fix the same things in you that they can’t recognize in themselves. And when that happens, here are three things you should say:
1. “Show me this sermon in your life.”
Let’s not waste time, let’s go for the low blow right away. For instance, if the sermon they push on you is about managing your finances, flip the script back on to them. Say, “I am sure the sermon is great, but seeing some real life examples would probably help the message stick in my heart and my head. Can you please give me a few examples of how to live this principle from your own life?” Chances are, they’ve been so busy thinking about correcting your issues that they won’t even see this question coming. Scientists call this the “mirror effect,” because it allows the person to see what they are doing to you. I call it “awesome.”
2. “Please summarize this for me.”
Often, if someone is focused on giving you a sermon, they don’t listen to it the same way they would if they were trying to ingest the information for their own life. So ask for a summary of what the key points were, which Bible verses were used and which sub points did the best job of supporting the main ideas. Then prepare for them to give you a blanket answer like “the whole thing was good,” or “it’s hard to say which part was my favorite,” or “you’ll just have to listen to it yourself.” At that point you can say, “Wow, it doesn’t seem like it impacted you very much. If you don’t remember it, I probably won’t either. Thanks for thinking of me though.”
3. “Let’s discuss this over coffee.”
Real relationships are messy. They’re complicated and beautiful and ugly and all the things you don’t really want to know about when you casually ask someone “how’s it going?” And so, in order to avoid getting entangled, we often find activities that look deep and spiritual but can actually be shallow and hollow when the motive is wrong. Giving someone a sermon can be one of those things. Sometimes, when people give you a sermon, it’s a really simple, disposable way to say, “I wanted to do something that seemed like we were good friends but I don’t have the time or energy to hear about your divorce. So here’s a sermon on divorce. Good luck with all that.” In order to figure out if someone is doing that, you have to smoke them out. When they give you the sermon say, “This is awesome. Why don’t we meet for coffee a few times in the next couple of weeks to discuss this message?” If they agree to, then congrats, they might honestly care about you. If they immediately say, “I am really busy until late winter, shoot me a text message to let me know how you like the sermon,” then congrats, you know where the relationship stands.
I wish it wasn’t so easy to find examples of when I have been that fake person, but it is. In the seventh grade, I once wrote a friend that was in juvenile lockdown a really emotional, spiritual letter about how we would hang out when he was released. But when he finally showed up a few months later, I was embarrassed to be seen with him at school and blew him off, even though he referenced the letter in one of our only conversations. I was in the seventh grade so perhaps I should not have expected deep spiritual maturity. I get that, but I did the same thing about a year ago. A guy I knew was struggling with some work issues. So I did a “God Drive By” and just gave him a sermon series from Andy Stanley on “Taking Care of Business.” He still has the CDs, we haven’t talked in months and I know I didn’t have the best of intentions. So if I ever try to do that to you, please use one of the above methods to stop me.
In closing, I like when people give me sermons and ideas and other things. I think doing that can be great. If you skim this post and then write a comment that says “For me, I like sharing the Lord with people and telling them about sweet baby Jesus and sermons you breakdancin’ heathen,” I will promptly award you a gold medal in the Judgment Olympics.