The moment you swallow your last bite of food is usually the last moment you spend thinking about your lunch. Once it has entered your body, the sandwich you just ate simply becomes part of you. But the value of that sandwich to you is just beginning – the delights of the experience of eating are wonderful, but then the rest of the body runs toward your food, and starts to turn it into, well, into you. Most of the good your food does occurs after you’ve eaten, not before or even during.
It works the same way with sermons. Preparing to hear a sermon, and actually sitting and listening to it are both edifying and helpful, but the real work of a sermon happens after the amen. When you hear a sermon, it enters into your brain by way of your ears, and hopefully penetrates through the head down into the heart. A heart that beats to the rhythm of the Holy Spirit will then pump the message throughout the body, affecting your character, turning you into a virtuous person, building muscles of faith, hope, and love, and providing spiritual energy that moves your hands and feet to do good works.
However, what happens naturally and organically to food happens only by effort and discipline to spiritual nourishment. You were once spiritually dead, totally unable to convert spiritual food into energy and life. The grace of God came, and made you spiritually alive, but when you were born again, you were given the spiritual digestive system of a baby – you needed milk, not solid food, because you aren’t able to spiritually process very much. This is exactly what Hebrews 5:12-14 tells us:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
(Hebrews 5:12-14 ESV)
Constant practice. This is how you learn to eat a sermon. The message needs to start with hearing, with simple knowledge and awareness of the content of the Word of God, but if it is going to build healthy Christians twelve ways, then it must take deep root in the heart, the affections, and then proceed to animate and activate the hands, so that the whole body is affected by the living Word.
The way this works, the bridge between hearing a sermon on Sunday and living it out in constant practice throughout the week happens through meditation, not the mind-emptying, one-with-the-universe kind of meditation, but remembering and thinking about the preached word. Something like holy digestion needs to occur – a breaking down of the food you’ve eaten in a way particular to your situation, suited to your needs. This kind of individual, particular application can begin in the sermon, but is primarily a work of the Spirit of God on the individual, who uses the gifts God gave you (a mind, memory, experiences, abilities, opportunities, etc.) to turn your spiritual calories into energy.
God made you to run on a regular diet of eating His Word, but merely swallowing it on Sunday morning is just the beginning! In order for the food you eat to result in growth, you need to ruminate on it, digest it, and then spend the energy you’ve produced in obeying the Word you’ve heard.