“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,
but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
(Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)
Last Sunday it finally hit me about half way through the Prayer of Confession during our morning worship service – that feeling, that awareness – “I am here to worship.” That’s right, it took me a good twenty minutes before I was really present and accounted for in the worship service.
Saturday had kind of gotten away from me. It began with a nice long run (preparation for a marathon), then a funeral, followed by a birthday party for a young church member, topped off with pizza and a movie with the boys that evening. When Sunday morning came around I found myself totally unprepared for worship – and I’m the Preacher. Sure, I had put together the bulletin, planed the scripture readings and prayers, the sermon was all ready to go, but my heart was about a mile away. Not good, not good at all.
In thinking about this, I realize that I’m probably not the only one who’s ever felt this way. Hoping to help myself as much as I help you, here are a few things to consider to help you prepare your hearts and minds for worship.
- Worship through the week. As mentioned a couple of weeks ago in church, when the church gathers for worship it ought to be merely the continuation of what the church had been doing already when scattered. Your home is a micro-church. Deuteronomy tells us that we are to be teaching our faith to our children “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut 6:7). No children? Then teach and share the Word of God with your spouse. No spouse? Then commit yourself to the daily study of the word of God and coming before Him in prayer and devotion. Nothing nurtures the spirit of corporate worship than when members of the body are thriving in daily worship. If worship seems dry and boring to you, ask yourself, “What is the state of my private devotion?” I would bet the two are intimately connected.
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before church. I know this sounds simple and pedantic – and it is. But seriously, plan ahead. If you desire to truly enjoy the close communion of God that is offered in worship each Sunday morning, you can’t expect to find it when you’re operating on only a couple hours of sleep. I know that many work late on Saturday night and can’t help their schedule. I know that some suffer from sleep conditions that prevent them from getting a good night’s rest. But closing down the party on Saturday night doesn’t put your heart, mind, or body, in the right condition for worship on Sunday morning. Plan ahead; lay out the kid’s clothes, make sure you know where your Bible is, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up early enough on Sunday morning so that you’re not rushing to church.
- Read the scripture lesson before coming to church. Each week in this Midweek Message there is a section called, “Scripture for Sunday.” There you will find the Scripture that will be read in Worship. We give you this with the hopeful expectation that you will read it before coming to worship and begin to meditate upon the text yourself. Other churches might use the Lectionary, and those calendars are available in numerous places, including online, so you can read ahead and be prepared. Back in school, when you were given a reading assignment and wanted to have an informed part of the discussion, you read and prepared. Why should worship be any different? Read ahead. Turn to a commentary or even the cross-reference notes in your Bible. Start asking questions of the text; what’s being said, what does it mean, how does it shape me? In doing these small steps, you will find that the sermons will take on much more meaning and significance for you.
- Come with a prayerful expectation of meeting God in worship. What is your general attitude when coming to church? Are you already dreading having to wrestle the kids in that small pew for an hour? Worried that you might have to shake hands with that guy who really upset you last week? Or do you come hoping for, and expecting, to have an encounter with the living and loving God? If you were to take a snapshot of most people in worship on a Sunday morning, the best way to describe them would be: bored. That doesn’t mean that we need to make worship more entertaining – worship is the service of God at the pleasure of God for the benefit of all men, entertainment is the service man at the pleasure of men for the benefit of the entertainer. The answer to our attitude toward worship is not to change our worship, but to radically alter our expectations of worship. When you gather on a Sunday morning, you are coming to meet the Living Christ. You are in the presence of His life-giving Spirit, coming in His heart-searching Word. You are worshiping God the Father Almighty. Are you ready to meet your God?
- Actively participate in worship, singing, praying, and listening. Worship is not a spectator sport. You don’t get to sit back and watch it all happen. It involved active participation. You are invited to sing, and even if you don’t sing, you can thoughtfully read through the words of the hymns, hymns which teach our faith and instill hope and assurance in the promises of God. You are invited to pray, through responsive prayers, and even as the Pastor is praying for the people, you can offer your own prayers, or even echo the prayer being said. You are invited to meditate upon the Word. When the scripture lesson has been read, don’t shut your Bible, but actively listen to the sermon, pray through the sermon, take notes on the sermon, and keep coming back to your open Bible and ask that the Spirit will continue to teach and guide you.
Richard Baxter, in his “Directions for Profitably Hearing the Word Preached,” wrote:
“Cast not all upon the minister, as those that will go no further than they are carried as by force… You have work to do as well as the preacher, and should all the time be as busy as he… you must open your mouths, and digest it, for another cannot digest it for you… therefore be all the while at work, and abhor an idle heart in hearing, as well as an idle minister.”
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a start. If you have other suggestions for preparing for our corporate worship, I’d love to hear them.
Until we gather again in worship, Grace and Peace be with you,