It’s Friday, and my eyes are turned toward this Sunday’s worship service. I am putting the final touches on my sermon (which will be revised again on Saturday night, and probably re-revised on Sunday morning). I’ve given thought and prayer to the service, planning which scriptures to read, the themes of certain prayers for the service, and writing out my invitation to the Lord’s Supper. I’ve got the details ready for worship, but I am still left with the question, “Am I ready for worship?”
I’ll be perfectly honest: There have been Sundays when, even as the Pastor and worship leader, my heart is not ready for worship. I might have every word written, every movement planned, I might even know it all from memory, yet worship seems cold, powerless, unmoving.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that worship must involve some emotionally overwhelming ecstatic experience every Sunday morning. Quite the contrary. I believe God uses ordinary means, ordinary things, to transform us by his grace: sound biblical teaching, heartfelt prayer, honest worship. And, amazingly, even on those days when I feel distant, God still works through this “earthen vessel” to reveal His glory.
Still, what can I do to prepare my heart for worship so that my experience on a Sunday morning can genuinely be an honest encounter with the living and true God? Here are a few thoughts I’ve put together, perhaps they will help you as much as they have helped me.
Worship Every Day
I’ve started running in earnest again, and for a while I’ve only been running a couple of days a week. I had an ache in the knee I was trying to nurse, but really the pain had gone away a long time ago. I was barely running, and never could find my rhythm.
Then I started running every day. It was immediately easier to get up and get going in the morning. I felt I was running better by the end of the first week, and my long slow run on Saturday morning improved.
Lesson learned: the weekend warrior routine doesn’t cut it.
Not in running.
Not in worship.
If you want to really be ready for worship on Sunday morning, then bring your heart to worship the Lord on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, and so on. The regular practice of communing with God through the study of His word, through prayer, and even in song in private greatly advances the hearts readiness for the corporate act of worship when you come together as the Church.
The next time you find yourself saying, “My heart really wasn’t in worship this morning,” ask yourself, “Where has my heart been all week?” Have you been in regular worship before the face of God, or are you just stopping by once a week?
Prepare for Sunday morning on Saturday night
The worst thing about Sunday morning worship is Saturday night. Saturday’s, for most, are fun days. We chase our kids to their sports, we go on dates, we have movie night. The problem is, we have so much fun, its really hard to get up and get going on Sunday morning. We get so caught up on our Saturday fun that the importance of Sunday is lost, and worship becomes an afterthought to our work and play.
Boy, our priorities are upside down. Charles Swindoll once wrote, “We are often so caught up in our activities that we tend to worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.”
What would it look like if you made the conscious decision to call it quits early on a Saturday. Get the kids to bed at a decent time – maybe even read to them the Scripture that will be preached in worship the next day. Spend some time in the evening by yourself, studying scripture and praying that your heart would be ready for corporate worship the next day. Turn off SNL, get a good night’s sleep, and get up in the morning ready and willing for worship.
Just maybe that will keep you from nodding off like this poor fella…
Come ready to Give
I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you walk out of worship saying you didn’t get anything out of the service, you walked in to worship for the wrong reason. The purpose of Christian worship is to give glory to God, to honor and magnify the name of Jesus, to praise the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Worship is our service to God.
This flies in the face of what most people think of today. We describe worship as “seeker sensitive,” so that it would seem that the congregation (or audience) is the object of the worship. Indeed, I hope that all feel welcomed in worship, that those who are seeking the truth will hear and know of Christ, and that all who worship God in Spirit and in Truth come away from that experience having been blessed by the presence of God. I pray that my preaching and teaching in worship edifies the congregation, rebuking and correcting sin, and encouraging and equipping maturity in Christ. All that being said, my greatest desire is that our worship – my preaching, our singing and praying – brings glory and honor to God alone.
When we gather in the house of God for worship, our primary goal is to glorify His holy name. We give to God, not just at the offering, but we give our service of worship, our submission to His Word, our renewed commitment to the work of the Gospel. Come to worship with generous hearts, ready to give more than you receive, and you fill find that your cup overflows.
Practice Genuine Christian Fellowship
The fellowship of other Christians is one of the greatest gifts of grace we could ever know. But what do we do with fellowship? We serve coffee and donuts in the fellowship hall, shake hands and say “‘morning,” and then we go our separate ways. How is this fellowship any different than that which takes place at the coffee klatch on Monday morning?
Genuine Christian fellowship gives and receives grace. As you worship, you hear the words of pardon and grace, and are invited to be at peace with God. The fellowship that flows from our worship extends that same grace to one another: forgive one another as God has forgiven you in Jesus Christ (Eph 4:32).
Our reluctance (or refusal) to extend to one another the forgiveness we have found in Christ will quench the spirit of worship. What if our fellowship, in addition to the coffee and donuts, had a greater emphasis on the reconciliation and grace of the Gospel? What if you walked out of worship and fellowship having finally put to rest the animosity and division that had come up between you and a brother or sister in Christ? Would you not think then that you had really worshipped before the face of God?
I’m sure I could go on – and I’m not certain these were all on point – but I hope and pray that this will help you to prepare you heart for worship. And remember, even if your hearts not in it, go to worship. I’ve found that when my heart isn’t really “in” something, simply showing up with the rest of my body gets my heart there eventually.
May you be blessed by the regular and heartfelt worship of the Lord!