Five ways to be better prepared for worship
One of the criticisms one often hears concerning modern worship services is that they are too much like concerts. There is some truth to that. In an entertainment-oriented concert the performers rehearse, the technical crews prepare sound and lighting systems, the ushers are briefed, etc. And the people who come to see the show have almost nothing to do with any of that except buy their tickets, show up and enjoy the show.
There are parallels to how a church prepares for worship: the musicians rehearse, the sound tech makes sure the sound system is working properly and does sound checks, ushers are given their supplies of bulletins, and the people come and sit (or stand when asked to) and sing along (sometimes), and enjoy the service.
But there are differences that go beyond the obvious purposes of the two events. For example, when people get ready for a rock concert, there is usually a keen sense of anticipation--people get excited about the prospect of being in the same room (albeit a large one) with their beloved rock star(s). Standing in line outside the auditorium, you can often sense the eagerness--we can't wait for the doors to open and the show to begin. I've been to concerts where people came prepared with copies of CDs (or records, or tapes--yes, I'm that old), in hopes that by some stroke of good fortune, they might be able to get close enough to the star to get an autograph. And if the people standing in line happen to get a glimpse of the band arriving in their bus or limo, the screaming and camera flashes begin almost immediately.
I can't say I've observed that same kind of excitement prior to a regular worship service at any of the churches I've regularly attended. I can't help but wonder what would happen in our worship services if the people coming into the church building came with that kind of anticipation at the prospect of being in the presence of the living God, assured that though unseen, the Resurrected One would be there among them. Would there be anything like the sense of excitement that exists when people are lined up outside the arena to see a U2 concert? Would people's hearts be racing as they entered the worship center, knowing that God Himself would be there listening and watching? Would people's heads be spinning with the reality that they were coming into the presence of the eternal, almighty God, the Ruler of all the universe?
One can dream, eh? But in the meantime, it seems to me that there ought to be some ways that each one of us can prepare for Sunday worship (indeed, we ought to be prepared for worship every day of the week, but Sunday is the day in which we worship corporately). So here are five suggestions:
Make your involvement and presence in the Sunday worship service the highest priority of your week. Sure, you could play golf, or go to the lake, or go to the football game, or mow the lawn. Or just sleep in for a change. But if you would decide that Sunday mornings are for worship, no matter what may be going on, I believe God will honor that commitment. Even if you're on the road, traveling for business or family or vacation, find a church wherever you may be and be there on Sunday. Let God know by your actions that you value Him and that you want to be with His people, worshiping him on Sundays, no matter what. Teach your children by example that Sunday mornings are for worship. Everything else can wait while we gather to worship our Father in heaven. (Yes, even sports.)
Be "prayed up"
It would only take a few minutes to pray before you leave your house, or before you walk into the building--a brief, but intentional, time of prayer, to acknowledge that you are about to enter into the presence of the Almighty King. You could pray for a renewed sense of awe, for a heart of compassion for your fellow worshipers, for the fullness of the Holy Spirit so that you can be fully "tuned in" to what God is saying and doing. You could pray for your pastor(s), for those who will be leading musically, for those who will be teaching children, for those who will be working behind the scenes in any capacity. You could pray for people you know who are not Christ-followers. You could pray for those who are unable to come to a worship service for whatever reason. Taking even a few minutes to reconnect with God before you head off to another worship service can help you be in the proper frame of mind and spirit when you arrive.
It is said that serving someone endears them to you over time. Serving in the church can help to endear your fellow church-goers to you, and help you learn to be more compassionate toward them. Serving on a regular basis not only keeps you on a more regular attendance schedule, but also helps you develop a deeper appreciation for all of those who work so hard to make Sundays happen the way they do at your church. Try it and see if you don't learn to love those whom you serve; see if it doesn't help you to love the church (the people of God) more and more.
During the week, are you singing the songs of your faith? When you come to church, do you mostly just listen to the music, or do you sing? It is often said that St. Augustine once said, "He who sings prays twice." It isn't clear that Augustine actually did say that, but he did say this: "...he who sings praise does not only praise, but also praises joyfully; he who sings praise not only sings, but also loves Him whom he is singing about." Surrounding ourselves with the music of worship and praise, can evoke worship and praise in us. I can't help but think that God is pleased with our songs of praise and worship, even when we are absent-mindedly humming a worship melody. Have you taken the time to learn the songs we sing at church? Are those songs on your heart through the week? Please sing with joyful abandon when we worship together on Sundays!
Keep your nose in the Book
This is just a euphemistic way of saying that it is good to spend time in the Scriptures as a way of preparation for Sunday worship services. Reading the Psalms can be great preparation for worship--as the ancient hymnal of God's people, the Psalms are filled with expressions of adoration and praise that we would do well to learn. We are instructed there, for example, to "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!" (Psalm 100:4, ESV) This speaks directly to the sort of frame of mind that should be ours as we enter into the place of corporate worship. Moreover, being in the Scriptures regularly helps condition us to listen for the voice of God.
I'm praying that as you enter the worship center this week (and every week), you will be filled with expectation as you anticipate the movement of God's Spirit in and through us as we worship Him together.